This year, the Missus wanted Oden (おでん) a hot pot/stew that usually features a variety of fish cakes. The recipe for the broth is quite simple, and is basically exactly as described in Shizuo Tsuji's Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art , one of my favorite cookbooks. Other than the fact I use only dashi (Tsuji uses a combination of chicken stock and dashi), I think the real difference, if any was all in the preparation and serving.
As with many Japanese dishes; everything starts (and ends with) the Dashi. Instead of beginning the heating of the kombu right away; I'll actually first score 5-6" squares of wiped kombu, then soak in cold water overnight basically making Kombu Dashi. The next day I'll bring the liquid up to temp, heating to just the point where bubbles appear in the water, then I'll remove the kombu. The center part of the kombu should be soft...... you should be able to press your fingernail into the kombu. After the kelp has been removed, I'll increase the heat of the liquid until it just about reaches a boil, remove it from heat, then add the Katsuobushi (bonito flakes). I'll then very gently stir once; then wait until all the katsuobushi sinks to the bottom of the pot before straining through a cheesecloth.
Once I put together the broth, I'll place the longer cooking stewing items, like daikon, kombu, shiitake mushroom, and konnyaku into the broth to simmer. As for the other items, when I'm ready to serve the Oden, I'll ladle out the amount of broth and stewed items into a smaller pot; add in the Missus's favorite fish cakes and boiled eggs and bring to a simmer and heat through. Simmering fried fishcakes can give your broth a oily sheen, makes the cakes soggy and bland, and basically look quite unattractive. I'll pour boiling water over Abura-age (Fried tofu) to remove the excess oil, cut into triangles, and place into the bowl, along with some kamaboko. you'll notice that there's a scarcity of chikuwa (broiled fish cake)..... it seems that the Missus prefers more expensive stuff.
I also added a few items that the Missus enjoys like Satoimo (taro). The Missus also loves Inoki Mushrooms, but when added to a stew all the stalks break apart and go every which way. So this time, I soaked some Kanpyo (dried calabash shavings), and used them to tie the bundles of Inoki Mushroom together. Here's a pretty good list of items that you can add to your Oden. I'm just including the recipe for the broth.
8 Cups Ichiban Dashi
1/2 Cup neutral flavored soy sauce - Aloha or Yamasa
1/4 Cup Whole Bean Kikkoman (just using Kikkoman tends to overwhelm the other subtle flavors for me)
3/4 Cup Mirin
1 Tsp Sea Salt
- Bring the dashi to a simmer, add soy sauce and mirin. Simmer to burn off some of the alcohol
- Taste and adjust flavors. Add salt to taste.
- Add daikon, konnyaku, etc first. Remember that every ingredient will add its own flavor to the broth, that's the magic of the dish.
I'll usually serve this with hot mustard.
Consume on one of the coldest days of the year........