When it comes to winter food to warm the body and soul, there are few things in Japan that fit the bill quite like nabe, or hot pot. A proper nabe will be cooked at your table, and loaded with goodies, their flavors-a-melding in the simmering broth. For those who like their hot pots to be meaty, you are encouraged to try motsu nabe (a hot pot with beef innards), but for those looking for a more delicate (and perhaps less challenging to newbies) experience, kani nabe (crab hot pot) is here to claw you out of the abyss.
A good hot pot dish can easily be ruined by a bad broth, so great care should be taken when it comes to selecting ingredients to put in the nabe. Into water and soy sauce is added a katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) infused concentrate. A good soup base will also have the flavors of konbu (seaweed) providing subtle structure. These ingredients are all mainstays of Japanese cooking, providing the levers with which you can adjust sweetness, saltiness, and umami.
Into the tableside, bubbling broth goes your veggies with the crab (still raw) placed on top. Your standard vegetable assortment includes white cabbage (filling, and also keeps the broth from getting to salty as it boils down), shiitake mushrooms, shimeji mushrooms, Japanese long green onion, and thinly sliced carrots. If you’re feeling risqué, you may wish to push it to three different types of mushrooms, perhaps going with some of the enoki (long, thin, and white) variety. A bit of sake (Japanese rice wine) should be added before the nabe’s lid as affixed for a gentle simmer. Once everything’s cooked through, it’s time to dig in.
As the crab cooked in the vegetable/broth mix, the flavor exchanges cranked into high gear. The soy sauce, katsuobushi, seaweed, infused broth cuddled the crab, poaching it in its own shell. The vegetables took on a seafood accent, and the mushrooms shared their earthiness with the whole lot. Kani nabe makes even the most bitterly cold winter days entirely palatable.