Beef lovers will rave about this unique Japanese cooking experience. This is a true "dining adventure".
Mark this one down as a great "dining adventure". Shabu Shabu is one of the more popular "hotpot" dishes in Japan. Hotpots are popular throughout Asia, and the idea is not that different than a Swiss fondue, except that Asian hotpots typically use a broth instead of oil to cook their ingredients.
My wife and I became hooked on a different Japanese hotpot dish, Sukiyaki, many years ago. It is delicious, but noticeably sweeter than Shabu Shabu. Over the years, we've settled in on Shabu Shabu as our favorite, and have made it at least 20 times . . . usually for company.
It makes a GREAT meal for entertaining, depending on the size of the crowd. You need one hotpot (pot of broth and vegetables) for every four people, or maximum 6 people if they have long arms. First of all, it's very different than what most people are used to. Secondly, it's a lot of fun because you cook your own meat the way you like it. Thirdly, it's delicious. Using good quality beef, combined with excellent Japanese sesame and ponzu sauces (available pre-made), makes for a meal everyone will talk about. Finally, it's flexible. You can add chicken, shrimp, lobster, probably fish (haven't tried it), pork, whatever. And when it's all done, you make soup out of what's left!!
By the way, this meal is "safe", meaning that everyone we've had over has liked it (or said that they did!). It's different, but the tastes of beef and vegetables are pretty familiar, and guests can skip the sauces if they don't like them (very rare). So even "mildly adventurous" friends are likely to enjoy this.
It's also surprisingly easy. If you buy your beef pre-sliced, all you have to do is make some rice, heat some broth, and chop some vegetables. Then make the guests do the work as they cook their own food.
There is an initial "investment" in a couple of pieces of equipment - namely the butane burner which you set on the table to keep the broth hot. We have two of them, and they are available and affordable at most Asian markets. You''ll want a few cans of butane fuel with them to get you started.
You'll also want a pot. We found a nice cast iron one with handles, shown in the photos. For our second pot, we removed the handle from an old cooking pan. Hey, it works!
The rest is all optional, but kind of fun:
- Chopsticks are recommended, even if just for the fun of watching people try to use them that may not be experience with them. You can always set out forks as backup.
- Asian dishes (mine are from China) add to the atmosphere.
- Beer and Sake are part of the experience in Japan - why not make this a "Japanese" meal and add them to the list?
- A meat slicer give you flexibility to buy premium beef and slice it yourself. Many Asian markets sell Shabu Shabu beef pre-sliced, and it tastes great. We alternate back and forth - sometimes we buy boneless prime rib and slice it ouselves (after partially freezing it), sometimes we buy it pre-sliced. You want VERY thin slices so the the meat cooks quickly.
- A rice cooker, available at Asian markets or online. Does a beautiful job with rice.
TOTAL TIME: 60 min
- Prep: 60 min
- Cook: 0 min (guests cook their own)
YIELD: 4 - 6 servings
Cook the rice. Takes about 30 minutes in a rice cooker. We used brown rice in this cook, for health reasons, but it's more typical to use white rice.
While the rice is cooking:
- Chop the vegetables. See the photos below for ideas on how to chop.
- Soak the Kuzukiri clear noodles in water to soften them up.
- Set the table. Each person will need a bowl for rice, two smaller dishes (one for sesame sauce, one for ponzu sauce), and chopsticks (and/or a fork).
- Get the meat(s) ready for cooking, laying it on a plate for serving. In this example we used both beef and (uncooked) shrimp, but a typical shabu shabu could be beef-only.
- Mix the broth and heat it on the stovetop, almost but not quite to boiling.
When the rice is almost done, pour some of the broth into the hotpot so it is about half full. Set the hotpot on top of the butane burner and heat on high to get the broth boiling. Note: the hotpot can simply be a shallow cooking pan.
Once the broth is boiling, add the vegetables. Depending on how big the hotpot is, you may just want to add 1/3 or 1/2 of the vegetables so that the pot is not overfull. Ideally, add the slow-to-cook vegetables like the carrots and onions first, and fast-to-cook vegetables like the cabbage last. The cabbage tends to cook down to almost nothing.
Once the vegetables have cooked down a bit and the broth is once again boiling, adjust the temperature to a lower boil.
At this point you can add meat piece by piece. Lay each piece out flat for maximum exposure, then push it into the broth so it will cook more completely.
- Beef will not take long - a minute or two. Remove it when it's cooked the way you like.
- Shrimp or lobster may take a little longer due to its thickness, but you want to eat it as soon as it is opaque (no longer clear) inside. Otherwise it gets tougher and chewier.
- Pork or chicken must be cooked to minimum safe temperatures of 145F and 165F respectively. It's not practical to stick a thermometer into a thin piece of meat, so just make sure that it is thoroughly cooked (not pink at all).
- Sausage of any type needs to be cooked to 160F minimum. Make sure it is thoroughly cooked and not showing any blood or pink areas.
When cooked, remove the meat from the hotpot and dip it into either the sesame or the ponzu sauce. Then lay the meat on top of your rice. Add any vegetables from the hotpot as well - a strainer or ladle with holes is handy for getting the cooked vegetables out. Time to eat!
Replenish the hotpot with broth and vegetables as needed. You will also need to adjust the flames occasionally to keep it at a low boil.
When everyone is full, put any remaining meat, veggies, and broth into the hotpot. You can offer soup all around, or refrigerate it for later. When serving, add some black pepper and chopped green onions (scallions) to each bowl to give it additional flavor.
- 2.5 - 3 lbs shabu shabu beef, pre-sliced very thin (or slice your own boneless prime rib)
- Optionally, add non-beef entrees such as shrimp, lobster, pork, or chicken - all raw.
- 1/2 Chinese cabbage
- 4 large carrots
- 2 bunches green onions (scallions)
- 1 white onion
- 2 bunches Japanese Enokitake mushrooms (substitute other mushrooms if necessary, but these are delicious)
- 12 oz. Tofu
- Bonita soup stock flakes (Hondashi or other)
- 1 pack Kuzukiri clear noodles
- Sesame sauce (from Asian market)
- Ponzu sauce (from grocery or Asian market)
- Rice (white or brown)
- When dealing with all of the raw food, don't use the same chopsticks that you eat with (to avoid food poisoning). We usually set out forks or chopsticks separately for use only with each tray of raw meat.
- Your local Asian market is your friend. Even if they specialize in Korean, Chinese, or Japanese goods, most of them carry the common supplies and ingredients used here.
- "Shabu Shabu beef" can be purchased at many Asian markets. Alternately, you can buy boneless prime rib and slice it yourself. That requires a meat slicer (about $100 online). Partially freeze the beef so it is firm enough for you to get very thin slices.
- Commonly available Japanese beers include Kirin, Sapporo, and Asahi.
- You can easily make Sesame Sauce and Ponzu sauce yourself. Don't bother - the store-bought sauces are excellent.