Shabu-Shabu (Japanese Fondue)

FAIR WARNING: You will need special equipment for this recipe. Specifically a butane tabletop cooker. Like this one.

I don’t remember the first time I had shabu shabu, a style of Japanese fondue, but I remember it was in Evergreen, CO of all places. It was so delicious that after the first taste, I scoured eBay (which was still in its infancy, back in 1999 or 2000) to find a shabu shabu pot. After we moved from that house, I never again saw the original box the pot came in but if you could see the image in my mind right now, you would swear it came from WWII Japan. All the writing was in Japanese and the paper label on the blue cardboard box was tattering and falling off.

shabu_pot

A real eBay gem – original Shabu Shabu pot from 1950’s Japan

This pot weighs over four pounds (about 2 kgs.) It is heavy-duty and could make for a nice heirloom – you know, if we had kids to pass it down to and took better care of it, polished it once in a while, stored it away from dust and daylight. Alas, that’s not who we are so it’ll probably end up in a landfill in 50 years when people have forgotten (or, in this country, never knew) how delicious shabu shabu is and why they should try it.

If you ever saw “Lost In Translation” (an exceedingly boring movie, if you ask me), at the end of the movie, Bill Murray is with Scarlett Johansen and they’re eating shabu shabu in Tokyo. Bucket list! Except not really.  Authentic shabu shabu uses a dashi broth and dashi, for those not familiar, dashi is fish / dregs of the ocean / slimy seaweed broth. Our version uses beef broth as its base because otherwise I never would’ve tried it. (Why the heck would you ruin perfectly delectable Wagyu beef by boiling it in FISH broth? Yuck.)

Anyway, if you want to know more about shabu shabu’s history, you can check out this link. My incarnation of shabu stems from a long-forgotten recipe from Food Network (probably Emeril Lagasse if I had to guess) but has been adapted since then to suit our tastes and sensibilities. This is the meal I ask for every year on my birthday because I love it that much. So from that information, you’d think this was a special-once-a-year meal only to be prepared with appropriate dedication and reverence. Except we have it probably ten or twelve times a year, but definitely on my birthday!

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Shabu Shabu: Japanese fondue with marbled-meat and vegetables in a beef broth with sesame dipping sauce

The basis of this dish is the broth. That’s what the meat and vegetables are gently cooked in and that broth needs to be flavorful to impart some of its taste to the meat. In order to get the broth flavored just right, green onions, ginger, garlic, sesame oil and soy sauce are added.  To help the broth take on some of what will be eaten as part of the meal, when the vegetables are trimmed and prepared for serving, the refuse is coarsely chopped and added to the broth as well.

mushroom

Mushroom caps for serving,  mushroom stems chopped for broth

If you do any research on shabu shabu outside of this blog post, you’ll find a wide array of vegetables being used: some mainstream, many esoteric. (Straw mushrooms aren’t exactly plentiful in Salem, OR.) As such, I encourage you to use whatever vegetables you like and can readily find. I think the original recipe called for bok choy which is how we started this dish many years ago but the thick white stems are very moisture-rich and that meant I kept burning my mouth as I put scalding hot bok choy in there.  And then the green leaves were a bit fibrous for my preferences. We dabbled with baby bok choy (sam choy, I believe) and that was slightly better but ultimately we moved away from the choys.

asparagus

The tough ends on the left are roughly chopped & added to the broth; the tender ends on the right are cut in half for serving.

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We have always included asparagus and mushrooms – not only were they part of the original recipe but we love them and they’re readily available. Recently (maybe in the last five years), we added snow peas to the mix. My frustration with the snow peas is the outside strings and they’re not always in season so they can be somewhat sketchy when you manage to find them. I put some snap peas in the cart once and we ate them; my husband grudgingly so, I devoured them. I liked the crunch and the string-free experience whereas the snow peas are more of a silky texture (strings-aside.) Again, go for whatever vegetables YOU like.

simmer_broth

Simmering broth with vegetable scraps

After doing some research myself for this blog post, I saw some appealing vegetable trays for shabu and a number of them included carrots so I thought “Sure, why not?!” I used my carrot_crinklecrinkle cutter to slice the peeled carrot on a diagonal to give the slices enough surface to hold some dipping sauce. After I started cutting them this way, I realized “using chopsticks for this could turn bad quickly!” You know, if the grooves didn’t line up. As it happened, the grooves from the crinkle cutter weren’t the problem. Carrots are heavy. And they sink. And the broth is beef-based with soy sauce added, so it’s dark. And it becomes a challenge to find carrots once they’ve gone into the pot. (The asparagus, mushrooms and peas all float, thankfully.) Aside from being able to fish the carrots out quickly, I absolutely loved having them with the dish. They were hearty and mild and a great conduit for getting the dipping sauce into my mouth – which is kind of the point of the meal.

