Saunders is a big fan of soupy things, particularly soupy things where you have to fish around like a fairground game for chunks of vegetables or meaty morsels. I prefer not to work quite that hard for my dinner and like the liquid to solid ratio to be more in favour of the latter. That said, given the recent run of Japanese dishes coming out of the kitchen had been pretty good, I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.
We were a little unsure what exactly we were cooking. Initially we thought it was "nabemono" - literally things in pots, or hot pot - but it was a little more specific than that. It wasn't "shabu shabu" as we went for the option of lobbing all the vegetables into the pot rather than the fondue-style approach of wafting everything through the stock until cooked as with shabu shabu. Turns out the dish we had plumped for was a shabu shabu-sukiyaki hybrid, "shabu-yaki" perhaps. The vegetables were all immersed in the stock and topped up as they got consumed, as in sukiyaki, but the was meat was added piece by piece and cooked to taste, in accordance with the rules of shabu shabu. A little bit interactive but without the constant pressure to keep dipping and adding.
The broth we used for our take on shabuyaki was pretty simple, truth be told. Dashi, soy and sake. Roughly a pint and a half of dashi with the other ingredients added to taste. A lot of the recipes we have discovered suggest mirin instead of sake; they are similar but mirin has a higher sugar content. The blurb we have read suggests that sukiyaki has punchier flavours than shabu shabu - we went for somewhere in the middle. The vegetables were even easier - a little cabbage, some leeks and spring onion, mushrooms and sprouting brocolli. I am sure it would upset sukiyaki purists, but you can pretty much go for anything here. The only tricky point was at the table. It needs a fairly strong heat source so we went for a single ring camping burner which did the trick a little too well (burnt tongues all round).
Obviously we could have gone the Veganuary route and stuck to the vegetables (I think that the dashi probably does have quite a fish element to it, so not perhaps strictly vegan). However, it was a Friday and beef was called for. Beef for shabu shabu and sukiyaki is in abundance in Japanese supermarkets where thinly sliced, exquisitely marbled beef is sold exactly for this purpose. This ain't the case in our local branch of Waitrose and thinly cutting up a steak didn't seem like the best option. This is where the Korean supermarket stepped in, where packets of thinly sliced beef - it is cut when frozen to get the required thinness - destined for bulgogi are quite the perfect substitute. While I am well aware that beef isn't vegetarian or vegan, eating it thinly sliced does fit in with the ethos of eating less meat. 300g of sliced featherblade steak was more than enough for two.
We duly wafted the beef through the broth. We had also added some smoked tofu which, while the flavour was pretty good and it was probably the meatiest vegetarian thing I have eaten, didn't quite work in terms of texture. We had a couple of sesame oil based dips on the side for the beef and, when all the dipping was done and vegetables eaten, slurped up the now beefy and rich broth. Yummers.
Sukiyaki is also the nickname of possibly the most famous Japanese song. It is quite lovely and sounds upbeat until you realise the lyrics are desperately sad and about trying to whistle to stop yourself from crying. Have a listen or even play it while you are eating your sukiyaki and try not to cry fat salty tears into your broth.