Lately, I have been under unnecessary stress. Lots of it. So much that, god forbid, I don’t want to cook.
The moment I walk in my front door, the need to lie around and read soon overcomes me, and if I succumb to it, I eventually fall into oblivion in between boring verses. But I can’t because I have a job, a job that every chordate must fulfill and finish: I need to feed myself, and three others while I’m at it.
Nabe is a winter food. No questions asked. But sometimes I deeply crave it, amidst the dry heat of Socal summer, especially when I know that I haven’t been eating enough veggies. Nabe allows you to easily consume a whole napa cabbage by yourself. You throw leafy greens and some sort of protein into a clay pot with some broth, a splash of sake, and then you bring it to a boil. As it simmers, you eat it. Easy. Then when you’re done eating the solids, you can throw some rice in the remaining broth, now powered up by flavor boosts from your meat and veggies, to make a nice porridge.
Since the formula is so easy, there is ample room for customizations and adventure. And so, different regions usually have different landmark nabes. For instance, Hokkaido (the northern island) is famous for salmon, so their nabe uses a lot of salmon; the most famous one uses miso broth and is called ishigari nabe. Regions that have wild boars use that meat for nabe, which is called botan nabe. In Hiroshima, sometimes you see oyster nabe, featuring ginormous oysters that are only seen in that part of the world. (When I say ginormous, its GINORMOUS. So big that, when served on the half shell, they slice it into three parts)
If you don’t have a clay pot, that’s fine. I don’t either. I use an electric nabe, which is basically a crock pot. All you need is a controllable, constant heat source.
There’s not much of a recipe to nabe, but here are some guidelines for nabe beginners. This style is what some refer to as the mille feuille method. You basically make layers of meat, veggie, meat, veggie, and so forth.
1. Make a bed of leafy greens on the bottom of the pot. Napa cabbage tastes best. Bok choy, spinach, and cabbage make good nabe too.
2. On the bed of greens, make a layer of bite-size meat. Generally, chicken goes well with anything. Splash some sake.
3. Cover the chicken with leaves. Cover the leaves with chicken. Splash with sake.
4. On top, put other ingredients like fresh shiitake mushrooms, tofu, onions, imitation crab, fish… Anything you’d like. Splash a little bit of soy sauce.
5. Cover and bring to a boil. Then simmer 10-15 minutes.
6. Eat by dipping contents into a plate of ponzu.
This method uses one big head of napa cabbage easily. The trick is, you want as much greens as possible because that’s where all of your water comes from. Your chicken will bleed flavor into this water, which will become wonderful broth.
When you’re done, you dump a little bit of rice into the pot and simmer it until it becomes risotto like. You can break an egg too, if you’d like. It’s awesome. You can do this with noodles too, some regions do that.