Chicken Soba Hot Pot

Chicken Soba Hot Pot

This Japanese hot pot dish, prepared with ingredients like chicken, mushroom, abura age, and soba, symbolizes long life and health in the new year. The recipe features a combination of traditional Japanese flavors with warming and comforting elements, perfect for celebrating New Year's Eve or any time in the cold season.

My wife and I and a houseguest visiting from Japan cooked this dish on New Year's Eve from a recipe dug up in a Japanese newspaper. Soba is the traditional meal on the last day of the year, the noodles symbolizing long life and health for the upcoming annum. I particularly liked this dish (it's a hot pot, of course I liked it!), a tasty combination of chicken, mushroom, abura age and soba. The dried soba you drop into the pot raw, so it cooks in the broth and thickens it. Nice touch, and easy. And to top it off, you accent this dish with one of my favorite Japanese ingredients, citrusy, fiery yuzu kosho, dissolving it right into the broth. God, this was good. What a way to ring in the New Year.

A couple of days ago, as I was shivering my butt off in the current deep freeze enveloping New York City (anyone want to invite me to their home in the Bahamas for... forever?), my thoughts drifted back to this satisfying, comforting, warming, fantastic hot pot. Why just eat it once a year? Here's how I prepared it:

_The basic ingredients (add more or less of anything to fit your pot, and taste; the following is a rough guide)
_2 (6-inch) pieces kombu
1 piece of abura age
Boiling water to pour over abura age
3/4 pound mushrooms (see note)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 chicken legs and thigh, skinned, deboned and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound napa cabbage, sliced on an angle into bite-sized pieces
4 cups warm liquid (see note below)
3 tablespoons sake (use the real stuff, not "cooking sake" junk)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 pound dried soba noodles
2 scallions thinly sliced
Yuzu kosho to taste

First, the notes: For liquid, you can use water, or Japanese chicken stock (bones, water and kombu only) or Shiitake dashi (dried Japanese shiitake steeped in water for at least 5 hours - use the reconstituted mushrooms in the hot pot). I used a combo of chicken stock and shiitake dashi for the heck of it, and it tasted great. Also, you want the liquid warm especially if you're using a donabe (earthenware pot); cold liquid might crack it in the pot (see what we do below). For the mushrooms, use any combination of cultivated Japanese mushrooms like shiitake, enoki or shimeji. I used reconstituted dried shiitake as well as fresh shiitake. Oyster mushrooms are great too, or if you're a mycologist like my buddy Sebastian, use any mushroom you happen to forage, as long as it doesn't kill you!

Prep the ingredients: For the abura age, place it in a colander and pour boiling water over it to get rid of excess oil, then slice into thin strips. For shiitake, remove and discard the stems, and slice in half or thirds (depending on size - you want things bite-sized for chopsticks). For enoki, shimeji or oysters, cut off the ends and separate the clumps by hand.

To cook: Add the sesame oil to your pot (I'm partial to Japanese earthenware donabe or Le Creuset, especially their fantastic shallow braiser pot) and place over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken, cooking and stirring, until the pieces turn golden. Sprinkle salt.

Randomly pile the mushrooms, abura age, and napa cabbage over the chicken. Sautee for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring and cooking until mushrooms and cabbage begin to soften. Add the liquid and slide the pieces of kombu under the ingredients. Add the sake, mirin and soy sauce.

Cover and bring to a boil. When the liquid boils, uncover the pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove any scum that appears on the surface. Taste and adjust the flavoring, adding more soy sauce or mirin if you like (make sure to balance the sweet/savory tastes).

Break the dried soba in half and stick into the pot. Make sure the noodles are submerged in the liquid. If you need more liquid, add it. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the noodles are ready. Stir occasionally to make sure all the noodles are cooking evenly. Taste the noodles; as soon as they're cooked through, it's ready.

Transfer the hot pot to the dining table. Serve in rounds in small bowls. Add a dab of yuzu kosho to the broth and sprinkle some in thinly sliced scallions. Enjoy!