Japanese cuisine fascinates me because of it’s attention to presentation as well as flavors and it’s unique style of food preparation. I’m not talking about sushi which is, and rightly so when prepared by master sushi chefs, the very expensive epitome of the elegance and flavor that is Japanese cuisine. Of course they had me at the word “kanji” when I realized that in order to prepare bento boxes, I would have to purchase a satisfying amount of new cookware and serving pieces 😀
Now I’ve discovered the Japanese world of Donabe cooking! A donabe is a clay pot made for cooking over an open flame, one of Japan’s oldest cooking vessels still in use today. What excites me is that, with the aid of a small butane burner you can cook at the table and serve the food directly from the pot into attractive bowls or plates. The above clay pot is a donabe ibushi gin or smoker with three smoking racks. A handful of wood chips is placed on top of aluminum foil on the bottom of the pot, the loaded racks are then added, the pot placed on the gas burner until the chips begin to smoke, the top put in place and allowed to heat for about 2-3 minutes, the gas turned off and the smoking is finished in 20 minutes.
Trying something new is always both exciting and nerve-wracking, at least for me. And the Japanese are so clever, what if things went wrong ?! I mean I bought the cookbook, “Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking” and everyone was just standing around smiling, beautifully dressed (no splatters) and every hair in place. It looked challenging! But hey, how hard could it be to succeed at cooking with a pot whose use was first recorded in the eighth century? Not at all hard.
I raided the refrigerator for boneless, char sui marinated ribs, soft boiled eggs, chillies, yellow wax beans, asparagus tips and red bell pepper. It bothered me that some sort of seasoning of the vegetables and meat was not required. Still, I couldn’t help but lightly sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper. Next time I’ll go further, adding Asian inspired rubs for meats/fish, flakes of aromatics for the vegetables and perhaps marbling the eggs in soy sauce before smoking.
The meat, eggs and vegetables were perfectly cooked and delicious with a delicate smokey flavor. I tossed some leftover rice noodles with sesame oil, rice vinegar, sugar and scallions as an accompaniment (sounds French) or side dish and passed soy and tsuyu sauces as dips.
My husband praised the cooking method and ate lots. That’s what I like to see!