Thursday, April 07, 2005

WED #5: Shabu shabu

As with many good things in my life, this week's WED originates with my sister. This week's WED event was what the non-Japanese refer to as Japanese fondue or hot pot - shabu shabu. Anne, Shan, the Papa Bear, and I surrounded a hot, steamy electric pot for a few hours tonight, shabu shabu-ing our grass-fed beef from Napa, another one of our bounties from the JLS Farmer's Market of churros fame.

"Shabu shabu" is a sound effect for something being dragged through water in Japanese and is often accompanied by the verb "suru" or "to do". We "do shabu-shabu", and in essence, what we are trying to convey here is that the beef is to be blanched quickly with gentle agitation in hot boiling water. Hence, we "do swish-swish".

How my sister fits into the menu tonight is through a gift she sent me many Christmases ago...
At first I wasn't sure what I was going to do with this meat slicer, but it has become a critical part of many dinners with friends. Without it, tonight's dinner would not have been possible, because for anyone besides the best of the best chefs, slicing shabu shabu-style beef is impossible. The paper-thin slices of beef requried for shabu shabu is a challenge for many to produce, myself included, even with the meat sicer! Luckily for me, the Papa Bear has become quite smitten with this meat slicer lately and handles it very well. We have an occassional thick piece, but he has some excellent paper-thin slices too.

Because the broth is not seasoned, there are two sauces that are THE shabu shabu sauces. One is a sesame paste sauce. I made this with tahini (sesame paste), sake, bonito broth, and a dash of mirin and soy sauce, all the while singing "Ta heeeeeeeee ni!" because I just love the sound of that word. I think I might have to name one of my tomato plants 'Tahini'. Yes, I name my tomato plants. Plants are the only 'pets' I can have besides my goldfish due to severe animal allergies...

Anyway, the other sauce is a standard ponzu sauce, which is a tart, citrus sauce. I love my ponzu recipe, and it will be a post of its own someday. I got it from my favorite comic series. The ponzu sauce is accompanied by spicy grated daikon, which we didn't make spicy tonight. The Papa and Shan have much higher tolerance for hot peppers than Anne and me, so we added peppers individually to best suit our tastes. The sesame sauce usually gets some grated garlic, but today, I brought out some left over green garlic from the Paper Chef event.

With all our trimmings ready, we shabu shabu'ed the evening away! We also had a humongous bowl full of vegetables - bean sprouts, nappa cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, wakame seaweed, green onions, and daikon chunks, as well as a bunch of firm tofu. We only had about 32 oz of beef for four people, which we barely finished, so this was actually a very healthy meal composed mostly of vegetables. We all had a small bowl of rice, which everyone finished when I relayed the threat I grew up hearing: "Every grain of rice in your bowl that you don't eat will turn into a fault in the person you marry".

Although the beef was good and clearly steps above any of the beef available at the shabu shabu restaurants in the Bay Area, shabu shabu is probably not the best way to really taste the complex flavors of beef itself. It is a light and fun meal, but I don't think we really could taste the beef itself enough to judge the quality of the Napa Beef. The guy at the Farmer's Market did not know shabu shabu when I asked for a cut that would do well as shabu shabu beef, so I ended up getting a ribeye, just because it was most marbled. I don't know if ribeye was the best choice, and he would probably be appalled if he read what we did with his ribeye! The thick pieces became tough and chewy, and it was clear that this was NOT the best way to enjoy his product. But the paper-thin pieces? Very lovely! Those were tender with a strong beefy flavor, despite its slender physique. What amazed me was how good the fat was. I was feeling adventurous and ate a super extra fatty chunk (>50% fat), and the fat had none of the wierd or stale smell. Instead, it had a lovely sweetness and was a pure delight, worthy of its caloric punch.

For dessert, we had a fabulous sweet coconut tapioca soup that Shan made. I playfully popped the tapioca in my mouth with every bite and the coconut milk scent awakened my senses after my two hot pot feast. The tapiocas were flavored with a Southeast Asian plant that the Papa Bear recognized right away. The faint green in each ball brought about a sense of Spring to me.

There is something very uniting about sharing one pot during a meal. The evening was absolutely pleasurable and the conversation flowed alongside the aromas wafting off of the steaming pot. Another successful WED to keep me going until the weekend!


The Papa Bear said...

For the life of me, I couldn't find any pictures of the leaf that was used to flavor and color Shan's dessert. It's called "lá dứa" in Vietnamese and it's used in quite a few dishes, many of which are desserts. It is also used frequently to add fragrance and flavor to various types of rice. It gives off a faint and subtle fragrance that one almost has to "taste" to detect it. When combined with coconut, it's heavenly! Ah, the memories...

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Alice! It was really a wonderful time last night.

Actually, I know nothing about the mysterious plant. When I bought the green tapioca, someone in the grocery store told me it is made from pandan leaves (sorry, I forgot the name last night).

I googled "pandan" and here is a picture of the plant.

And a picture of a green cake made from it. Looks delicious.