Home » Hot-Pots and Warm Shots — Nabemono and Sake to Fight the Winter Chill
Got the winter blues? What you need is nabemono and warm sake, a Japanese tradition. Find out how it all works here.

Nabemono and warm sake give you the heat, camaraderie and sustenance you need to make it through a cold winter. Nabemono, a traditional family-style Japanese meal whose name roughly translates as “cooking pot of ingredients,” encourages group participation by allowing guests to serve and cook their own foods at the table.

Five styles of nabemono proliferate: oden, yudofu, motsu, mizutaki and chankonabe. Within those five varieties, you have a lot of latitude for variation; it’s not uncommon for one meal to include three or four types of meat and seafood and numerous types of vegetables. But nabemono isn’t about dumping a bunch of ingredients in a pot and letting them do their thing; it has its own specialized cooking equipment and technique you should follow for the best results.

Special Equipment

The main piece here is the donabe, an earthenware crock made for cooking over a direct flame. Think of donabe as a Japanese-style Dutch oven available in sizes just large enough for two people or 12 people. All the ingredients simmer in the donabe while hungry guests wait. You can find electric donabe, too.

Other than the donabe, you probably have all the equipment you need for nabemono: lots of small plates for eating, enough chopsticks for your guests, and a chinois or mesh sieve if you want to strain the broth. In short, you really don’t have too much expense other than food, and you can use the donabe for more than nabemono; large donabe make excellent braising and poaching vessels.

The Ingredients

All nabemono variations have a broth-style base, usually made of soy sauce, dashi and sake. As far as ingredients go, you can use just about anything you’d find in a well-stocked kitchen, such as:

  • Chicken, beef and pork
  • Seafood, especially white fish, shrimp and lobster
  • Vegetables, such as squash, bamboo shoots and carrots
  • Greens, such as mizuna, kikuna, shungiku and Japanese mustard
  • Udon noodles or rice

Technique

Preparation makes up 90 percent of nabemono cooking. You want every ingredient sliced and ready to go before you start cooking. The basic nabemono technique looks like this:

  1. Have every ingredient sliced and ready to go at least 30 minutes before you start cooking. Keep the ingredients in the refrigerator until just before you cook them; you can keep the vegetables on the same platter or in the same containers, but you must keep each type of meat and seafood separate to prevent cross-contamination.
  2. Bring the nabemono base to a simmer on the stove. If you’re using an electric donabe, heat the base separately and add it to the donabe after it simmers.
  3. Add the ingredients to the donabe in order of cooking time; meats such as chicken, beef and pork first, seafood and dense vegetables next, followed by quick-cooking vegetables and garnishes last. Only add as many ingredients as the donabe can reasonably handle at one time.
  4. Cook the noodles or rice after you’ve cooked all the food. You can strain the broth if desired, but don’t be surprised if you can’t help yourself from spooning out the delicious nibbles of ingredients left behind.

There are a few technique variations depending on the nabemono recipe, such as first searing the meat in the donabe before adding the base, but they don’t deviate much. If you make your guests feel like they have an endless supply of food and drink, you can’t miss on “nabemono night.”

Also, find out how to celebrate nabemono with warm sake here.