Nabemono (Hot pot with ponzu sauce)
This is the perfect dish to make during a blustery winter's evening. You can use any firm and meaty variety of fish such as monkfish or red snapper. Or, substitute chicken. The secret to great nabe of any variety is the ponzu sauce. Lime can be substituted for the sudachi seen at left.
In Japan, it's popular to prepare nabe dishes at the table on a portable range. If you don't have one, it's fine to cook the entire nabe on the stove and then bring it to the table, piping hot. I have an iron nabe, but any kind of attractive pot works well. Place it on a substantial hot plate, or a thick, flat block of wood to protect your dining table.
First, prepare the ponzu sauce. It's worth it to make your own, as it's at its most flavorful when fresh. Store bought ponzu contains too much vinegar and isn't the same thing. Bring the soy sauce and mirin to a boil, then immediately remove from the heat and add the katsuobushi. Soak for 10 minutes. Strain and let it cool before adding to the sudachi or lime juice and vinegar. Leftover ponzu keeps for several weeks in the fridge, but loses its intensity as time goes on.
Prepare the vegetables as seen in the photo at left, in order to have them ready. Bring the dashi to a soft boil. Add the fugu and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the harder vegetables such as carrot, negi and the white part of the hakusai. Also add the mushrooms. Next, add the softer vegetables and tofu.
Serve the nabe is communally with the pot in the middle of the table. Diners pick pieces with their chopsticks and scoop soft ingredients like tofu with a small strainer made specifically for nabe. Dip the piping hot morsels into small individual bowls filled with ponzu sauce. Serve with grated daikon and chopped scallions and replenish as needed.
The soup that is made from the nabe is ladled into the individual serving bowls towards the end of the meal. Full of flavor, this delicious soup can be enjoyed with or without ponzu or condiments.
At the very end of the meal, scoop the leftover peices out of the nabe, and put it back on the burner. Return to a boil, and add two cups of cooked rice. Cook for 10 minutes. As the rice thickens the soup, it turns into a sort of savory porridge akin to Italian risotto, called zosui. Just before serving, turn off the heat, whisk two raw eggs in a bowl, and add all at once to the nabe. Stir just once, and serve immediately in rice bowls. All the best flavors of the nabe are intensified by the rice and soup, and some people say the zosui is the best part of the meal. I would heartily agree!