Sukiyaki is a delicious hotpot dish that the Japanese usually eat in wintertime, sometimes during the festive end-of-year season and bounenkai (end-of-year drinking party). It’s also a popular dish for Japanese families to eat together during the winter months to keep warm.
Sukiyaki has several roots. When Buddhism first came to Japan, meat was strictly prohibited; the only cases where people were allowed to eat meat was when they were sick, or during the festive end-of-year season. Hotpot became popular in the Kansai region before spreading to Kanto; serving meat in a sukiyaki pot – similar to shabu-shabu, but sweeter – became a popular traditional dish to warm up the whole family in the colder months.
Despite sukiyaki being Japanese, it is quite simple to make even if you’re not in Japan. You can use ingredients from your own local supermarket to recreate this delicious hotpot.
What you will need (serves two):
170g/6 oz. of grilled tofu (yaki-tofu) [optional].
1 large onion, halved and thickly sliced.
2 tomatoes, halved and thickly sliced (not traditionally added, but delicious).
Half a bunch of fresh spinach, about 100g/3 ½ oz.) cut into 2 inch (5cm) lengths.
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2-3 large fresh shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and stems trimmed.
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1 carrot sliced 2cm thick.
1 Japanese long onion (naganegi). A long spring onion will also do. Thinly sliced.
1 pack (200g/7 oz.) konnyaku noodles (rice noodles will also do).
200g (7 oz.) top-quality beef, sirloin or ribeye, sliced very thin. You can replace the beef with pork or chicken.
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½ cup (120ml) soy sauce
¼ cup (50g) sugar
1 cup (240ml) water
2 eggs for dipping [optional]
One great thing about sukiyaki is that it’s fairly flexible – if you’re looking for a less expensive option, you could replace the beef with pork or chicken (if you choose to include eggs for dipping, pork goes with beaten egg very well). You can omit the tofu if you prefer, or add and omit vegetables as you please.
- To start, make sure you have a large pot. If you’re cooking for two, a small pot will do. A larger portion size, of course, means a bigger pot. It is recommended that even if you’re only cooking for a small group of people, make extra – sukiyaki is perfectly fine to put into the fridge for a delicious next-day lunch.
- Heat some water, and boil your noodles for just a few moments before putting them in a bowl. Set them aside for later and throw away the water.
- Prepare your vegetables. Halve your onion(s) and cut them into thick slices. Do the same with the tomatoes. Thinly slice your spring onion as directed above, and cut up your tofu into big, thick squares. Since everything is going to be boiling in the pot, large sizes are good; they’ll absorb the sauce, but still be large enough to taste the original flavour.
- Make sure your meat is sliced and ready to go, and you’re all set to begin.
- First, make the sauce. Add the sugar, soy sauce and water into a bowl and stir thoroughly. The sugar won’t dissolve properly unless it is hot, so carefully pour it into the pot, ensuring all the sugar goes in. Heat it up, but make sure it doesn’t boil, and stir carefully until the sugar has dissolved.
- Add the noodles. Stir for a moment so they’re mixed with the sauce.
- Add the meat and vegetables. Arrange them in the pot so there’s a good variety of everything. Put the heat on low and add the lid to the pot. Let it simmer for around 30-45 minutes, stirring carefully every ten minutes. When the meat is brown and it smells delicious, it’s ready to eat.
- Crack the eggs and beat them before pouring into a small bowl (or two bowls if more than four people are eating).
How to serve sukiyaki
What you’ll need:
A heat protecting mat (see below for alternative choices)
One or two small bowls
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Larger bowls, suitable for a meal serving
Chopsticks or a fork/spoon each
A large ladle
Serving a dish in Japan is just as important as cooking it. If you have a mat to protect your dinner table from heat, use it to put the pot on in the middle of the table (tea towels or a chopping board will do, but for presentation purposes, a special heat protecting mat is better.
Set the pot in the middle of the table on the mat. If you choose to include eggs for dipping, use the two small bowls to serve the beaten eggs inside (one bowl is fine if only two of you are eating). However, this step is optional; if you’re not comfortable eating raw egg, feel free to omit it.
Let everyone serve themselves; serve bowls to each diner, and a fork, spoon or a pair of chopsticks – it’s your choice. Set the ladle beside the pot and serve yourselves.
The sauce will have been absorbed into the meat, vegetables and tofu, giving them a delicious, slightly sweet taste. After serving some of the food into your bowl, dip the meat into the egg and eat immediately. The egg adds a savoury taste and a pleasant consistency to each bite. Best of all, it’s optional, so if only one or two of you want to include egg, not everyone has to eat it.
Sukiyaki is ideal for the colder months, but you can cook it any time of year as a Japanese-style treat for your family. Sukiyaki has been bringing Japanese families together for decades, so why not bring that tradition to your home? It’s easy, it’s delicious, and a great way to introduce Japanese food to your family and friends. Enjoy!