Also, for the first time with this meal, we cooked brown rice instead of white rice. Normally we put out a bowl of steamed rice and we each scoop a bunch into our bowls. The rice serves as a sponges for draining meats and vegetables after they’ve been cooked.

Word to the wise: wear a bib. I’m not kidding! You’ll end up with sesame dipping sauce all down the front of your shirt if you don’t. Ask me how I know.

I’ve never really been a fan of plain white rice – drench it in crystal sauce for my shrimp with snow peas or mix it with my kung pao chicken, I’ll eat every grain of rice. Plain white rice? No thank you. As such, I never ate the rice. My husband, however, did eat the rice.  Now that we’re working hard on losing weight, getting in shape and taking better care of ourselves, I managed to talk him into trying brown rice with shabu.

s-ns-zcc10Our rice cooker is probably at least 15 years old and the bowl inside has seen better days but it still cooks rice perfectly every time. It employs “fuzzy logic” which detects moisture levels (or something) to determine temperature and time. While we got to know that a single scoop of long grain white rice would take about 38 minutes to cook, there were times when it might take 40 or 36 simply depending on if the water was too high or too low, or if the water was warmer or cooler when put in with the rice. For the brown rice setting, the lines begin at two scoops so you automatically know it will take a while longer. But the Zojirzojirushi_nphbc10_b4ushi also includes a soak cycle for the rice as well as a steam cycle. The bottom line is that it takes TWO HOURS to get brown rice made, hence the lengthy time quoted for the recipe. You are free and welcome to use white rice and each much more quickly if you prefer! The brown rice (organic short grain in our house) has a nutty, chewy texture that goes surprisingly well with the sesame dipping sauce. Yes, I actually ate some rice with my shabu for the first time ever.

If you make brown rice, you’ll invariably have leftover rice which begs the question: what to do with it? I suggest a version of an Original Yumm Bowl. (Or there are plenty of recipes online for brown rice bowls – find one that works for you and dig in!)

If I could telepathically convey to you the deliciousness that is their Yumm sauce, you’d buy a case and have it shipped ASAP. But in the meantime, I think there are copycat recipes of Yumm Sauce online if you’re inclined to give it a try at home before splurging on the real deal.

strained

Strained broth, ready for dinner

While the broth is the basis of the dish, the meat can be the star of the meal – if you get the right meat. If you have an Asian supermarket nearby, go there. Our nearest one is 40 miles away and yes, we make the drive probably every six weeks or so and we stock up on our Asian pantry supplies, including frozen beef.

However H-Mart does it, they are the masters of thin-sliced beef and the best option beefwe’ve found is the frozen beef boneless thin-sliced short rib. It is insanely marbled without a lot of fatty-gristle like we used to get when we picked up their less expensive trays of thin-sliced ribeye. This shows about one pound of beef but don’t be alarmed by the price showing on the sticker. That price was for 1.805 pounds of short rib and we split the package in two. (And don’t ask why it’s sideways; it’s not that way on my hard drive but it seems 348sthat WordPress has other things in mind.) Your beef needs to be very thinly and evenly sliced in order to cook quickly and fully. I only keep each slice of beef in there for a slow ten-count and then set it on my rice to cool a bit before breaking it into two or three pieces for dipping. H-Mart will have their thin-sliced beef in plastic-wrapped trays, in clear plastic bowls or in knotted clear plastic bags – all in the freezer section.

I wouldn’t hold out much hope of getting your non-Asian butcher to fully comprehend what you need for this but you can certainly try. One time, we asked the butcher at Roth’s to thinly slice some filet mignon for this dish for us. He sliced it by hand, with a knife. (My husband could’ve done better at home with a meat slicer, which we have.) But truly, it was our fault for both asking for it there and for selecting filet, the least fatty cut of meat on the cow.

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Dipping Sauce

The crowning achievement of this meal in terms of umami in your mouth will be the dipping sauce. There’s something other-wordly about this stuff. The recipe originally called for sesame paste. This is elusive stuff, even in the Asian supermarket. And per ounce, a bit pricey. As such, we’ve shifted toward the more economical bulk jar of tahini. It’s still sesame-based but it can be thinner in nature though it still turns into cement at the bottom of the jar as the solids settle out of the oil. (I’ve bent a few utensils trying to stir that stuff back to life.) Whether it’s true or not, I tend to think of tahini as raw sesame seeds and sesame paste as toasted sesame seeds.

