Jan 19

It’s wintertime and I’ve got nabemono on the brain.  Nabemono, or nabe, are Japanese “hot pots” (usually soups or stews) prepared in large earthenware pots (donabe) or heavy cast iron pots (tetsunabe) tableside, set in the middle of the dining table for communal eating so that everyone can easily refill their bowls.  This also makes for a wonderfully social meal.  Nabes make great winter meals.  They are hearty and filling, and the steam rising from the pot helps warm the room.  Nabe is really more a style of cooking, so the variations are virtually endless.  Nabes are made by poaching a variety of ingredients in broth in one big pot. Not only are you only using one pot (less cleanup!), but nabes cook very quickly (usually in less than 30 minutes)!

The pots traditionally used to cook nabe evenly conduct and spread heat, and the lid has a small hole in it that releases steam during cooking.  If you don’t have a nabe you can use an enameled cast-iron or cast-iron pot, which conducts and spreads heat in the same fashion.  If you’ve got a Le Creuset pot, you’ve got a great nabe pot just waiting to be used!  Just make sure you leave the lid open a tiny bit to allow steam to escape.

If you don’t have this type of pot, you can still use another type of pot—so no excuses!  When cooking a nabe, make sure to keep a close watch on it.  You want the nabe to stay at a nice and steady simmer, and you may need to adjust the heat accordingly.  If the nabe starts boiling too rapidly, this will cause the ingredients to break down and fall apart.  Also make sure that you skim off any “scum” that floats to the surface while the nabe is cooking.

I can’t believe that I’ve never really written about this fundamental style of Japanese cooking here on LFM.  It’s one of my favorite things to eat and cook, and always a big hit with my family.  I’m finally rectifying that glaring omission with a simple recipe for tori no mizutaki (chicken and vegetable hot pot).  I had some free range chicken thighs in my freezer, sent to me by U.S. Wellness Meats (remember my Brussels Sprouts Bacon Slaw? Mmmm…) that I had tagged to be used in some sort of nabe.

Making nabe is a fantastic way to use up things sitting in your pantry and refrigerator.  I recently had the need to do a good fridge cleaning, so I finally pulled it out the chicken thighs to thaw, then went pawing through my refrigerator, pulling anything out that might be a good addition.  I came out with some leaks, fresh shiitake mushrooms, napa cabbage, carrots, and baby bok choy.

I love napa cabbage.  In a nabe it becomes tender and sweet (but not mushy!), soaking up flavor from the broth and other ingredients like a sponge.  I’m also a huge fan of Japanese greens like mizuna and shungiku, though they can be hard to find (unless you grow them yourself during the summer like I do!).  Since I don’t have any in my garden because the weather is too cold right now, I decided to use some baby bok choy instead.  Tofu is usually added to this style of hot pot, but I didn’t have any, so I omitted it.  For nabe I usually use firm tofu because it can hold up to the long simmering required in this type of dish.  I used ponzu as a garnish—the sweet, savory, and tart flavors it added were the perfect complement to the flavorful tender chicken.

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Tori No Mizutaki—Chicken & Vegetable Hot Pot

Makes approximately 6 servings

Recipe Notes: If you can’t find shiitake mushrooms, you can use your favorite mushrooms instead.  For a heartier meal, serve this nabe with steamed rice or noodles.

8 cups water
1 large piece of kombu (about 30 square inches) (optional)
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 leeks, white and light green parts, sliced on an angle into 2-inch pieces
1/4 small head napa cabbage, cut into bite-size pieces
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/2 medium carrot, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces, and thinly sliced lengthwise
2 teaspoons salt
2 heads baby bok choy, cut into bite-size pieces

1. Put the water and kombu (if using) in a Japanese nabe, or other pot,  and heat over medium-high heat.  Just before the water starts to actually boil, remove the kombu.

2. Add the chicken and simmer over medium heat for 3 minutes.

3. Add the cabbage, baby bok choy, carrot, mushrooms, and leaks, arranging each ingredient in a separate, neat bunch. Sprinkle the salt over the ingredients in the pot.

4. Cover the pot and bring the liquid to a simmer. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes.  If the nabe starts boiling too rapidly, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.  Skim off any scum that may float to the surface while the nabe is cooking.

5. Transfer the hot pot to the dining table. Serve the ingredients together with the broth in small bowls. Each person can add ponzu as desired.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Fuji Nana January 19, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Hey, I just bought a nabe pot last week in Chinatown! I thought it would be a great dish to serve rice in at dinner, complete with a nice lid to keep everything warm. I was wondering what the little hole was for!
This soup looks absolutely delicious. How could you not feel strong and healthy after eating all that good stuff in there?


Alayna @ Thyme Bombe January 20, 2011 at 6:24 am

So cool! I just got my first donabe pot recently and I’m loving it! My favorite dish so far has been a beef stew with daikon, potato, carrot, shiitake, enoki, scallions, and bok choy in a dark miso broth. So insanely good, just fill the donabe and forget it!


Rach @ ThisItalianFamily January 20, 2011 at 7:18 am

In China we call this “Huo Guo” (which literally means ‘hot pot’) and oh my gracious it is so tasty! Though I have to admit, it has never occurred to me that I could make it at home! I’m very excited about this concept, thanks for the inspiration! :)


Paula - bell'alimento January 20, 2011 at 8:11 am

That pot is gaw-geous! And the soup…me oh my ; )


EMK January 20, 2011 at 8:44 am

This is my favorite nabe ryori! I haven’t had it for years. I love eating it with ponzu and hichimi togarashi. So you grow shungiku and mizuna in your garden? You are amazing!


Annapet January 20, 2011 at 11:39 am

I could not wait to read this post on the big screen! Thank you for sharing this dish to warm up cold and bleak January. This reminds me that I have to start my seeds for my dento yasai and shabu-shabu garden plots.


SaraB January 21, 2011 at 9:46 am

This post couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I was just looking at my nabe pot (That Cheri L gave me years ago) and thought, “I need to find a hot pot recipe”. Thanks again for coming to the rescue. And wouldn’t you know it leeks, bok choy and and cabbage were in my CSA shipment this week. YUM. Now how do I get all my boys to eat it?


Lisa January 22, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Made this last week and it was amazing! First time this year i have gotten the nabe pot out. I can’t believe how good this was. So comforting, and no guilt involved! Amazingly, I had the same ingredients on hand, so did it pretty much as is, except used dried shitake which i reconstituted with the konbu. The only thing i would do differently next time is to take the chicken off the bone first…was a little difficult to eat. But cooking it on the bone adds so much flavor! A good dilemma to have!


Bren February 16, 2011 at 7:28 am

this is so lovely, Rachel. Great flavor combo… we have something very similar and I always enjoy it most when my mom makes it! :)


Elena May 23, 2011 at 11:43 am

Nice! Very interesting and tempting the broth, and the images make me want me to prepare this recipe. Congratulations!


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Sheri October 20, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Yes, you can grow mizuna and shungiku in any small backyard garden! I live in Western Colorado, and have a bumper crop of mizuna and other varieties of Asian greens and veggies in my small backyard garden every year. I used them mostly for salads and mesclun blends, then discoverd Japanese one-pot cooking, and uses for these veggies are now endless. I also add a couple tablespoons of aji mirin to my dashi broth just before adding the meats and yakidofu, to add a unique flavor and tenderness to the meats. Great meal for guests on cold autumn and winter get-togethers!


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