Shabu Shabu, one of Japan’s many takes on the hotpot, is a super fun and interactive meal to enjoy with family and friends. A glorious array of meats and veggies are beautifully arranged on platters, with some speedy sauces, while a simple broth simmers at the table to cook it all in. Don’t be scared by the long ingredient list or lengthy directions. Most of it is just prepping your ingredients, and all of the cooking is done at the table. It’s an enjoyable way to gather family and friends, chatting and laughing for a truly communal dinner.
Shabu Shabu Sauces
It is traditional to serve this hotpot with at least two sauces, a sesame sauce and ponzu. I shared my recipe for homemade ponzu, but the bottled kind will work too. The sesame sauce is a cinch to make, and can be prepared a couple days before. It adds delectable toasty richness to all the shabu shabu accompaniments. The two sauces give your guests a little variety between tart and refreshing and creamy and nutty. In addition, we usually serve the ponzu with some condiments so each person can season the sauce to their liking.
Toasted Sesame Sauce
The key to this simple sauce is having well toasted sesame seeds which will give you amazing flavor and nuttiness. Even if you buy toasted sesame seeds, you should re-toast them in the frying pan. You will notice a huge difference when you do. Use a dry skillet oven medium heat and toss the pan regularly to get an even golden color. Don’t walk away or you might end up with burnt seeds.
Then I just blend the seeds with the other sauce ingredients in a blender and put aside until ready to use. This can be made several days ahead of time and kept in the fridge. The sauce tends to thicken in the fridge but will loosen as it sits out at room temperature. You can add a tablespoon or two of water if you find it too thick.
Shabu Shabu Garnishes
This meal would not be complete without at least a couple fresh garnishes. This way, each guest can customize their ponzu sauce. I use daikon radish for a little peppery heat which also thickens the sauce, scallions bring a mild oniony flavor (even more mild when you rinse them first), and I like to put out little bowls of shichimi powder as well. My husband and I like a little fresh sliced jalapeño too. I like the crunchy spicy contrast it gives the cooked veggies. It’s not traditional but pretty delicious!
These garnishes can be prepped ahead of time, and brought to the table when you’re ready to eat.
Shabu Shabu Beef
Thinly shaved rib beef is the traditional choice here. I often make life easy on myself and buy it already shaved. You can find thinly sliced beef at most Asian markets and at some grocery stores like Trader Joes. Look for the best quality meat with good marbling. Tough, lean slices will be disappointing.
We are fortunate that we have an electric slicer which we use at the restaurants to make sliced rib eye for hot pots. It allows us to choose the best cuts, but of course, we have to slice it ourselves. You can see by the photos below, the quality you can get if you decide to do your own slicing.
If you’re cutting it yourself, you need to freeze the beef for an hour or two so it’s firm enough to make really thin slices. Use a sharp knife and make thin slices across the grain. If you’ve bought more meat than you’ll need, you can slice it all and make pre-portioned packets with aluminum foil. Then, stick the packets in the freezer in a ziptop plastic bag. This way you’ll have beef ready to go for your next hot pot gathering. Before bringing the beef to the table, attractively arrange it on a platter. This can be done earlier in the day and kept chilled until dinner time.
Now that your sauces, garnishes, and beef are ready to go, it’s time to prep the other Shabu Shabu ingredients.
Slice the tofu, fish cakes, and scallions. If you’re feeling especially artsy, you can cut out little slivers from the top of the shiitakes to make snowflake designs. This is definitely a feast that people eat first with their eyes; beautifully arranged platters get everyone excited about what’s to come.
Shabu Shabu Broth
Now it’s time to start cooking! Fill a pot 2/3 of the way with water and add the kombu. The longer the kombu sits in the water, the better. So do that first. Next bring all the goodies to the table-the sauces, the garnishes, the meat, and the veggie platter. I give everyone 2 small bowls for the sauces plus a small plate where they can put food to cool straight from the pot.
