Nabemono has many varieties, but these five are the most famous variations — oden, yudofu, motsu, mizutaki and chankonabe — with each centering around a main ingredient or set of common ingredients, such as chicken, tofu and offal. Once you familiarize yourself with the five styles, strike out on your own by adding your favorite Japanese ingredients to taste.
Chankonabe is essentially an ongoing feast of foods you can simmer in chicken or dashi broth, which means just about anything! Also known as “sumo stew” for the Japanese wrestlers who eat it to gain weight, chankonabe covers all the bases — shellfish, beef, chicken, pork, vegetables and rice or udon all have a place here.
First-time nabe cooks love making chankonabe; it calls for familiar ingredients and the guests lend a hand with the cooking. You really only have to worry about prepping enough food. To find out how to make chankonabe, click here.
Oden comes close to being the quintessential Japanese winter food. And as one of the oldest nabe varieties out there, you know it has to be good. Oden packs a lot of winter-hardy vegetables and seafood, including octopus, chicken, eggs, numerous premolded fish cakes, aburaage (deep-fried tofu), daikon (the star veg), negi (Japanese leeks), konnyaku (konjac) and mochi. The residual starches and proteins bolster the broth throughout cooking, giving the dish a creamy stew-like quality.
Yudofu, or “hot water tofu,” centers on tofu so fresh it has a custard-like consistency. Unless you make your own tofu or know someone who does — tofu used in yudofu is so fresh and minimally handled it includes the skin that congeals on it during production— go with the freshest silken tofu you can find.
Yudofu is basically tofu, kombu-seasoned water and an array of tofu-friendly condiments and aromatics such as ginger, scallions and crushed sesame seeds. Yudofu is commonly served with hot tea, red rice, mochi and a few types of pickles.
Another first-timer favorite, mizutaki calls for chicken and umami. Just about every ingredient in mizutaki comes from the chicken or contains a lot of umami. Those include whole chicken with liver and gizzards, enoki and shiitake mushrooms, chrysanthemum leaves, tofu, ponzu and cabbage.
Mizutaki costs next to nothing to make, requires minimal cooking expertise and you can all find the ingredients in the regular supermarket. If you’re craving nabe but don’t want something as elaborate as chankonabe, try mizutaki.
Motsu roughly translates as “organs of cows and swine,” or offal. In a soy-, mirin-, miso- and sake-infused broth, motsunabe contains pork or beef tripe, chicken gizzards and a load of secondary ingredients including cabbage, fried tofu, chives, garlic, shimeji mushrooms and carrots, among others. Motsu takes several hours to clean and tenderize, so start the night before you plan on serving.
You know you’ve had a good “nabe night” when everyone leaves full and you didn’t run out of anything. Try some nabe and warm sake when you want to make new memories with friends and family this winter.