Shabu-shabu is a representative Japanese hotpot that is equally as well-known to foreigners as Sukiyaki. Cook paper-thin raw beef slices and vegetables in konbu (kelp) dashi broth and eat them with flavoursome dipping sauces.
There are so many different kinds of hotpot dishes in Japan. While many of these hotpot dishes are from particular regions, there are several hotpot recipes that are considered to be commonly consumed at home. Today’s recipe Shabu-shabu is one of them.
Shabu-shabu is a simple hotpot dish using a very plain konbu dashi. Just soak a generous size piece of konbu (dried kelp) in a large pot of water for 30 minutes. To make 2 servings of Shabu-shabu, you will need 10cm x 20cm (4” x 8”) of konbu in 1L (1.1qt) of water.
Bring it to a boil and as soon as small bubbles start coming up, remove the konbu. It is important not to cook the konbu in the boiling water so that the best umami can be extracted from the konbu.
It is also OK to cook shabu-shabu without using konbu dashi and simply start with water. Konbu dashi brings more umami to the ingredients but you can still enjoy the hotpot with great dipping sauces.
Paper-thin Beef Slices
You must have thinly sliced beef for shabu-shabu, about 1.5-2.0mm (1/16″) thick. This is important because of the way you cook the beef in the broth, which is where the name of this dish ‘shabu-shabu’ came from.
These days, you can buy beef shabu-shabu slices at Japanese/Asian grocery stores. They are usually sold frozen. In some countries, they might even be sold at supermarkets (but not in Australia).
You might also find sukiyaki slices instead of shabu-shabu slices. Sukiyaki slices are marginally thicker than shabu-shabu slices but you can use them as an alternative. You just need to cook the sukiyaki beef slices a bit longer.
If you can’t find sliced beef, you can slice a block of meat yourself. Please visit Beef Rolls with Asparagus where I explained how to make thinly sliced beef.
Instead of beef, you can also use thinly sliced pork. This is equally popular in Japan as pork is much cheaper than beef.
Hotpot almost always comes with many kinds of vegetables to be cooked with meat or seafood and shabu-shabu is no exception.
Vegetables added to shabu-shabu include Chinese cabbage, shallots (scallions), shiitake or other Asian mushrooms, carrot, shirataki (konnyaku yum noodles) and mizuna/chrysanthemum leaves. You can also use tofu.
You don’t need to use them all. Today I used only some of the vegetables listed above.
When you order shabu-shabu at a Japanese restaurant, you are usually served with two dipping sauces. Typical sauces are sesame sauce and ponzu.
Sesame sauce is made of grated sesame, miso, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar and dashi stock while ponzu is made of soy sauce, citrus juice, mirin, bonito flakes and konbu (see Ponzu recipe in Japanese Dressings).
These two sauces are quite different in flavour and texture so you can enjoy shabu-shabu in two ways.
How to Eat Shabu-shabu
When eating shabu-shabu, there are a few things to remember so that you can enjoy the best shabu-shabu:
- Wait until the konbu dashi starts boiling.
- Cook the beef first – this will make the broth richer and tastier. Beef slices should be lightly cooked so that the meat is tender and tasty. If you are using pork slices, they should be cooked well.
- To cook a slice of beef, pick up the end of the beef slice and stir it in the boiling water, almost like rinsing a piece of cloth. It requires only 10 seconds or so if using beef shabu-shabu slices.
- Add ingredients that take longer to cook first, e.g. shiitake mushrooms and carrots. Then other vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, tofu, shallots and shirataki. Green leaves such as mizuna or chrysanthemum leaves should be the last.
- Remove scum regularly. Particularly after cooking the beef, brown small bubbles (scum) will surface. To maintain good broth they need to be removed regularly using a ladle.
- Do not add too many ingredients to the pot at once. Part of the enjoyment of having shabu-shabu is to pick up what you want to eat, cook it and eat it when it is just cooked with the sauce of your choice.
- When the slice of meat or a piece of vegetable is cooked, pick it up from the broth and dip it in the sauce of your choice to eat it.
The stirring action when cooking very thin slices of meat is expressed in Japanese onomatopoeia as ‘shabu-shabu’ (しゃぶしゃぶ).
Note: Cooking all the beef slices first is the traditional way of eating shabu-shabu. But some people prefer to eat meat and vegetables mixed together so that they can enjoy varieties. It is quite alright to randomly cook ingredients but I would strongly recommend that you cook several slices of beef first to get good umami out of it and into the broth.
I know it’s getting hot in the northern hemisphere, but here in Australia it’s the middle of winter and outside is pretty cold – even during the day (by Aussie standards, that is). On such a cold day, nothing is better than having a hotpot to keep you warm from the inside of your body.
Hotpot is a great way of enjoying a meal with a group of people and it’s fun. You will need a portable cooktop on the dining table to have shabu-shabu in a traditional way but it’s so easy to prepare and no cooking is required as diners cook for themselves.
Shabu-shabu is a representative Japanese hotpot that is as equally well-known to foreigners as Sukiyaki. Cook paper-thin raw beef slices and vegetables in konbu (kelp) dashi broth and eat them with flavoursome dipping sauces.
