Shabu Shabu

Its getting cold, even down in Okinawa, and that means warm food.  Many Japanese people spend their winter the same way people in other countries do, by getting together with friends and family and sharing the warmth.  One way they do this is food.

Shabu Shabu is a type of meal similar to nabe.  Like nabe, Shabu Shabu is a hot-pot meal. The ingredients can be prepared beforehand, leaving the host relatively free to talk and spend time with the other attendees.  Everyone gathers around a single pot which promotes communication and a shared experience.  It is especially popular at year-end and start-of-year parties.

Shabu Shabu starts off as a a pot of boiling
water with combu (a type of hearty seaweed used in many Japanese stocks) to slightly flavor the water.  In addition various vegetables and meats are prepared around the pot.  Vegetables are cut roughly, but small enough to be easily picked up with a pair of hashi (chopsticks).  Unlike nabe, the vegetables that are used in Shabu Shabu should be ones that cook quickly, such as leafy vegetables, onions, and mushrooms.  Carrots and the like would take too long to boil.  In addition to vegetables, mean and tofu are usually offered as well.  Its important the meat is very thinly sliced.

After the water is boiling, one person will throw in some vegetables to cook, while everyone else picks their own meats.  While still holding the meat with their hashi, they will dunk it in the hot water just long enough to cook it before pulling it out and eating it.  Usually there is a ponzu sauce available to dip the food in to add extra flavor after cooking. Rice and other side dishes can also be offered.

The pot shown has some unique features which make it especially good for Shabu Shabu.  The fluted design keeps the water hotter allowing for faster cooking while also reducing the normal convection that would occur in a regular pot.  This Shabu Shabu pot helps keep the vegetables from roiling around too much.  It also keeps the water hotter which might require you to refill the water since it will evaporate faster.  Make sure you have some preheated/seasoned water on hand.
How do you spend the cold winter months?