 

 

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I’m beginning to regret my decision to use WordPress since it insist on ignoring photo EXIF data and arbitrarily rotating my photos. Hopefully you get the idea and can hang tight until I find a better platform.

The meal itself is fairly straightforward: make the broth, strain the broth, cook the rice, serve the meat and veggies, let everyone cook for themselves. We usually serve this with an Asian cucumber salad and chilled sake or sometimes some ice-cold Asahi beer.

Shabu Shabu

  • Servings: 2 main course servings
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Japanese meat fondue with vegetables, rice and a sesame dipping sauce

Ingredients

  • 8 cups beef stock or broth
  • 1¾ cup chopped green onion (and whites)
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 serrano pepper, sliced about ½” thick
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil (or hot sesame oil)
  • 1 pound highly-marbled beef, thinly sliced
  • ¼ pound snow pea pods, trimmed
  • ½ pound crimini mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed
  • 16 to 20 asparagus spears
  • 1 very thick carrot, peeled
  • steamed rice (white or brown, recipe time includes 2 hrs cooking time for brown rice)

Dipping Sauce Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons sesame paste or tahini
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Directions

  1. In a large pot, combine the stock, green onions, ginger, garlic, oil and soy sauce. Turn heat to low.
  2. Remove stems from mushrooms and set aside. Place mushroom caps in a bowl for serving. Roughly chop mushroom stems and add to pot.
  3. Remove the tough ends of the asparagus spears and set aside. Of tender ends, cut asparagus spears in half and place in container for serving. Roughly chop tough ends of asparagus and add to pot.
  4. Use a knife or crinkle cutter to slice ¼” thick slices on the diagonal and place in vessel for serving.
  5. Trim both ends of snow pea pods and place in vessel for serving.
  6. With vegetable scraps added to stock pot, turn heat up to medium-high and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove from heat and strain thoroughly. Keep warm.
  8. Prepare dipping sauce: Combine all ingredients in a small blender (or Ninja or appropriate vessel with an immersion blender) and blend until smooth. Scrape down sides as necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired: add more red pepper or sesame paste for thickness or soy sauce to thin out the sauce.
  9. Arrange beef and vegetables for serving.
  10. Provide each guest with individual cups of dipping sauce, a large bowl for rice, beef & vegetables and chopsticks. Place a table-top cooker within easy reach of everyone. Keep the stock simmering throughout the meal, adding more as necessary.

 

abbee_shabu

Everyone in our house loves shabu shabu! While I was cleaning up, Abbee hopped up on my empty chair and then up onto the table to help me clean up. Meanwhile, my husband thought she looked especially photogenic and snapped a picture to commemorate how we honor Bad Dogs in our house.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

This recipe is delicious and fairly easy to make though a bit time intensive if you want to do it “the right way” which is to say manually chop things. You can always short-cut the process with a mini-food processor for slightly different results.

Pictures coming soon. I promise. I hope. Yeah, the downside of being impulsive is that I made this last night and only took one single picture before I decided to embed WordPress into my site for recipes / food blogging. I will update the pictures next time I make this recipe.

I haven’t been to a P.F. Chang’s in years – maybe ten or fifteen years.  It’s been a while. But when I went, I sure did enjoy their chicken lettuce wraps but a decade or more is just too long to go without an easy Asian taco dinner. And yes, Chang’s serves their Chicken Lettuce Wraps as an appetizer but we make the recipe as an entree.

I will ordinarily pick up a tray of ground chicken at WalMart and in tray-form, it’s the white meat. If you get the chubb-form (tube shape), it has dark meat ground in there which alters the taste and nutrition somewhat. After my husband once got the tube of ground chicken, I swore we were only ever making the dish with the tray form with all white meat. So much better, in my opinion!

When it comes to the diced onion, I always prefer a white onion for a very mild onion flavor. My husband gravitates to yellow onions but white are prettier so when I have the choice, I go with white. The recipe also uses green onions / spring onions / scallions but you’ll also want/need a regular round onion.  Just, whatever you do, avoid the red onion for this! It’s a very different taste and texture and will be outright gross in this dish.