30 minutes of Prep Time includes time to soak the konbu in water. Cook Time does not include time cooking and eating at the dining table.
- 250-300g (0.6-0.7lb) beef shabu-shabu slices (note 1)
- 300g (0.7lb) Chinese cabbage (about 4 large leaves)
- 2 shallots (scallions)
- 4 shiitake mushrooms (medium size), stems removed (note 2)
- 100g (3.5oz) chrysanthemum leaves
- 1 pack of shrataki (konnyaku yum noodles, note 3)
- 1L (1.1qt) water
- 20cm (8") long 10cm (4") wide konbu (dried kelp)
- 2½ tbsp roasted white sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp white miso (note 4)
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp konbu dashi (from Broth above)
- ¼ tbsp sugar
- ¼ tbsp vinegar
- 5 tbsp ponzu (note 5)
- A portable cooktop that can be placed on a table
- A thick large pot , a very deep skillet or a Japanese donabe (clay pot used for hotpot)
- 4 small bowls for dipping sauces
- A ladle and a small bowl with water
Cut the konbu into 2-3 short pieces and place in a pot with 1L (2.1pt) water. Soak for 30 minutes.
Bring the water with konbu to a boil over high heat. As soon as small bubbles start rising, remove the konbu (note 7). The broth is ready for Shabu-shabu.
Cut Chinese cabbage leaves crosswise into 4cm (1½“) long pieces. If the leaves are very wide, cut the leaves vertically in half first.
Cut shallots diagonally into 10cm long pieces. Cut shiitake mushrooms in half diagonally (note 2). If chrysanthemum leaves are long, cut them into two.
Rinse shirataki and spread the bunch of strands on the cutting board, then cut into two or three portions so that each noodle is short (easier to pick them up).
Plate the vegetables and beef slices on a large serving plate, clustering each ingredient together (see the photo in the post).
Finely grate roasted sesame seeds in a mortar & pestle until they become slightly wet (oil from sesame seeds).
Add the remaining Sesame Sauce ingredients to the mortar. Mix the sauce mixture well so that there are no lumps of miso paste. Leave it until required.
In the centre of the dining table, place the broth in a pot on a portable cooktop with a ladle and a bowl of water next to it.
Place the plate of meat and vegetables near the cooktop and two medium-sized bowls per diner with Sesame Sauce and Ponzu in each bowl.
Bring the broth to a boil.
Pick a slice of beef with chopsticks and shake a few times in the boiling water (about 10 seconds or so) to cook the meat. Then, dip the meat in the sauce of your choice and eat.
Cook all the meat first so that you will have a better broth to cook the vegetables in.
Add a small amount of vegetables of your choice to the broth and cook until tender. Dip the meat in one of the sauces to eat.
After cooking beef slices, scum will surface. Use the ladle to remove the scum (try not to take too much broth with it) and wash it off in the bowl of water. Repeat this throughout the cooking as you see scum surfacing.
1. Shabu-shabu slices are thinner than Sukiyaki slices so they can be cooked easily by just dipping in boiling broth a couple of times. But sukiyaki slices also work fine. Just cook the meat a tiny bit longer.
If you cannot find very thinly sliced beef, you can slice a block of meat yourself. Please visit Beef Rolls with Asparagus. Instead of beef slices, you can use pork shabu-shabu slices if you prefer.
2. I cut them diagonally to make them look more interesting but you can cut them straight. If your shiitake mushrooms are very large, you might need only 2 or 3 cut into quarters. If your mushrooms are very small, you will need 6 or so without cutting in half. Instead of shiitake mushrooms, you can use shimeji mushrooms or enoki mushrooms.
3. Shirataki comes in a plastic bag filled with water. They are sold at Japanese/Asian grocery stores.
4. White miso, also called ‘shiro miso’ is sweeter than brown miso. If you are using brown miso, increase the amount to ⅓-½ tablespoon.
5. Please refer to Ponzu (Citrus Soy Sauce) recipe in my post Japanese Dressings.
6. If you don’t have a portable cooktop and need to cook the ingredients on the stove, I would suggest that you cook all the vegetables in the pot first, then place beef slices at the end. Try to place each slice separately and do not stack them together a the beef will not cook quickly. Turn the heat off when the beef slices are half cooked as they will continue to be cooked in the boiling broth. Place the pot in the centre of the dining table.
7. Preserve the konbu pieces after getting the konbu out of it. You can use them in other dishes such as Gomoku-mame. I sometimes just munch them. You can also freeze them if not using straight away.
8. This is the traditional way of eating shabu-shabu. But some people prefer to eat meat and vegetables mixed together so that they can enjoy varieties. It is quite alright to randomly cook ingredients but I would strongly recommend that you cook several slices of beef first to get good umami out of it and into the broth.
9. The leftover broth can be used to cook udon noodles or Zosui/Ojiya (Japanese Rice Soup) to finish up the meal. You might need to add a bit of salt and/or soy sauce to adjust the flavour as it is a plain broth. I usually add a couple of beaten eggs and chopped shallots to it.