One of the common questions among nascent Japanese cuisine aficionados is, “What’s the difference between sukiyaki and shabu shabu?” They both get cooked in a tableside hot pot, and both use standard cuts of beef or pork (as opposed to the assortment of innards you would find in a motsu nabe), but around there is where the divergence begins. Shabu shabu is a true soup, whereas a proper sukiyaki uses far less of a stronger tasting liquid (not really a soup).
The traditional way to start a sukiyaki meal (and this is often done by the restaurant staff, tableside) is to grease the pan with a small cube of beef fat, then, with very little or no sauce at all in the pot, quickly cook up one slice of the well marbled, very thinly sliced beef. From there, a quick dip into your raw egg, then into your mouth. The heat of the meat cooks the egg a bit, but I’m not going to lie: You are going to end up eating some raw egg, but it’s going to be delicious.
After the initiating piece of meat has been eaten, a larger amount of soup base is added to the pan, but no more than is required to cover the surface area of the bottom of the hot pot by just a bit. The soup base is a diluted mix of soy sauce, sweet rice wine, sake, sugar, and some spices. It’s much sweeter and saltier than what you would find in a shabu shabu, which is why you don’t drink it like a soup. The key is to let the meat and vegetables just barely simmer up in a small amount of this sauce before the egg-dunk-then-eat portion of the process. As you cook, the water from the veggies and fat from the meat will respectively dilute and enrich the broth, but there is also warm water and soy sauce/rice wine sauce usually at the ready should you wish to tune things up yourself.
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