Vertically-Integrated Nabe

Heavenly food of Osechi Ryori (from wikimedia commons)
One of my bucket list is to cook my own Osechi Ryori (お節料), the whole thing - by myself. It is quite odd as I have no Japanese blood running in my body, but yet the Japanese sensibility (or Eastern sensibilities, in general) appeals to me tremendously.

For now, I will be satisfied preparing simple nabes for my family to devour during the week. The boys love nabe and I love cooking them. What's not to love, nabemono is basically a Japanese version of one-pot dish, simmered in this case. I usually make enough to last us a few days, sometimes a week if I cook some other dishes mid-week.

When one cook a nabe, in this case Sukiyaki, the ingredients are often spread out thoughtfully, like this:

image from wikimedia commons

or this

image from wikimedia commons

Notice how each food items are carefully grouped and beautifully arranged around the pan. The problem with this in home cooking is that: 1. we don't eat straight from burning table stove and 2. we are all hungry and can't wait to dig in right now rather than contemplating while each ingredients simmer to cooked perfection. Thus born the vertically-integrated nabe: the same concept of cooking each ingredients to perfection, except doing it in layer rather than in batches radially.

A little disclaimer: this is not the original, traditional Japanese nabe, but like any other dishes, there are many variations as there are households/cooks.

Vertically-Integrated Sukiyaki
Make 4-6 servings of hungry Lorps

1 lb beef cut of your choice, sliced paper thin (we like top sirloin or anything relatively well-marbled)
2-3 medium carrots, cut rangiri-style (see here)
2-3 celery, rangiri cut
1 medium leek, sliced
1 bunch green onion, sliced, separate the white part with the green part
3-4 large or 4-6 small shiitake mushrooms, cut into wedges
1 block firm silken tofu (about 12-16 oz), drained and cubed
1 package shirataki noodle (about 6-8 oz), drained, blanched and rinsed (very important step to get rid of the sliminess & the smell)
1 big bunch leafy greens of your choice (napa cabbage, spinach, or here we use bok choy, cut into wedges)

For warashita/sauce:
1 to 1 1/2 cup water (to taste, just eye-ball it)
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup sake
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup tsuyu

1/4 cup sugar  *I normally cook the beef Kansai-style, where the beef is browned in its own fat and sugar is added while the beef is sauteeing to allow caramelization. If you like, you can mix the sugar with warashita ingredients and make it part of the sauce.

First, get your ingredients all cut and prepared, mise en place. Notice how I group the ingredients based on how I'd layer them in the pan: group your root veggies together with onions (carrot + celery + leek + white part of green onion), then group the second layer which are shirataki, mushrooms and tofu, then the last would be the leafy greens and the green-part of green onion. Normally, shirataki is added last to sukiyaki after all the other ingredients have been eaten. This is a way to soak up all the flavorful broth and eat them at the end. Not in our case because remember, we can't wait!

Heat the pan/pot in medium-high heat and sautee beef. If the beef has plenty of fat, no need extra fat to render it, but sometimes I have to get it going by adding a touch of oil in the pan. Brown them in single layer and sprinkle some sugar on top. When the layer is browned and caramelized, set them aside and lay another layer. Repeat until all the beef is browned.

Next, add the leek and the white part of green onion into the beef. Saute until fragrant.

Pour in your sauce/warashita next and bring to a boil.

Layer the carrots and celery, bring to a boil. Keep bringing the nabe to a boil at each step to speed up the cooking process.

Once boiling, layer shirataki noodle and tofu. Bring to a boil again.

Layer shiitake mushrooms on top of the simmering broth. Layer your leafy greens on top of mushrooms. Cover and steam the greens.
Now, this step is very important: to avoid overcooking leafy greens, take the greens out when they are just wilted and set them aside in a bowl (perhaps even take them a bit before since the greens will continue cooking in the bowl -- see bottom half pictures). Continue doing this step, steaming the leafy greens on top of boiling broth, until all of them are cooked. Make sure you scoop up all the greens so nothing remains in the boiling broth and become a soggy, green gunge (this is why I cut the bok choy in relatively large wedges for easy fishing with chopsticks).


Finally, when all the ingredients are cooked, sprinkle with the green-part of green onion. Serve with steaming bowl of rice.

This method can be applied to any nabe or stew in that matter. It is fast and easy. The whole cooking process takes about 15 minutes once all the ingredients are cut and ready to go. Just remember, the bottom layers are ingredients needing the most cooking time (beef, hardy root veggies like carrots), or ingredients that will soak up the flavorful liquid (such as noodle, tofu, mushrooms). As we layer ingredients toward the top, they should need less and less cooking time. The top most layer are ingredients that need very short amount of cooking time (such as leafy green).

I made three Vine videos here, here, and here, just for fun. Let me know if you decide to give this method a try. I hope your New Year starts warmly and deliciously.



    1. OKEY DOKEY. (ringing your door bell) waiting (ringing some more) Hmm.. you must be out eating those dimsums!

    2. fell sleep from dim sum coma! Ack!

  2. i just told mr bunny we need to go get some japanese food. he looked at me like i was weird lol. but now i want something japanese for dinner lol

    1. Why did he look at you as if you were weird? Is it because you normally don't like Japanese food? Maybe you just haven't come across a good restaurant yet?

  3. So clever. So delicious. :D I love hotpots of all kinds in winter, but nabes are uniquely comforting! I always want to nap/hibernate towards the end of a traditional one so maybe your vertically-integrated version would enable me to get stuff done AFTER dinner :D

    1. I think this is probably how nabe looks like in regular households v.s. in restaurants, except if you do have the table stove etc. And I never get things done after cooking + eating dinner, nabe or not, so don't blame yourself if you do dozed off :-)