|Posted on December 6, 2009 at 12:21 AM|
Keith is proud to serve his Chanko nabe.
Holiday season is always a tricky time to plan a workshop. Everybody's busy. Yesterday, I offered a make-up session for those who missed my last two hot pot workshops but Keith was the only one who could make it. So we did a one-on-one, a new experience for both of us. Keith was very sore from Aikido practice but he managed fine. The aching ribs didn't get much in the way of cooking or eating.
What's great about a one-on-one is that you get to design the class according to the person's needs. Keith was a novice in Japanese cuisine so he wanted to learn the basics. He brought along his pair of shiny new Japanese chef knives, which he carried in a wooden box. He said the knives were an investment. I could see he was serious about cooking. It's a good place to start because a dull knife will make a dull cook. I bought my first good knife from the four hundred year old knifemaker Aritsugu in Tsukiji, Tokyo. I've had it for more than twenty years, and it is still my favorite kitchen knife.
One thing some Japanese will say about Nabe is why take a class? It is so easy, you can do it yourself. It's yes and no. Japanese people can take Nabe for granted because it is the most popular winter dish we make in a single pot. It appears like any other hearty soup but there are some important steps in nabe making that a cook should know. Nabe is meant to be cooked at the table, and not on the stove. You can do it on the stove but then, you kind of missed the point - the social occasion for people to participate in building and seasoning the nabe.
What I talk about first at the nabe workshop is the stock. Good stock leads to good nabe. The chicken stock for the Chanko nabe takes about four to six hours; the Dashi for the Winter nabe takes less than twenty minutes. The chicken stock needs to cook longer to extract the good collagen from the chicken. You can make either stock ahead of time, so there are ways to make life easier for the cook.
As I walked Keith through all the ingredients and showed him how to prep them, he realized how nabe really differed from making a soup, and why I was being a little fussy about how the uncooked foods should be cut and arranged on the platter. For nabe, you want to start with the freshest seasonal ingredients possible. They should be cut in even pieces to make them cook uniformly. You also want to arrange them on the platter in an appealing way because it is the platter that people see first. If you can win over your eaters before the food is even cooked, you have already accomplished half the task as a nabe maker.
Since it was only the two of us when we started cooking the nabe ingredients, we used half of the ingredients on the platter. You don't want leftovers in the pot. Nabe is slow food. Take your time and stretch the evening for good conversation. Replenish the pot with more food and stock when the pot looks low. Between the two of us, we ate most of the Winter Nabe. The cod added a really nice flavor to the Saikyo miso based stock. Later in the afternoon, we had more people join us, as we were making the Chanko nabe. My artist friends Bob and Kathy, and Sakai came for tastings. We opened a bottle of chilled Onigarashi - a smooth dry sake. It paired nicely with Chanko nabe. Keith cleared the pot and made a fresh batch of nabe. By the second nabe, he was in control and built the nabe on his own. The initial one-on-one session turned into a little gathering of friends but that's what happens when you set the hot pot on the table top. It creates a convivial atmostphere. Nabe is a living pot.
Miyagi's famous quote in The Karate Kid:
First learn stand...then learn fly...nature's rule..