The 6 Best Shabu Shabu Pots
What Exactly Is Shabu Shabu?
Maybe you've heard the name before, or walked by a restaurant advertising this strange-sounding dish, and wondered what exactly this mystery food is. Simply put it's a hot pot, which is somewhat similar to fondue for those not overly familiar with Asian food. It falls into what the Japanese classify as nabemono. Nabemono refers to a variety of different one-pot dishes that are kept hot at the dining table, usually by the use of portable electric or gas stoves.
Shabu Shabu consists of a variety of thinly-sliced meat, seafood, and fresh vegetables, which are all cooked together in a large pot of broth. Differentiating it from many other forms of nabemono, in which all of the ingredients are cooked together before serving, is the fact that the diner cooks each ingredient themselves at the table, so don't be surprised if you go to a Japanese shabu shabu restaurant and are served a plate of raw meats and veggies. Shabu shabu is always accompanied by dipping sauces of some kind, most often ponzu and sesame. In many places, you will also be given a variety of other condiments to flavor the sauce to your liking, including green onions, grated daikon, and shichi-mi tōgarashi chili powder.
While nabemono has been popular in Japan for thousands of years, shabu shabu is a more recent addition to their cuisine. It is believed the popular Suehiro restaurant in the Kita-ku ward of Osaka first introduced it in the 1950s. It is still serving the dish to this day too, so if you are a shabu shabu lover and ever happen to find yourself in Osaka, we strongly recommend you check it out.
How To Eat Shabu Shabu
So, now that you know what shabu shabu is, let's discuss the proper way to eat it. After all, you'd hate to be that gaijin who sits down at a shabu shabu restaurant on your first trip to Japan and starts eating the broth with a spoon, making all of the other patrons nearby cringe.
After the pot of broth is brought to your table and placed on the stove, cover it until it comes to a boil. While you are waiting for this to happen is the perfect time to customize your sauce. We recommend adding the green onions to the sesame sauce, and the togarashi and grated daikon to the ponzu sauce, though this is entirely up to you. Once the broth reaches a roiling boil, reduce the heat to a slight simmer. Shabu shabu broth is meant to be kept gently simmering, rather than violently boiling as with Chinese and Mongolian hot pots.
Start by adding some of the harder vegetables, like carrots and radishes, as well as the tofu, as these ingredients will take longer to cook. Once the broth comes back up to a simmer, you can begin to add the other ingredients. Since the leafy greens, seafood, and meat will cook rapidly, you should add those one by one as you plan on eating them. Don't cook more than one or two pieces of meat at a time. Not only do you wind up risking overcooking the meat, but it will lower the temperature of the broth, too. As you cook the meat and seafood, you should gently swish it around in the cooking liquid with your chopsticks.
After you remove an ingredient from the broth, whether it be meat, seafood, or vegetable, dip it into the sauce. Generally the ponzu is used for the vegetables and seafood, and the sesame is used for the meat. This isn't a hard and fast rule however, so feel free to experiment. After dipping your meat, seafood, or vegetable in the sauce, you should rest it on top of the rice for a couple of seconds before eating it. This gives it a chance to cool down, as well as allowing the rice a chance to absorb some of the flavor, turning that into a wonderful delicacy in its own right.
Choosing The Right Shabu Shabu Pot
Shabu shabu pots come in a few different materials and styles, each of which offers certain benefits. For example, you can choose to buy one made from ceramic, cast iron, steel, or aluminum. Both ceramic and cast iron models take a long time to heat up, but on the flip side, they retain their heat for longer. This means you generally won't have to keep your stove turned up as high during the cooking process as you would with a steel or aluminum pot. Ceramic and cast iron differ in their care and durability, however. Ceramic is easier to care for. There is also no chance of it leaking any metals into the food or altering its flavor in any way. The downside to ceramic is that it is significantly less durable than cast iron. If you are clumsy and tend to drop your dishware when you wash it, you may want to skip a ceramic shabu shabu pot.
On the other hand, cast iron pots are extremely durable — practically indestructible, in fact. Unfortunately, they are prone to rusting if not properly seasoned and cared for. You may be able to find an enameled cast iron model that won't suffer from rusting issues, but they are often very expensive. Cast iron is also quite heavy, and considering how large shabu shabu pots are, this can make them difficult to handle. Both cast iron and ceramic pots usually require hand washing.
Steel and aluminum pots are lightweight, durable, and some can even be thrown in the dishwasher. The downside is they don't retain heat very well, meaning you'll probably run through a bit more gas during dinner time. Of course, if you choose an electric stove, this won't be an issue. One of the greatest benefits of aluminum and steel shabu shabu pots is that they come in some unique styles, such as in a split-pot design that allows you to serve your guests two broths in one meal, or with a grill surface, both of which can bring shabu shabu night to a whole new level.