Shabu shabu is a type of nabemono, foods stewed or simmered in a ceramic or metal pot. But unlike other types of nabemono dishes that are served fully cooked to diners, shabu shabu is like a Japanese fondue of a communal hot pot that sits in the center of the table around which diners choose thinly sliced, quick-cooking, raw ingredients to swish-swish in the simmering broth. Shabu shabu literally translates into “swish swish” or the sound made when ingredients are swirled around in the cooking liquid.
Shabu shabu originated in early 13th century China when Genghis Khan needed to feed his ravenous armies efficiently. Thinly sliced foods cooked more rapidly and required less fuel such as wood. Although the Japanese have developed and enjoyed nabemono foods for the same reason, shabu shabu itself was not introduced to Japan until the 20th century.
Shabu Shabu Etiquette and How To
Shabu shabu is meant to be shared with familiar people, such as family and friends so etiquette rules are lax. One usually does not turn around to use the thicker end of the chopsticks to dip and swish but simply uses the usual pointed end of the chopsticks to cook as well as eat. Perhaps, there is less concern about germs and contamination because of the high temperature of the hot pot or the salty dipping sauces.
In any case, to partake of shabu shabu, you simply use your chopsticks to pick up a small piece of raw seafood, meat or vegetable and swish it around in the broth until it is cooked. Gently, gently. It will be considered inept or rude to manically swirl it around and maybe risk splashing other guests with the hot cooking liquid. When your ingredient is cooked to the desired doneness, dip the morsel into either a ponzu (citrus soy) sauce or a sesame sauce and eat it. Along with the hot pot and platters of raw ingredients, a bowl of steamed white rice will be served. Hold this in your left hand while dipping with your right in case you need to “catch” any dripping sauce with your rice bowl. After all the ingredients are gone, some of the cooking broth can be enjoyed over this rice.
Savor it. Converse with your fellow diners. Then, continue this process one piece of food at a time. Restrain yourself from tossing in lots of ingredients to cook at the same time—unless you have your own individual hot pot in front of you. Today, shabu shabu is meant to be a leisurely communal dining experience. Certainly not fast food.
The typical cooking broth is made from dashi or fish stock. Dashi is clear and very light in flavor so it will not interfere with the natural flavors of the various meats and vegetables. Additional seasonings come from the dipping sauces. See BellaOnline.com’s Japanese Food site Dashi Recipes.
Typical Shabu Shabu Ingredients
Raw and thinly sliced ribeye steak
Thinly sliced pork
Thinly sliced chicken
Whole fresh, shucked oysters
Thinly sliced kamaboko
Shiitake mushrooms, sliced
Ponzu is a lemon shoyu dipping sauce that is used with many types of dishes. Serve diners their own small cups of ponzu and sesame sauce because they will be dipping, dipping, dipping throughout their shabu shabu meal.
Ponzu Sauce (Citrus Sauce)
Yuzu is a sour citrus fruit that looks like a small grapefruit with a Mandarin orange-lemony flavor. Because it is hard to find, fresh lemon or lime juice makes a fine replacement.
3/4 cup fresh yuzu juice (lemon or lime juice is sufficient substitute but must be fresh!)
¼ cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
¼ cup katsuobushi bonito flakes
1 Tbsp. mirin
Blend all ingredients, except mirin, together. Simmer, cool and strain. Add mirin. You can adjust the amounts to suit your personal taste. We like it tart. If I’m in a hurry to get dinner on the table, I add a pinch of dashi-no-moto or just a few tablespoons of dashi liquid and skip the katsuobushi so I don’t need to heat and strain this. Many home cooks take necessary short-cuts to feed the family fast. (If you’re one of those culinary perfectionists, I apologize.)
Sesame Dipping Sauce
¼ cup white sesame seeds (goma)
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. white miso paste
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
¾ cup dashi
In a mortar and pestle, grind the sesame seeds with the sugar until this becomes a paste. Transfer to another mixing dish and whisk in the miso paste until there are no lumps. Slowly drizzle in the rice vinegar, soy sauce and dashi until this mixture achieves a nice dipping consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings as you like.