Monday, January 21, 2008

"Whatever Nabe" and Atsukan...

The coldest weather of the winter so far had arrived which immediately set us to thinking about eating something comforting to stave off the chill. As the temperature plummeted, we knew what it was that we craved... a nabe (Japanese hot pot) dinner with atsukan (warmed) sake. Surrounded by sake in the store all day, Rick had his eye on a particular brew specifically suited to this very purpose....Kamoizumi Shusen Tokubetsu Junmai , a robust, big-boned sake from Hiroshima practically screamed "drink me!" from its top shelf perch.

As we closed the store and headed home with our Kamoizumi Shusen in hand, we speculated about the inventory of items our refrigerator might yield for our nabe. To our delight, Hiroko found some frozen gyoza (Chinese dumplings) and fish cakes in the freezer, and Rick uncovered some daikon, burdock, shiitake, and tofu in the fridge to go with some leftover hakusai (Chinese cabbage). We had the ingredients for our "Whatever Nabe!"

As the nabe was cooking on the tabletop burner, we warmed our sake in a Mini Kansuke (a contraption made specifically for the purpose) and decided to try the Kamoizumi Shusen at room temperature in the meantime. Not a sake for the die-hard delicate daiginjo drinker , this bold nihonshu had a sharp, earthy aroma with gamey, mushroom-like flavors. How would these aromatics and tastes change once the Mini Kansuke had performed its magic? We didn't have to wait long to find out...As the thermometer in the warming sake reached 110 degrees F, we poured it into bizen ceramic cups made by our friend John Ray and immediately were struck by the intense aroma of shiitake. The flavors had opened up and the sharp earthy sake had been transformed into a rich, mellow, nutty potion of glowing warmth that was the perfect match for the contents of the steaming pot before us.

In the thrall of the warm Kamoizumi Shusen, the mingling aromas of the pot's ingredients magnetically drew our chopsticks into the bubbling nabe. Carefully scooping up the soft dumplings, tofu, and vegetables we dipped them into Hiroko's homemade ponzu sauce, and savored our "Whatever Nabe" with the atsukan sake, by this time completely oblivious to the temperature outside.

Hiroko is not big fan of shiitake (and mushrooms in general) and although she didn't enjoy the sake as much as Rick, she didn't let that stand in the way of drinking this particular nihonshu. In fact, it was so deliciously mellow and complimented the food so well, that it was gone before we finished our "Whatever Nabe!"

Homemade Ponzu (Citrus Flavored Dipping) Sauce
1 cup Sake
4 inch length Kelp
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 tablespoon or more Yuzu or citrus juice

1. Place kelp and sake in the pan and cook in low heat until the alcohol is evaporate. Remove from the stove and take out the kelp, and let it cool.
2. Combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar and Yuzu juice. Taste it, and put more Yuzu juice if needed.