Initial recipe testing included a full tablespoon of Sriracha. I have a much lower hot-tolerance than my husband and with the full tablespoon, my face was on fire. Even at a half tablespoon, I can definitely feel a zing. Since my husband couldn’t tell there was any heat with the full dose, I’ve since dialed back to about 1.50 teaspoons of Sriracha and let him drench his lettuce wraps with the huge bottle of Sriracha we keep in the house.

The very first thing I do (after taking the ground chicken out of the fridge to reduce its chill-factor; don’t tell anyone at Food Network but I will pull it from the fridge around 9am and not start cooking it until 4pm. Have you ever been to a third world country’s grocery store? They have raw chicken sitting in bins in the middle of an aisle. Yes, there are flies. No, there is no sneeze-guard. My point is that we are sometimes a bit too anal-retentive about food poisoning in the States. I don’t recommend YOU do this and if you do and you die, don’t blame me! I’m telling you what I do, nothing more.)

Anyway, the first thing I do is prep The Stuff. Pop the lid on that can of water chestnuts. I buy cans of sliced water chestnuts because it takes one level of work out of the equation for me but if your store only has whole, that’s fine too.  And if you use a mini food processor for this bit, it won’t make a difference at all.

I get the water chestnuts lined up, sliced into matchsticks and then mince to approximately the same size. I like a bit of crunch to my water chestnuts. The food processor, if you’re not careful, will puree the water chestnuts and if that happens, well, dump it in and pay closer attention next time! Trust me, you want that little bit of water chestnut in each bite.

Once they’re all chopped, put them in a prep bowl. They likely won’t fit back in the can from whence they came and you’ll want to add your scallions to the dish at the same time so the scallions and water chestnuts can hang out in a bowl together for a while.

Speaking of scallions, green onions or spring onions, I always cut off at least one inch of the tops where the green has turned brown or gotten wilty.  And at the bottom, by the root, I’ll usually pull off that one outer layer that always seems to get mushy, slimy before anything else.  And I’ll pull it off even when it’s still nice because it’s a loner (and a rebel, Dottie!) and there’s nothing holding it there except my fingers once I start chopping. I don’t know about you but I’m kind of a menace when it comes to knives in the kitchen. I have grand visions of being Julia Child or Ina Garten and just whipping through things with Mad Knife Skillz and then I end up cut. Either bleeding-cut or “I hope I got the fingernail shard out of there” cut. And with that loner onion piece there, it starts getting slide-y and things go sideways FAST.  So it gets ripped off, with malice. And then I slice top to bottom, lather, rinse, repeat.

These cook down considerably and get lost in the dish so you might want to save a couple of tablespoons of the greens (or whites, your choice) to sprinkle over the top when it’s all done if you’re concerned about presentation. Or just add another onion to the top and cook everything I’ve listed! (I love onions, garlic and ginger so prepare for that if you’re going to hang out with me.)

Note: please do NOT try to use the food processor on the green onions. It will not. end. well.

Then I’ll get to the mushrooms. I prefer crimini over white button mushrooms. I find the crimini to be a more firm while tender mushroom with a hint of earthiness.  White button mushrooms are just blandness personified. Blech. I pop the stems out of the mushrooms (tougher in button ‘shrooms but tolerable in crimini; just a personal preference in our house) and then slice and chop. Again, you can use the food processor here too – just make sure you keep an eye on things, blitz very quickly and for short bursts of time, scrape the bowl frequently. Like way more than you think you should. Otherwise you’ll end up with:

  1. Mushroom dust
    or
  2. Mushroom dust and mushroom shards the size of your pinkie finger

If you don’t scrape, you’ll inevitably get some mushroom on the side of the bowl but up top where the inertia of the mushroom pieces in contact with the blade can’t coax it back into the mix and that one piece will just be huge. And there were be six others buried in the dust that you don’t immediately see … until you dump it all in the pan only to realize that someone is going to have a Mushroom Lettuce Wrap because this giant piece escaped your Eagle Eye.

Ask me how I know.

And this, my friends, is exactly why I hand-chop things. Uniformity is my friend when it comes to these lettuce wraps. People will be spooning very small amounts into delicate lettuce leaves and eating with their hands. There’s very little that will escape notice, trust me.

Your mushrooms will likely fit into a regular Old Fashioned Glass (10 or 11 oz capacity) / a table water glass. They’ll go in their prep glass solo.

