Kanako's Kitchen

Yose-Nabe: Simple Japanese Hotpot

Posted in main dish, Recipe, today's meal by Kanako Noda on November 26, 2009

A hotpot cooked at the dinner table, Nabe is the quintessential Japanese winter dining experience. With Nabe, you’re cooking and eating in “real time”, which imposes its own pace on a meal: it’s just not physically possible to eat a Nabe in a rush.

That probably helps explain why Nabe conjures up that special kind of conviviality you get when it’s cold outside and you’re huddled around a warm pot sharing a leisurely meal with friends, family or business associates.

Strictly speaking, “Nabe” refers not to the recipe but to the hardware: the clay pot itself. In Japan, everybody eats from a single Nabe, sort of like with a fondue.

All kinds of stuff can go into a nabe, from thin slices of meat (for “shabu shabu” and “sukiyaki”) to meatballs (“chanko-nabe”) to salmon and miso (“ishikari-nabe”) to poisonous blowfish (“te-chiri”).

There’s even a fun dinner party game you can play, called Yami-nabe, where you turn the lights off and each guest has to put a secret ingredient in the pot: the fun is in trying to guess what all the different ingredients are. I remember playing this one time when I was in college and a friend of mine put a McDonald’s McNugget in our yami-nabe: we never invited him again!

Out of the dozens of nabe variations out there, Yose-nabe is one of the simplest and most popular: a light broth flavored with sea kelp and starring, chicken, shrimp, tofu, mushrooms and vegetables. Readers in Quebec may think of it as “Fondue Chinoise Japonaise”, only with none of that weird curry mayonnaise. And with a lot more vegetables in it.

In Montreal, you can find Japanese Nabe clay pots starting at $25 in Chinatown, and we just use a simple portable electric burner to put on the table ($19.95 at Canadian Tire). But if you have an electric pot for Fondue Chinoise, or even a normal Fondue pot, those will work fine. You just need something to keep the ingredients simmering.

For the nabe
These are highly variable. For tonight’s dinner we used:

  • Scallops – four
  • Shrimp – four
  • Leek – one stalk
  • Enoki mushrooms – a big bunch
  • Shiitake mushrooms – one (It’s better to add more than one)
  • Shungiku – a generous bunch
  • Tofu – 250 grams (I prefer silken tofu, but many people make nabe with cotton tofu)
  • Nappa Cabbage – a sixth of one
  • Mochi (rice paste) – one

Other possible ingredients include

  • Chicken thighs – Today we didn’t have, but this is strongly recommended
  • Udon noodles
  • Carrot
  • Codfish
  • Pork
  • Kudzu noodles
  • Gobou


  • Place cold water in the nabe pot, add a piece of konbu sea-kelp
  • Slice the leek into medium size chunks, diagonally
  • Cut away the dirty roots of the enoki mushrooms and divide into several bunches
  • Wash the shungiku
  • Cut nappa cabbage into chopstick friendly sized bits
  • Cut tofu into pieces
  • Cut mochi in half
  • Arrange the ingredients beautifully in big plates

click to enlarge

Make the sauces:

For the Goma Dare (sesame paste) Sauce

Mix together the following ingredient, in the order given:

  1. Sesame paste – 2 tablespoons (Don’t use Lebanese Tahina, choose Chinese or Japanese one)
  2. Soy Sauce – 1 table spoon
  3. Vinegar – 2 teaspoons
  4. Sugar – 1 teaspoon
  5. Hot water with a pinch of dashi dissolved in it

click to enlarge

For the Ponzu (vinegar based) Sauce

Mix together the following ingredient, in the order given:

  1. Soy sauce – 3.5 tablespoons
  2. Vinegar – 1.5 tablespoons
  3. Sugar – 1 tablespoon
  4. Lime juice – from one lime

Serving tips:

  1. At the table, bring water with konbu to a boil
  2. Add in ingredients, obviously putting in the ones that need to cook a long time first.

(For tonight’s nabe, we put in the scallops, shrimps, leeks and nappa cabbage in first, later the tofu and mushrooms, finally the shungiku, which only needs to go in for a minute or so)

  • Each diner takes out ingredients using a slotted spoon, places them on a dish, then adds sauce before eating.
  • Remember, you are not eating soup! Use a slotted spoon to get just the solid ingredients, leaving the broth in the pot. In fact, you want to save that broth! You can make killer zousui (leftover rice soup) with it the following day.

To make zousui the following day

A lot of Western people find the idea of having rice for breakfast positively disgusting – though, somehow, they don’t mind Rice Crispies.

In Japan, though, rice is as central to breakfast as it is to any other meal…so what do you do when you wake up the next day after making a delicious nabe? You recycle the broth to make a delectable rice porridge!

You do have to fidget with the broth a bit, though

  1. Bring last night’s broth to a boil again.
  2. Add sake, salt and soy sauce to taste.
  3. Add cooked rice.
  4. Cook for a short while to make the rice absorb the water.
  5. Add a beaten egg.
  6. Leave covered for 20 seconds and mix thoroughly

click to enlarge



6 Responses

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  1. Jenn said, on December 6, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    Hi Kanako,
    I will be trying your nabe recipe next week. Will be going to the asian supermarket in the next few days.

    For sesame paste, I have mostly been using tahini. In your recipe for the sesame sauce, you mention about using chinese or Japanese sesame paste, but not tahini. Was wondering why that is the case? Is the taste very different? Thanks for clarifying for me.

    Good day!

    • caracaschronicles said, on December 7, 2009 at 1:12 pm

      Hi Jenn,

      I’m Kanako’s husband. She’s been real busy with other stuff, but I’ll pitch in.

      She almost killed me when I said you could substitute Tahina for Goma (sesame) paste. Tahina usually comes mixed with salt, spices, olive oil: all kinds of odd mediterranean tastes that don’t work with Japanese food at all. If you can find a kind of tahina that lists ONLY sesame as ingredients, you’ll do ok with it. Otherwise, you’re better off buying the Japanese stuff, or buying roasted sesame seeds and putting them in a coffee grinder until you obtain a kind of paste.

      In some cities, you can find sesame-based Shabu Shabu sauce ready-made at the asian store. You’re better off using that that some lebanized version of goma dare.

      Cheers, good to know you’re liking the recipes.

  2. Jenn said, on December 7, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Wonderful! Thanks so much for the clarification.

  3. Jenn said, on December 9, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Ended up making this last night! Only made the ponzu sauce – it was delicious. I had previously tried another recipe for ponzu which was somewhat different and it didn’t come out as tasty.

    I am steaming the beaten egg right now to make the zousui for breakfast this morning!

    • kanako said, on December 9, 2009 at 10:22 am

      Wonderful! I’m very glad that you appreciate the ponzu recipe! And I’m surprised at your breakfast, because most people in the West don’t like the idea of rice for breakfast. Bon appétit!

  4. Jessica said, on December 6, 2010 at 4:19 am

    I just thought I’d drop in and let you know that I linked to this post here! http://tokyokitchentales.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/seasonal-spotlight-nabe/ I’ve never heard of yami-nabe but it’s extremely disturbing to think that someone would put a chicken nugget in – eew!

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