My junior year in college, I left the dormitory to share an apartment a couple of blocks off campus with three other girls. My father, by that time an enthusiastic connoisseur of Asian food, taught me a dish to cook in my new kitchen.
Sukiyaki is the perfect dish for a young cook. It is both easy and exotic. Although it has a lot of ingredients, the method is simple. It's fast, too, providing almost instant gratification.
Sukiyaki is one of many Japanese dishes called nabemono, or hot-pot. A dish for wintertime, they are usually cooked at the table-top on a portable stove, or as my father taught me, in an electric skillet.
I was looking for recipes for the matsutake mushrooms gifted us by our neighbor, and when I found a sukiyaki recipe adapted for matsutakes, I remembered my dad's lessons and decided to give it a try.
MATSUSTAKE HOT POT
2 cups beef broth
1/2 cup sake or dry sherry
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 pound lean beef steak - flank steak or ribeye work well
1 piece beef fat or 2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, sliced
1 bunch scallions or green onions, white and green parts chopped
1 cup sliced matsutake mushrooms - or substitute shitake, enoki or button mushrooms
1/2 head cabbage - napa or savoy - shredded
1/2 package firm tofu, cut into cubes
3 tablespoons sugar
Optional - 1 bunch watercress, trimmed of tough stems or tender greens like baby spinach
Optional - 1 package shirataki or bean-thread glass noodles - pre-soak if needed, according to instructions
On the day preparing the dish, put the steak in the freezer for about an hour so that it is slightly frozen. Then slice thinly across the grain.
Combine the beef broth, sake and soy sauce in a sauce pan and heat to a simmer.
Using a wok, a large saute pan, or an electric skillet, heat to medium-high. If using beef fat, rub it over the hot surface until it is coated with fat. Or melt the butter in the skillet.
Saute the sliced onions, half the scallions until wilted, and push to the side of the pan, Then saute the mushroom slices until slightly browned or caramelized on the edges.
Add the cabbage and stir-fry until wilted. Spoon a bit of the broth into the pan and let it wilt the vegetables further, then remove the vegetables to a bowl.
Let the pan dry and come back to the heat. If using the beef fat, repeat the step of rubbing the surface with fat; otherwise add a little more butter to the pan or spray with cooking spray.
Quickly saute the beef slices in the hot pan in batches so they're not too crowded - you want them to sear and brown, not steam. Just before each batch is done, add a bit of the broth to the pan along with a teaspoon or so of sugar, then remove the meat to the bowl and repeat with the rest of the meat.
After the meat is done, repeat the same procedure with the cubed tofu.
Return all the meat and vegetables to the pan along with all the hot broth, and any remaining sugar. If you are using watercress another tender leafy green, add it now. If you are using bean thread noodles, add now.
Let the dish bubble and heat a minute, then serve, garnished with the remaining chopped green onions.
Serve it with rice if you like.
This is not classicallyauthentic Japanese sukiyaki, but more of an Americanized adaptation. It's a dish that's easy enough for anyone to make. As a college girl in Ohio in the 1970s, I didn't have much access to Japanese ingredients, but in a college town I could get soy sauce, tofu and button mushrooms. The biggest splurge item for a college girl was the flank steak.
For yesterday's sukiyaki, I was too lazy to go to the Japanese supermarket to find noodles, so I did without.
The star of the dish was the matsutake mushrooms. At first I was fearful the soy and beef flavors would be too assertive for them, but as it turned out, the mushroom flavor held its own.
Sukiyaki is a rich and warming dish, perfect for a cold winter's eve. The intensely woodsy flavor and aroma of our matsutake mushrooms made it even more special.