Wednesday, November 17, 2004

'Tis the Season to Eat Nabe

My local supermarket started hawking nabe paraphernalia as early as August: clay pots, heavy metal pots, little slotted scoops made out of metal and plastic, table-top burners, gas canisters, you name it. Nabe, or hotpot, is one of my favorite winter foods. It’s the ultimate one-pot meal. With all kinds of pre-mixed soup stock available, all you have to do is to add vegetables, meat, tofu, and throw in some cooked rice at the end to make a nutritious and delicious meal in under 30 minutes. It is a lifesaver when you want a hot meal but are short on time.

Although I love nabe for the obvious reasons, Jason is not a huge fan. I don’t understand what the man has against nabe. After all, this is the same person who asks me to make chicken soup almost every week in the winter. Soup, nabe, what is the difference? So serving nabe for dinner is like planning a sneak attack, and it goes like this:
Jason, “What are we having for dinner tonight?”
Me, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll think of something when I go to the grocery store.”
Come dinnertime: burner and clay pot all set to go.
Me, “Ta-da! I saw a new kimchi-flavored nabe stock at the supermarket and thought we’d give it a try.”
Jason, “Not nabe agaaaaaaaaaain!”

Mind you, I have put in a lot of thoughts in the nabe I make over the years. Every time I order nabe in a restaurant, I am always careful to take note of any unique ingredients, or the technique employed in making the zousui at the end. Ah, the zousui is another reason I love nabe. It means “everything cooked together” and is like a rice porridge. At the end of a nabe meal, when most of the goodies have been scooped up, the soup is brought to a boil, and then the burner is turned off. Immediately, some cooked rice is added to the soup, and a beaten raw egg is poured in egg-drop-soup-style. The lid is then replaced on the heavy clay pot. The residual heat cooks the egg and makes the rice absorb the soup. Ten minutes later, you lift the lid off to find – zousui! Udon noodles or, my favorite, rice cakes can be used in place of rice. When using rice cakes, they need to be placed inside the nabe a little bit before the heat is turned off so that they can turn all gooey. Mmmmmm, nothing beats piping hot rice cake melting inside your mouth. BUT, not even zousui can sway Jason in favor of the nabe. He finds it too starchy.

That is why it is imperative that the season’s first nabe makes a good impression on Jason so we can have more later. This year, I found the perfect solution: crabs. Who does not love crabs? So for our first nabe of the season, I chose zuwaigani (a long-legged Japanese variety with not-too-hard shells) as the main ingredient, and for stock I used a non-overpowering kelp base as I trust the crab to do enough flavoring on its own. To give it a gourmet touch, I even pre-cracked the legs so someone wouldn’t complain about how hard it is to eat crabs (although I obviously need more practice in this area since some of the legs were almost severed in half, oops).

As predicted, nothing could possibly go wrong when you throw crab in the nabe. Jason even went so far as to say he enjoyed it, but was quick to add, “It doesn’t mean I want to have nabe every week though!” Darn, I was so close!


Hsin said...

I'm surprised the crab almost swayed Jason. If I recall right, this is the same man who ate more bread than chili crab at the chili crab dinner Adeline organized last year. Thought he was too lazy to get to past the shell to the meat.

That said, I have to admit that nabe isn't my favourite food either. Maybe I just haven't been in Japan long enough, or I just haven't tried a really good one, but I had one nabe meal last year and that was quite enough.

Lynn said...

"Thought he was too lazy to get to past the shell to the meat."

True, hence the soft-shelled zuwaigani and pre-cracking the legs.

But Nabe is not Japan-specific. Don't you eat hotpots in Singapore? I remember having something called "xiao wan mian" at the Bedok hawker center that is essentially a mini nabe of noodles.

Hsin said...

Not crazy about xiao wan mian in the first place. Hot pot (or steam boat) is more or less the same thing as nabe in terms of throwing everything in, but the starchy bit at the end is different - with steam boat, you throw in tung hoon, which is essentially clear noodles. Isn't starchy. With nabe, I'm in Jason's camp - the rice at the end is too starchy.