Sukiyaki is one of the most iconic Japanese dishes, next to sushi. A “suki” is a farming spade while “yaki” means fried. In early days, it is said that Portuguese field workers would cook sliced beef on their spades set over open fires. Beef was not commonly eaten by Japanese until the 1860s when the government opens its borders to foreign trade.
In Japan, sukiyaki is eaten during cold winter months. It is considered to be an economical dish as it stretches meat to feed a family or small group in a satisfying way. Another benefit of sukiyaki is that food cooks quickly in a fuel efficient way as all the ingredients are sliced thinly. It is cooked in a shallow pot, traditionally a donabe or a ceramic pot used for simmering foods at the table. The main ingredients are thinly sliced beef (preferably rib eye because the fat marbling keeps the meat tender and juicy), cubed tofu, negi or green scallions, Shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, shirataki noodles, shungiku or chrysanthemum leaves and sometimes thick udon noodles.
Unlike shabu shabu where foods are served raw to be cooked by each diner at the table, sukiyaki is thoroughly cooked before serving. The filled nabemono is placed in the center of the table and each guest has his own sauce dipping cup filled with raw, beaten egg. Diners can add season the egg with a bit of shoyu (soy sauce) if desired. Food is picked out with chopsticks and then dipped into the egg before eating.
If shungiku is unavailable, other greens can be substituted. I like to add udon noodles because they soak up the broth nicely. If you decided to add them, cook and drain the noodles and add them to the pot after most of the other ingredients have been consumed. Sukiyaki beef is sliced paper thin. You can purchase them sliced this way in Japanese markets but if you need to slice your own, partially freeze some boneless ribeye to make slicing easier.
1 lb. boneless ribeye, sliced paper thin
1 block firm tofu, cut into one-inch cubes
1 whole canned bamboo shoot, sliced thin
8 Shiitake mushrooms, soaked and simmered in water
1 pkg. Shirataki noodles (clear konnyaku noodles)
1 small bunch shingiku leaves
4 negi or green scallions, cut into three-inch pieces
3 cups dashi
˝ cup shoyu
˝ cup mirin or sweet cooking wine
4 Tbsp. sugar
4 eggs (one per guest)
If using dried mushrooms, soak them in water for several hours. Then simmer until soft. Squeeze out water. Cut off stems. Cut the bamboo shoot in half lengthwise and then cut each piece lengthwise again. Thinly slice these pieces diagonally. Wash and pat dry the shingiku. Rinse and drain the Shirataki noodles.
In a pot, bring to a simmer the dashi, shoyu, mirin and sugar. Place a nabemono or shallow metal skillet over a medium flame. Grease with a little fat from the meat, oil or butter. Saute the ribeye slices and scallion, keeping each ingredient apart. Push the meat to one side of the pan and the green scallions to another. Carefully add the simmered broth. Then add the bamboo shoots, mushrooms, tofu and noodles, keeping each into its own section of the pan. Allow this to simmer for about five minutes. Add the shingiku leaves just before serving but do not submerge them into the broth.
Place the hot pot in the center of the dining table. Give each guest his own dipping cup filled with one beaten egg. Serve with shoyu so guests may flavor the egg, if desired.
*Note: Some people are concerned about salmonella bacteria from raw egg. The bacteria comes from passing through an infected chicken and thus is on the outside shell. Be sure to wash the eggs with soap and water or a bit of bleach water to disinfect the outside of the egg before using.