Nabemono is a traditional Japanese soup typically served in winter time, when the warmth of hot broth seems particularly welcome. It’s a simple, throw-it-together kind of a food – one that can adapt easily to whatever bits of fish, meat or vegetables lurk in your refrigerator. I make it frequently in the winter, particularly when I am tired but in want of something nourishing. Lately, as I work like crazy to finish up the Nourished Kitchen Cookbook (it’s due in just a few weeks – fortunately, I have a friend to help in the kitchen), nabemono have made their appearance on our table more often than I’d like to admit.
Nabemono is a compound word; that is, it combines the word nabe (cooking pot) with mono (stuff). Nabemono are typically cooked in a clay pot called a donabe, which you can find here. They’re beautiful little pots, and very versatile. Of course, you can also substitute a clay baker or a Dutch oven.
I first experienced nabemono in Japan, where I grew up and learned to really love fresh foods. We lived on a military base, but ventured off-base as often as we could – tucking into little Mamasan shops, and eating at yakitori stands, noodle joints, and our favorite restaurant that served the best sesame spinach. But I remember the soups: the big, lidded clay pots full of broth, fish cakes, vegetables and a quivering slice of pork fat.
Broth for Nabemono
When I prepare nabemono at home, I start first as I do with any soup; I start with good broth. To make a true fish stock requires fish bones, fish heads and other scraps which I typically don’t have access to, so I typically make my broth from a combination of kombu (a seaweed) and bonito flakes which is smoked and dried fish that’s shaved paper-thin. You can find both in Asian markets and well-stocked health food stores. Combined together with filtered water, they make dashi – traditional Japanese stock that, unlike other broths and stocks, takes only a little time as opposed to several hours for a good bone broth.
Assembling the Nabemono
I also like to paint a bit of miso onto the donabe itself – as the broth hits the ingredients and donabe, the miso dissolves and leaves its beautiful, rich flavor. After painting the pot with miso, simply arrange your vegetables, proteins and herbs in the pot. Duck and mushrooms are good. My favorite pot, when I was a child, held the surprise of a little crab (put in live) among the wakame and other herbs. Now I favor lots of vegetables, wild-caught Alaskan salmon and a healthy serving of salmon roe (usually home-cured, and sometimes smoked).
Cover your ingredients with broth, and continue cooking for a few minutes. Traditionally, nabemono continue cooking a on a little gas stove at the table, but I typically place mine in the oven for 15 minutes or so.
Nabemono is a Japanese hot pot. This version is similar to the nabemono they produce in Hokkaido, and it features miso, salmon, shiitakes, leeks, winter radish and spinach. If you don't have dashi, a Japanese fish stock, you can make your own, or substitute any fish stock or even chicken stock.
- 1 strip kombu
- 1 cup bonito flakes
- 1 1/2 quarts water
- 1/4 cup white miso
- 1 (8-oz) filet wild-caught Alaskan salmon
- 1/2 pound winter or daikon radish, sliced thin
- 1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin
- 2 medium leeks, white and light-green parts only, sliced thin
- 1/4 pound spinach, finely chopped
- 4 oz salmon roe
- Place kombu in a pot, if using, and cover with 1 1/2 quarts filtered water. Allow the kombu to soak for 15 minutes to soften it.
- Turn on the burner to a moderately high flame. When the water begins to bubble, stir in bonito flakes, and remove from heat. Cover and allow the bonito flakes to steep in the water until they to the bottom, about 10 minutes. Strain the broth, composting the bonito flakes.
- Preheat oven to 275 F.
- Rub miso paste along the interior of your nabe pot, clay baker or Dutch oven. Arrange salmon, leeks, shiitakes, radish and spinach in the pot. Pour hot dashi over the salmon and vegetables. Cover and transfer to the oven. Allow the stew to cook 15 minutes or until the fish is done to your liking.
- Remove the pot oven, lift lid and toss in spinach. Return lid to the clay baker and allow the spinach to wilt in the residual heat of the soup - about 5 minutes.
- Ladle into individual soup bowls and top with salmon roe.