Monday, August 15, 2011

Doing the Shabu Shabu Shake

Now as winter's coming to a slow close here in Australia (although today seems to be a fairly wintery day again in Adelaide), we thought we'd throw together a bit of an old Japanese classic together. Shabu Shabu. Actually this dish has some significance for us as a couple - as it was perhaps the first Japanese dish that we had together as a couple way back in 2002. So it has some meaning... even though we don't have it that often these days.

So what's Shabu Shabu I hear you ask? In typical Japanese-style, the name Shabu Shabu is an onomatopoeia (big word, means word describing a sound) for the bubbly swish noise made by the cooking meat being dragged through the boiling water. Well, so the story goes, the dish came from the same origins of many of the asian dishes, on the Mongol steppes... it then travelled through China to eventually end up as a fairly simple dish in a small Osaka restaurant known as Suehiro in the early 1950's. It was there that the secret ingredient was added that makes Shabu Shabu so special. It's name. From it's humble beginnings, it's become one of the most readily recognised Japanese dishes, and a perennial favourite amongst  both Japanese and foreigners alike. It also has to be one of the simplest of all Japanese nabemono (hot pot) dishes... as there's very little required in terms of preparation other than cutting a few ingredients.

First off, you're going to need a Shabu Shabu pot. Ok... you may not "need" to use one of these, but it makes it easier. You'll also need a gas (camp) burner for the table - always take care when dealing with gas cylinders, fire, boiling water... especially around children (of course).

The first step is heating the water - which has Konbu for flavouring. There are many things that you can add to the cooking water, but we work on the principal that you're coating the cooked ingredients in a sauce at the end anyhow. You can make this a dashi-based cooking broth, or T-chan's otousan also adds soy sauce. T-chan often likes to quietly eat the Konbu at the end of the meal when no-ones looking (shhhh that's our secret).

Now speaking of ingredients - like many winter Japanese dishes, the ingredients are fairly standard:
  • Thinly sliced beef / pork or lamb (lamb is more popular in Hokkaido) - we had about 1kg all up
  • Garlic chives
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Enoki mushrooms
  • Tofu
  • Fish cake (chikuwa)
  • We also tried some beansprouts tonight (not normal)
  • Konbu for cooking broth
  • Rice (for side)

Now once the water is starting to boil you take the Konbu out, and throw the vegetables in... they'll start cooking down, but will take quite a bit longer than the meat to cook. Indeed they can stay there throughout the duration if necessary (though you lose some of the nutrition to the broth, which is not used).

The important thing is the sauce. We often use a simple Ponzu (ポン酢) sauce for Shabu Shabu. This can be bought from most asian grocers. An alternative to Ponzu sauce a sesame seed sauce (gomadare).

T-chan made a home-made sauce (trialled from an internet recipe) from a mix of grated apple, soy sauce, mirin, sake and garlic. However, she much preferred the Ponzu ready-made sauce.

The key to Shabu Shabu is that the meat is thin enough that it is cooked very quickly - typically after about 5-10 seconds - by swirling it through the near-boiling broth. The Shabu Shabu Shake! Now the one word of warning - the thing that looks like a conical chimney... is exactly that. So don't put your hands anywhere near the opening at the top as there's very hot air being exhausted directly from the burner below.

And before you know it.... cooked lightly to perfection...

Here's a quick vid of my lovely wife's hand... doing the Shabu Shabu shake.... L-kun sits in the background getting impatient for dinner. This is also the first time I've tried to use my Canon KissX3 as a video camera, so appologies for that crapiness of it... but that's HD crap thankyou.

Interesting But Almost Totally Unrelated Fact of the Day: 
As the meat is progressively cooked (noting that we went through nearly 1 kg of meat) you get a slightly dirty looking foam on the top - known as aku or simply lye. Here's a simple food chemistry lesson - when meat is under stress, the meat becomes denatured which means that the proteins begin to breakdown and dissolve in the water in the form of lipids (like fats) and amino acids. Now lye is more typically known for its role in saponification - making soap from fats - however, the word comes from the Old Norse Laug, which means "warm bath". I'm not sure what this says about the Old Norse - but I don't want to imagine where they did their cooking - or their bathing. This all sounds a little gross, I know, but the good news is that it can readily be skimmed off the surface. Using leaner meats help reduce this, but for us, a bit fatty meat adds to the flavour.

So there you have it - a very simple hot-pot dish that is as Japanese as well just about any other dish that was integrated from abroad but made distinctively Japanese in the process. But I will let my son, L-kun have the final verdict. What do you think L-kun? I think a picture can definitely say at least a thousand words... Heavenly Shabu Shabu Shake Baby!

Note: This post is my contribution to the JFesta compendium for August 2010. Don't forget to check out the links to contributors here on of


  1. I love shabu shabu and it is a great winter dish along with such classics as sukiyaki and nabe.

    Japan Australia

  2. They're all great... but strictly speaking shabu shabu and sukiyaki are also nabemono - or hotpot dishes. I have to admit, they're definitely good winter fare, but I do have a tendency to over-eat. That's my problem, not the foods.

  3. Shabu shabu: now I'm dreaming of winter!

  4. It's a small favour for all the people sweltering in a northern hemisphere summer. Of course, England hardly fits that profile however (as sweltering and England are just two words that don't make sense together).

  5. What surprised me was the amount! It looks huge in the photo. Have you finished them in one evening?
    Another interesting thing is L-kun's "scissors". I have not seen them, but it seems to be a good idea for learning how to use chopsticks.

  6. I have to say - and I'm not proud of this - we ate the whole lot. Seriously. When it comes to meat (appologies to all the vegetarians out there), but T-chan and I (and even L-kun) are meat-eaters through and through.

    The funny thing was that we had a huge lunch out the day before (that took about 36 hours to digest properly).... and then we hit the Shabu Shabu. No problems.

    As for the "scissors" these are fairly common for teaching how to use chopsticks these days. L-kun took to them very easily.

  7. I LOVE this stuff. Just had some awesome beef from Miyazaki done this way. I actually had more shabu-shabu parties when I was in Hawaii than here in Japan. I guess I take it for granted now?

    Nice pics.