Most cultures have there own version of home-cooked comfort foods. Americans have chicken noodle soup, and the British have beef stew with dumplings, for example. The Japanese, furthermore, have several traditional comfort foods called nabe, which is short for nabemono, meaning “yummy stuff in a pot” in Japanese. Nabe dishes are traditionally cooked at the table during the winter months, in an intimate setting. If the name means anything, these dishes have to be delicious. I’ve got my mind set on trying different varieties of nabe, such as Sukiyaki, Oden, Shabu Shabu, and Chanko Nabe, because winter is approaching, and I need to keep warm.
Sukiyaki is the only dish that I had heard about before writing this post, mainly because my Japanese textbook mentions it in practice exercises all the time. However, I still had no idea what it was — until today. I now know that sukiyaki is a rich, one-pot wonder filled with thinly sliced beef, veggies (shiitake and oyster mushrooms, spinach, and carrots), and konyaku noodles, all stir-fried in a sweet warishita sauce.
Because many of the ingredients are foreign to me (and perhaps you, too), I took the time to learn about a few things.
First off, I had no idea what konnyaku noodles were, so, through Just Hungry, I discovered that Konnyaku is made from the konjac (aka the konnyaku) plant, which is grown in the warm, mountainous regions of the eastern hemisphere, with the highest production in South West China (source).
Within this plant is glucomannan, a high fiber, zero calorie substance which can be made into noodles. My first thought when I heard “noodle” was of flour noodles, but this Kannyaku is nothing like that. Kannyaku is mostly water, with a geletinous, rubbery texture, according to Just Hungry. Much like tofu, konnyaku does not have it’s own flavor, so it is used to absorb the flavors of sauces and spices (thekitchn.com). I happen to have an interest in weird textured foods, so I would love to try konnyaku, but I have a feeling this noodle would be unappealing to certain newcomers.
Another new term for me was warishita sauce. I discovered what it was through The Japanese Food Report. Turns out, this sauce is pretty simple. It’s just 1 part sake, 1 part soy sauce, 1 part mirin, and a sprinkle of sugar.
Wait a second…what is mirin, you ask?
I had the same question.
I unearthed that mirin is a golden liquid made from steamed mochi-gome (glutenous rice), kome-koji (cultured rice), and shochu (a distilled alcoholic beverage). These three components are mixed and fermented for 2 months (source). If you don’t know about fermentation, read about it in my earlier post — it’s a rather interesting process.
Now that all the ingredients are accounted for, let’s talk about cooking sukiyaki. There are two versions of the dish; Kanto (from Tokyo), and Kansai (from Osaka). In the Kanto variety, the beef is fried in its own fat in the pan, and then the veggies and konnyaku are added in neat batches to cook in the warishita sauce. The Kansai variety varies only slightly in that everything is cooked in the pot at the same time (the meat is not fried first). Finally, each bite of sukiyaki is dipped in raw egg, which adds richness.