Nabemono, or “cooking at the table,” is a traditional way of eating in Japan, especially in winter. It’s a social way of enjoying a meal where each diner participates in the cooking. A large broth-filled pot is set upon a gas or electric burner in the middle of the table then guests help themselves, filling the pot with raw ingredients to cook as they see fit. The flavor of the broth deepens as more and more items are cooked, to be savored at meal’s end.
This version of hot pot soup, or nabe, features a Pacific Northwest delicacy - the Alaskan spot prawn. The season for spot prawns is short, so if you are unable to come by them simply use any large shrimp. To cook at the table, you will need a portable gas (or electric) burner, a large casserole dish (earthenware or cast iron) with a lid, chopsticks, a ladle, and a small bowl for each person (see resources below).
Japanese-Style Spot Prawn Soup (Ebi Nabe)
For the dashi:
5 cups cold water
1 piece (4-6 inches), dried kombu, wiped
2-3 packets (.175 ounces) dried bonito flakes
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons mirin
4 tablespoons sake
1 teaspoon salt
For the nabe (hot pot):
4 Japanese leeks or green onions
8 shiitake mushrooms
1 package enoki mushrooms, trimmed of roots and gently rinsed
1 package beech mushrooms (shimeji), cleaned and trimmed
Mizuna (Japanese mustard greens)
1 package konnyaku (yam) noodles, drained
1 pound spot prawns or other large shrimp
Optional sauces for dipping: ponzu and/or soy sauce
Prepare the dashi:
Put water in a large saucepan, add the combo and heat slowly, skimming off any foam. Just before the water boils, remove the combo. Return heat to high and just as it begins to boil, add the bonito flakes. Bring to a full boil then remove from heat. Allow the flakes to settle then strain through a fine mesh strainer or muslin (do not squeeze). Add soy sauce, mirin, sake and salt and stir to combine. Set stock aside.
Prepare the vegetables:
Slice the leeks on the diagonal and into bite-sized pieces. Clean the shiitake and notch a decorative cross on the tops of each mushroom. Cut the root ball from the enoki and gently rinse. Clean and trim the ends of the beech mushrooms. Cut the top half of the cabbage then quarter. Trim the ends from the mizuna and rinse well.
To cook and serve:
Attractively arrange vegetables in a large nabe pot or Dutch oven, along with fried tofu and drained konnyaku noodles. Or, place ingredients on a platter and allow guests to add to the pot.
Pour in enough dashi stock to almost cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil then add the prawns. Simmer until prawns are pink and no longer translucent. Reduce heat to low. Each guest self-serves from the communal pot.