You should also bring some ladles to help fish out slippery ingredients that may be hard to scoop out with chopsticks. A skimmer in a dish of water, which we use later to keep the simmering water clean and free of scum, is also a nice addition. Finally, you might need a small pitcher of water to keep the water replenished as it simmers away.
Set the pot with the kombu on a portable burner in the middle of the table. Let it come up to a simmer on medium heat. The lower heat lets you extract as much flavor from the kombu as possible. Once the broth comes to a simmer, remove the kombu. If you leave it in, the water has a tendency to turn slimy, plus the kombu takes up too much room in the pot.
Once you add the veggies, crank up the heat, since the temperature will drop with all of the raw ingredients. Then cover the pot with a lid and let it cook for a couple of minutes.
While everyone is waiting on the hot pot, have them get their sauce ready and designate someone as the cook. It’s better to have one or two people replenishing the hot pot and monitoring the cooking- less chaotic and easier to keep cooked food separate from raw. If there’s something you particularly want to eat but don’t see, ask the cook to add some to the hot pot.
Once the vegetables are ready, you can add some meat to the pot and let everyone dig in. The swish swish of the beef in the water is where shabu shabu gets its melodic name. And you really do not want to overcook the beef. A couple of seconds and your medium rare beef is perfect. Let people take what they want for their plates, and use their sauces to customize their bites.
As you continue to cook the meat, you will need to skim off the foam that floats up. I keep a strainer in a small bowl of water close by to keep the broth clear.
As you continue to serve cooked foods from the pot, keep adding in more of the raw ingredients, taking care to keep the two separate. Noodles are usually thrown in after everything else has been eaten, but in my family, we have kids at the table clamoring for noodles, so we throw them in at the beginning.
Shabu Shabu is perfect for these chillier nights. Gather your family around and turn dinner into an engaging event! And when you do, please take a moment to rate and comment on the recipe below. And tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen, we love seeing your creations!
For the broth:
- 1 piece kombu seaweed (about 4”x3”)
For the Shabu Shabu:
- 1/2 head medium napa cabbage (about 1 lb)
- 1 package medium-firm tofu, 14 oz
- 6 pieces shiitake mushrooms
- 1 packet enoki mushroom (7 oz)
- 1 package shimeji mushrooms (3.5 oz)
- 1 bunch scallions
- 1 bunch watercress
- 2 block frozen boiled udon noodles (about 16 ounces)
- 1 block pink kamaboko fish cake
- 1 ½ pounds thinly sliced rib eye beef
- 4” piece daikon radish
- shichimi 7-spice chile powder
- 1/2 bunch scallions cut into thin rounds
Ponzu either purchased or homemade
Roasted sesame sauce:
- 1 cup toasted sesame seeds
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 2 Tablespoons mirin
- 1 large clove garlic
- 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon roasted sesame oil
- 2 Tablespoon neutral oil
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 cup water
- ½ teaspoon salt
Make the sesame sauce:
- Pour the sesame seeds into a dry skillet and heat over medium heat. Stir frequently to evenly toast the sesame seeds for about 3-4 mins. (It is important not to let the seeds burn).
- The sesame seeds should have a golden color and a nutty fragrance.
- Put the seeds into a blender or food processor.
- Add the remaining ingredients and blend/process until the sauce is smooth and thick. The sauce should be thick, like a pureed soup, but not like peanut butter. Add a couple tablespoons of water if needed to thin.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to use. The sauce will keep for 3-4 days.
Prepare the garnishes:
- Peel the daikon and then grate it using a Japanese style grater or the medium size on a box grater. Drain off some of the juice and set aside in a small bowl.
- Slice the scallions thinly into small rounds.
- Put the scallions into a colander and rinse them to eliminate some of the strong flavor. Set aside to drain and then put the scallions in a small bowl.
- Refrigerate the garnishes until you’re ready to bring everything to the table.
Prepare the ingredients:
Beef: (If you didn’t buy pre-shaved and need to slice it yourself)
- Put the beef in the freezer. You will need to freeze the meat for 1-2 hours until the meat is very firm but not frozen solid.