Next up is your onion-onion. This not the green onion but the white or yellow onion, but definitely not the red onion. It should be a small to medium sized onion with a small dice. Ultimately about a cup or 8 ounces of small-diced onion is what you’re looking for. (I always buy behemoth onions, cut what I need, wrap the remainder in plastic wrap and then put the whole thing in a Food Saver vacuum-sealed bag in the fridge where a cut onion can last for two or three weeks. Telling me “a small onion” will make me laugh because it’s so vague and I never have a small-anything in my house.)

Now go grab yourself another water / old fashioned glass to start building the sauce. Put your diced onion in that glass and build from there.

I like my saucy dishes to be saucy.

Over time and testing, I got this recipe to the level of saucy that appeals to me and my husband. That said, if you find it too saucy, you can cut it by 1/3. (I’ll let you in on the secret further down below.)

So in this second glass, add your garlic, ginger, hoisin, rice vinegar and Sriracha to the diced onions. Mix WELL and keep the spoon in the glass so you can give it another quick stir just before you dump it all in the pan and you don’t leave 30% of your garlic, ginger and onion behind.

If you use a non-stick pan, ever-so-lightly spray it with cooking oil. Not PAM or any weirdness like that but an aerosol cooking oil.  (If you use PAM in your non-stick pan, you’ll end up ruining it.) If you use a regular pan, heat the olive oil in the pan over medium  to medium-high heat.

I usually start with medium-low heat because I like to crumble the raw chicken before it hits the pan. If I drop a whole herkin’ bunch of ground meat into a hot oiled pan, I’ll end up with a giant weirdly-shaped meatball and I’ll have to spend three days attacking it with various implements to get the little crumbles I’m looking for. My non-stick pan hates that. My forearm hates that. My legs hate standing there for that long. In general, I crumble and turn up the heat as I go so that I don’t end up with incinerated-to-under-cooked crumbles in the pan.

You’ll want or need a serving bowl for the cored head of butter lettuce for serving, easy grabbing.

You’ll also want a serving dish / platter that’s somewhere between a bowl and a plate. Saucy food odesn’t work well with a plate but if there’s enough of a lip or edge, you should be fine. Make sure there’s a big spoon (American tablespoon which is probably a serving spoon in every other country) for each person to serve themselves chicken goodness.

If you have hot-sauce fans, you might also put out the bottle of Sriracha or other favorite hot sauce along with some crispy rice noodles for extra crunch.

And napkins. Plenty of extra napkins. (Did I mention that I like my foods to be extra saucy?!)

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

  • Servings: 4 appetizers or 2 main courses
  • Time: 20 to 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Super delicious, flavorful, healthful Asian-inspired appetizer or easy, light weeknight meal.

Ingredients

  • Vegetable Cooking Spray with a large non-stick pan or 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, minced (or a heaping tablespoon of jar minced garlic)
  • 1 small to medium onion, diced small (about a 1/2 cup)
  • 3 ounces hoisin sauce (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons, or just 6 tablespoons)
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1/4 to 1 tablespoon Sriracha, optional, to taste
  • 1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained, rinsed and minced
  • 4 ounces crimini mushrooms, minced or diced small
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced (green and white parts)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 head butter lettuce

Directions

  1. Heat the saucepan over medium-low to medium-high  depending on how you prefer to cook and crumble your ground chicken. Either way, get the oil (liquid or aerosol) in there and add the chicken. Cook and crumble, about 3-5 minutes.  Drain or blot excess fat. (There will be more fat if you use dark meat ground chicken and/or olive oil which should be drained. There will be negligible fat to blot away if you use a quick aerosol spray of oil and white meat chicken.)
  2. Add the sauce mixture to the pan: garlic, onion, hoisin, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, Sriracha. Stir well and lower the heat to medium-low so the sauce doesn’t reduce too much. Cook about 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms and mix well. Cook another 2 minutes to soften the mushrooms and release their moisture.
  4. Add the water chestnuts and green onions. Mix well and cook until the green onions are tender, about 1-2 minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. (This is a great opportunity to use white pepper if you have it.)
  6. To serve, spoon several tablespoons of the chicken mixture into the center of a lettuce leaf, taco-style.

If this was too saucy for you, the revised ingredient list for the sauce would be:

  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce (just the basic 4 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (not 3 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar (not 1.50 tablespoons)

You might want to adjust down the garlic, ginger, Sriracha accordingly too:

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced (or a heaping tablespoon of jar minced garlic)
  • 1 level tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • Sriracha to taste

About 325 calories per appetizer portion.

Adapted From: Damn Delicious

Happy eating and please let me know how it goes!