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My name is G and these are the true stories of my adventures.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Nabe, Stew of the Gods -- The Mono Chronicles III

in the midst of my very boring week of sickdom, i've been trying to come up with things to write about and i've been getting a little inspiration. what you're about to read is my first official comissioned piece of writing. i'm expecting payment in full by the weekend, adam.

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The Gaijin's Guide to Nabe

as the winter season approaches, you're probably asking yourself: what am i going to cook that's warm and hearty and will fill my dinner guests' tummies with culinary glee? unless you live in japan. then you're asking yourself: how the hell do i make nabe?

well, relax and settle in because you're about to be trained in the delicate art of this traditional japanese stew.

you will need:

a nabe pot (this is a heavy ceramic or cast iron pot with a lid. if you don't have one, run to the saty and buy one. if you don't have one or live in japan, you can use a heavy sauce pan as long as you keep the heat LOW. or you can order one from amazon.com)
a gas burner (a portable burner that can be placed in the center of your dining table is ideal. otherwise, you can do it on a gas stove, but NOT an electric stove. if you don't have a gas stove, call a friend who does.)
broth (in japan, there are a few varieties of nabe broth but basically your options are a salty seafood broth, which has shrimp or crab on the package, a creamy soy milk broth, or a kimuchi broth, which is spicy and usually in a red package. if you're not in japan, you might find these broths in a very good foreign food market OR if you live in nowheresville like me, you can actually use chicken broth as a substitute for the seafood kind. it's not perfect, but it'll do the job.)
meat (seafood is best. i like to combine crab and shrimp. you can also throw in chicken or, if you're in japan, look for white meatballs at the grocery. they're a sort of chicken sausage -- very yummy.)
veggies & such (cabbage is a must. beyond that, throw in whatever appeals to you. i, because i'm a gaijin, throw in a lot of gaijin things like onions/scallions, corn, broccoli, and even sweet potatoes. tofu's another good addition and clearly more japanesey. i'm allergic to mushrooms, so i don't use them, but you may if you want to.)

all right, now that you've gathered your supplies, let's get cookin'. you might want to turn on a little music. i like something kind of chill, but you can choose whatever inspires you. just keep in mind that the flavor of the music is likely to end up in the stew, so avoid anything too violent or depressing. (don't believe me? read "like water for chocolate".)

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step one: put some broth in your pot and turn the heat on medium (or low if you're not using a proper nabe pot). i say "some" broth because you don't want to use it all at once. you'll need to add more later. i typically start with half the broth and add the rest as needed throughout the evening. (note the unopened package at my elbow. if you're in the big jp, that's what you're looking for in the shop.)

once your broth starts simmering, you want to add the cabbage. cabbage is the staple of this stew; you should keep plenty of it in the pot at all times. this is a good opportunity to throw in your onions or scallions too. i also add the sweet potatoes at this point, as they cook very slowly and need all the time they can get to be perfect. the same is true for carrots, if you happen to be a carrot person.

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next, add your meats, keeping cooking time in mind. chicken and/or meatballs take significantly longer than seafood, so add them first. you may even want to put the lid on for a few minutes to give the chicken a head-start before you add the seafood (especially if you're using the meatballs, which are thick and cook slowly). if your shrimp turns pink almost instantly, turn the heat down! they'll be tough and rubbery if you overcook them! this dish is all about patience.

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your other veggies and tofu can go in once the meat (especially the chicken) is well started. these things will just need to get hot, so they go quick. also, the yellow rolls in the photo are egg, which can be found pre-cooked in japan. otherwise, you can scramble your own eggs separately and add them if you so desire. once you have everything neatly arranged, put the lid on and walk away. entertain your guests with a rousing round of "would you rather" or invent your own embarrassing party game. (i have lots of suggestions for this if you need some creative help.)

keep an eye on your nabe pot to make sure it stays at a simmer, but avoid taking off the lid -- you'll let out all that yummy steam. if it threatens to boil over, turn the heat down ever so slightly.

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once your guests are sick of playing games or some snarky comment has sucked the fun out of the room (typically about ten mintues), revive the party by taking the lid off of your masterpiece. expect a chorus of "ooo's" and "ahhh's".

serve up the goods in small bowls, keeping most of the broth in the pot. when everyone has their first serving, refresh the pot by adding more of all your favorite ingredients. replace the lid and let the party continue. nabe is the meal that keeps on giving -- as it gets low, simply keep adding and cooking throughout the evening. (this is why the portable burner works best; it's most convenient to have the stew cooking right on the table as you eat.) i usually poll my guests: "who wants more shrimp? more crab? egg?" etc. but don't ask them about the cabbage. just keep adding cabbage like i told you to.

like all japanese food, nabe goes well with sake and should be washed down with generous amounts of the delicious brew to ensure that the evening is a smashing success.

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p.s.

nabe also comes out better if you wear a really cool shirt while you make it, like this "soul-stirring music" raven tee i picked up for a mere 7,000 yen at born free. yeah, i know, i got ripped off. (note: that web page is the actual born free shop in a-square where i bought the raven tee. the internet is magical, isn't it?)

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