- Using a very sharp knife, slice paper thin cuts across the grain making the slices as uniform as possible.
- Make small neat stacks on a plate. (I like to fold the beef in half so each slice is easier to pick up).
- You can put the meat back into the freezer in a storage container if prepping the meat ahead of time or put it into the refrigerator if you are making the hot pot that day.
Prepare other ingredients:
- Defrost the udon noodles, either by putting them in the fridge overnight, letting them sit under running water, or microwaving them under low power for a couple minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Cut out the core of the napa cabbage using your knife to make an inverted “v” at the bottom of the cabbage. Cut the napa cabbage in half lengthwise and then into 2 inch pieces crosswise. Put the cabbage onto a large shallow bowl/platter.
- Rinse the watercress and trim off 1/4 inch off of the bottom. Cut the greens into 2 inch pieces and add them to the platter.
- Open the package of tofu and drain the water. Cut the tofu in thirds lengthwise and then crosswise to yield 18 small blocks. Arrange the tofu on the platter.
- Slice the stems off of the shiitakes and add them to the platter. (If you would like to be decorative, you can cut out tiny slivers to make a snowflake pattern).
- Cut off the growing medium from the enoki mushrooms and the hard stems from the wild mushrooms. Break or cut the other mushrooms into manageable pieces and arrange them onto the platter.
- Wash the scallions and cut them into 2 inch pieces. Tuck them onto the plate.
- Arrange the sliced beef on a separate platter and bring to the table when ready to start.
When ready to cook:
- Fill a pot, around 4 quarts large ⅔ of the way with water and add the kombu. Let the kombu sit in the water while you set up the table.
- Bring all of the ingredient platters to the table. Bring chopsticks, tongs, and some ladles to help fish out the tofu and other soft slippery items from the cooking pot.
- Bring the sauces and garnishes to the table. Give each person 2 small bowls for the sauces and a small plate. Have everyone garnish their sauces as you wait for the water to simmer.
- Set the pot over a portable burner and bring the water to a simmer over high heat. As soon as it starts to simmer, take out the kombu.
- Then add some tofu, napa cabbage, and mushrooms to the pot. Cover the pot with the lid and let it simmer for 4-5 minutes.Then take the lid off and lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. You may have to adjust the temperature several times, raising the temperature when you add raw ingredients and lowering it when they are finished cooking, or as people slow their eating pace.
- Swish the beef slices in the water to cook to your liking. It takes less than a minute. Japanese people call the hot pot shabu shabu because of the sound the beef makes as it’s being dipped into the simmering water.
- Take an assortment of meat and vegetables and dip them into the sauce and enjoy.
- Skim off the scum and foam from the surface as you cook, keeping the broth clear. Keep a fine mesh skimmer in a small bowl filled with water at the table so you can easily skim as you cook.
- Add more vegetables and meat as you take from the pot, keeping the newly added items in a separate corner of the pot. Keep the water at a simmer, adjusting the heat as needed. Add more water as needed.
- It’s traditional to cook the noodles at the end once the veggies have been finished but my family has many impatient children who cannot wait! We usually add them to the pot along with the rest of the ingredients.
*You can make the platter early in the day and then cover and refrigerate it until ready to use. It is best to prep the platter the same day that you will be making the hotpot.
*If you don’t have watercress, feel free to substitute it for shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves) which is traditional, some spinach or shanghai bok choy, or even broccoli rabe which is also delicious.
*Sometimes for a change, we like to make a rice porridge at the end instead of having udon noodles. Once most of the veggies have been consumed, (or everyone is starting to get full), skim the broth (you should have about ½ a pot of broth) and add 2 cups of cooked rice. Crack and scramble 2 eggs lightly. Add the eggs to the pot and stir to combine. Cover with a lid and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until the eggs have just set. Pour a little ponzu sauce into the pot to season the rice or use a little salt and pepper. Serve and enjoy.
*If you buy raw sesame seeds, toast them the same way, adding 3-4 minutes.
Keywords: shabu shabu, hot pot, japanese, beef, shiitake, ponzu