Keith asks: My local grocer sells “shaved meats” which got me thinking about the “shabu-shabu” I had in Tokyo: you dip vegetables and thin cuts of meat in intense broths for about 10 seconds so they just cook through. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Any ideas how to recreate shabu-shabu?
Tony’s take: Keith, thanks for the question! I’ve always been slightly awestruck by shabu-shabu. As a kid, cooking my own dinner in a restaurant was a game changer. These passions were rekindled a couple of years ago when, like you, I tried the preparation in Tokyo (where it’s even more involved and cool). That said, shabu-shabu has never been something I’ve considered making on my own… until now. And I’m glad I did (ie: you pushed me to). The preparation is basically a lighter, Eastern form of fondue: you make a flavorful broth and then dip thin meats and quick-cooking vegetables. And I’m certain now you can do it well at home; the key is the broth. Then assemble a lot of good stuff and gameplan how to serve it. Here’s how:
– The broth: Most shabu-shabu broths are made using dashi – the seaweed and bonito base in many Japanese soups. As much as I like the umami depth of bonito flakes, I wanted this broth to be more earthy. So I subbed dried shiitake mushrooms in for the bonito and added caramelized shallot rings for some browned sweetness to go with a piece of kombu (Japanese dried seaweed available in the Asian section at the local supermarket). Alone, this mixture tasted good, but the beauty of shabu-shabu, is that the broth only intensifies as you dip more meat and vegetables into it.
The meat: While Keith was able to find shaved meats at his supermarket, I decided to slice my own to see what it would be like for those who can’t. I wanted a marbled cut that was relatively free of fatty patches. A thick strip steak would be ideal, though I found a lean piece of rib eye and went with that. Before slicing the steak, I tucked it into the freezer for 10 minutes so it would firm up and be easy to cut super thin.
– The assembly (serving): There are no set rules for what goes in shabu-shabu, though I played it relatively straight: along with the beef, I prepared udon noodles (boiled and then cooled), sliced Napa cabbage, strips of carrot, fresh enoki mushrooms, chunks of tofu and a ponzu sauce (soy and citrus) for dipping. It is hard to replicate the restaurant tabletop experience that shabu-shabu restaurants boast. So I cheated and shifted everything to the kitchen. I set up stools near the stovetop and had folks dip into one big pot, using small bowls to eat from (after dipping). And it was great!
THE RECIPE: Serves 4
1. Make the broth: Heat a medium pot over medium-high heat for 1 min. Add 2 tsp. peanut oil (or canola oil) and once it’s shimmering hot, add 2 shallots (about 4 oz.; thinly sliced), and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallot softens and browns lightly, about 2 min. Add 6 cups cold water, 1 piece kombu, and 2 oz. dried shiitakes (about 8) Bring to a boil. Discard the kombu, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the mushrooms soften completely and the flavor of the broth intensifies, about 20 min. Stir in 2 Tbs. soy sauce and season to taste with kosher salt (about 1/2 tsp.). Strain the broth; discard the shallots. Stem and thinly slice the shiitakes.
2. Slice the beef: Stick 1 1/4 lb. strip steak (or any tender, well marbled cut) in the freezer to for 10-15 min so it firms up. Using a sharp knife, slice the beef as thin as you can. Fan out on a large plate.
3. Make the ponzu dipping sauce: Combine 1/3 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup cold water, 2 Tbs. lemon juice, 2 Tbs. lime juice, 1 Tbs. rice vinegar, and 1 Tbs. sugar. Add more of any of these ingredients to taste. Note: the flavor of the sauce should be sharp and acidic to counterpoint the relatively plain broth.
4. Assemble and serve: This really is up to you. My suggestion: slice one 14-oz. pack tofu into strips. Cook off 1 lb. fresh udon noodles (cooling them under cold running water). For vegetables, thinly slice 3/4 lb. bok choy (or Napa cabbage) and 2 medium carrots and assemble a 4-oz. pack enoki mushrooms. Arrange all of these ingredients near the stovetop. Set the broth over low heat, set out chopsticks (preferably long ones) and small bowls and encourage guests to dip the beef, tofu, vegetables, and noodles in the broth, transfer to their bowls and dip each in the ponzu sauce as they eat.