A Donabe Will Revive Your Kitchen This Winter

Crock-Pots are convenient, but the donabe, or Japanese hot pot, is worth the extra effort.


Believe it or not, the appeal of tossing some stuff into a pot and calling it a night was recognized several centuries before the Crock-Pot hit the market in 1970. As is often the case, the addition of convenience (in the form of a plug) subtracted finesse from the equation. Sometimes, a little more trouble brings forth a lot more reward.

Cooking with a Japanese donabe, or hot pot, is a fine compromise between simplicity and refinement. Though every culture has their take on broth-soaked stews, chances are this recipe for a hearty chicken dish from Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton’s Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking will look much more presentable to the lunch-break crew than your typical kitchen-sink chili. Plus, the flashiness of setting a steaming hot pot in front of a table of houseguests speaks for itself. Like a cast iron skillet, a donabe is a little more work (in fact they both need to be seasoned) — but the pictures below should be promise enough that it’s worth it. – Nick Milanes

Note: This recipe is measured for one medium-size (2.5-quart/2.5 liters or larger) classic-style donabe.


Tori-Nabe, or Donabe Chicken Hot Pot

This nabe dish was made by Takako, the wife of Nagatani-en’s chairman, Yuji, when we visited them in Iga. She blends Japanese chicken stock and kombu dashi [see their recipes below] for a complex yet clean flavor, but you can make it entirely with either kind of stock, if you like. Like most good cooks, she never measures or weighs the ingredients that go into this dish. So the measurements in this recipe are what I re-created from memory. The dish goes well with yuzu-koshu as a condiment. –Naoko

Serves 4

1 pound (450 grams) boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into large bite-size pieces
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 cups (720mL) Chicken Dashi (see separate recipe)
1 cup (240mL) Kombu Dashi (see separate recipe)
1/4 cup (60mL) sake
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons mirin
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 small head napa cabbage (about 10 ounces/300 g), cut into bite-size strips (separate the bottom and leafy parts)
2 negi (Japanese green onions) or 6 green onions (white and light green parts), thinly sliced diagonally
6 to 8 very small carrots, halved crosswise
8 ounces (240 grams) assorted mushrooms
1 (14-ounce/400-gram) package medium-firm tofu, cut into 8 pieces
5 ounces (150 grams) mizuna (including stems), bottom ends trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
Yuzu-kosho, for serving

1. Season the chicken all over with the salt. Let the chicken marinate for 15 to 30 minutes.
2. To make the broth, combine the chicken dashi, kombu dashi [recipes below], sake, mirin, and soy sauce in the donabe and add the bottom part of the napa cabbage. Cover and set over medium-high heat.
3. As soon as the broth starts to boil, turn down the heat to simmer. Add the chicken and the rest of the ingredients except for the mizuna. Cover again and bring back to a simmer.
4. Simmer until everything is just cooked through, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mizuna and cook for 1 minute longer before turning off the heat. Serve in individual bowls at the table and enjoy with yuzu-kosho.

Shime (finishing course) suggestion: Add either cooked or frozen udon to the remaining broth.

Chicken Dashi

This is a Japanese-style quick chicken stock, and I use chicken wings to make it. Because chicken wings contain many bones, they can release a lot of flavors in a short time when you make a stock with them. The bonus is that you can enjoy the meat after making the dashi (I truly love this part!). I often shred the meat and add it to salad or soup. After straining, you can season the dashi with salt and pepper to enjoy by itself as a soup or serve with the chicken used to make the dashi. I prefer using the midsection, including tips, to make the dashi, but drummettes can work, too. If you need a real shortcut, use Asian chicken stock powder to make the dashi instead. Chicken Dashi will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. — Naoko

Makes about 1 quart (1 liter)

1 1/3 pounds (600 grams) chicken wings
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 negi (Japanese green onion) or 2 green onions (green part only)
1 knob ginger, sliced into 3 to 4 pieces (no need to peel if the ginger is very fresh)
6 black peppercorns
5 cups (1.2 liters) water

1. Season the chicken all over with the salt. Let the chicken sit, uncovered, to marinate for 1 hour.

2. Pat the chicken dry (or rinse and pat dry if there is any blood) and combine with the rest of the ingredients in the donabe. Cover and set over medium-high heat.

3. As soon as the broth starts to boil, turn down the heat to simmer. Skim as necessary. Cover again and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it rest for 15 minutes, or until the stock cools down (about 1 hour).

4. Transfer the chicken wings to a bowl and save for another use. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve.

Note: If you want to make extra-rich collagen-packed chicken stock, double the amount of water and simmer very gently for about 4 hours, or until the stock is reduced by more than half. Chicken wings used for the extra-rich stock should be discarded, as they become quite exhausted after simmering for so long.

Variation: You can also make a rich chicken- and kombu-infused dashi. Add a piece of kombu (about 3 by 6 inches/7.5cm² x 15cm²) to the donabe with the rest of the ingredients and remove right before the water comes to a simmer.

Kombu Dashi

Kombu-only dashi has a cleaner flavor compared with dashi that includes other ingredients. It’s best enjoyed in soup-style dishes. There are two methods for making kombu dashi. One of them is cold infusion, which is basically zero fuss and all you need to do is wait. For a faster version, we also provide a heat-infusion method. As with Kombu and Bonito Dashi, you can also apply additional methods in order to infuse more flavor. Kombu Dashi will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. — Naoko

Makes about 1 quart (1 liter)

5 cups (1.2 liter) water, low mineral content preferred
2 (3 x 6-inch/7.5 x 15cm) square pieces kombu (about 1/2 ounce/15g)

Cold-infusion method: In a bowl or pitcher, combine the water and kombu. Cover and refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours. Remove the kombu.

Heat-infusion method:

1. Combine the water and kombu in a donabe and let the kombu soak for 30 minutes. The kombu will reconstitute and double in size.

2. Set the donabe, uncovered, over medium heat. Just before the broth comes to a simmer (after about 15 minutes), remove the kombu and turn off the heat.

Note: Cold-infused dashi should not be used raw, as it will taste raw. Heat it through once and let cool before using it in a cold soup or sauce.

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