I'm on a hot pot roll these days -- but tragedy has struck! Notice the blue handles beneath my hot pot in the photo above? As I was transferring my beloved earthenware hot pot, it mysteriously sprang a leak. I quickly nestled it in a Le Creuset and soldiered on. But I'm going to try to re-season the hot pot by cooking rice porridge in it; hopefully that'll plug up the mystery hole.
Hot pot contretemps notwithstanding, the Mizutaki was outstanding. I've talked about this hot pot before (click here), one of my favorites. Mizutaki is about as simple as it gets: Pile a bunch of ingredients into a hot pot. Pour in water. Turn on the heat and cook. In our hot pot cookbook, Tadashi and I outlined specific quantities. But I want you to start thinking about hot pots as a more free-form endeavor: Don't worry about how much of this, how much of that. Just cook with what you've got, with a few basics in mind. The fundamentals of this hot pot are: Place a piece of umami-nourishing kombu on the bottom. Pile bite-sized pieces of cabbage or Napa cabbage over the kombu (I actually used both, since I had a small chunk of left-over cabbage in the fridge.) On top of the cabbage, which acts the "foundation," arrange piles of hot pot ingredients in neat bunches. On this particular eve, I added chicken, tofu, sliced negi, shiitake, maitake, carrots and harusame noodles (starch noodles that absorb flavor). I also secreted (a choice bit of cop talk, as in "secret-ed") a few chicken bones under the cabbage to pack the broth with more oomph. I poured in water, covered the hot pot, turned heat to high, and cooked. How long? You can tell when chicken looks done. At the last minute I added a pile of spinach, which cooked in seconds.
So that was that, leak or no leak. To eat, we poured some ponzu in a bowl and mixed in a dab of yuzu kosho (the one Abe-san made, which I had frozen). We fished morsels out of the hot pot with our chopsticks, dipped them into the ponzu/yuzu kosho, and went to town. Amazing flavors. And best of all, the ingredients did all the work: the kombu and chicken mingling umami flavors, the veggies adding their own notes, and the condiments layering in even more goodness. Just lovely.