Sukiyaki, A Delicate yet Hearty Treat


Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson

Sukiyaki is a Japanese hot pot stew consisting of thinly sliced beef, tofu,vegetables, sugar, soy sauce, and mirin. This dish, commonly served in winter, is cooked right at the table. It is usually accompanied by raw eggs; these can be added to the steaming bowls just before serving or used as dip for the ingredients. In many households, noodles are added to this stew.

The Different Styles of Cooking Sukiyaki

This dish evolved into its current form during the Meiji era (1868 – 1912), when the influx of foreigners made meat more popular. Before this period, most people in Japan ate meat only during special occasions – a practice encouraged by the prevalent religions.  

In – Japanese Food’s post Beef Sukiyaki, Setsuko Yoshizuka says, “Sukiyaki is a popular one-pot meal which is usually cooked at the table as you eat. The word “yaki” means “sautee” or “grill” in Japanese. The word is used because meat is sauteed in the hot skillet. The main ingredient in this dish is usually beef which is thinly sliced. Meat slices and ingredients are simmered in soy sauce based soup. In different regions of Japan, sukiyaki is cooked differently…”

In the eastern part of Japan, sake, sugar, mirin, soy sauce, and dashi are simmered together, and then the meat and other ingredients are added. This is called kanto style, and the liquid mixture is called warishita. In western Japan, it is cooked kansai style. The meat is seared in the pot, then soy sauce, sugar, sake are poured in. The vegetables are added only when the meat is almost done.

Yoshizuka describes the Kanto style of preparing sukiyaki in his article: Arrange ingredients on a large plate and place the plate on the table. Mix soy sauce, sake, sugar, and water to make sukiyaki sauce. Set an electric pan or a skillet on the table. *After this point, cooking is done at the table as you eat. Heat a little oil in the pan. Fry some beef slices, then pour sukiyaki sauce in the pan. Add other ingredients when the sauce starts to boil. Simmer until all ingredients are softened.It’s ready to eat. Dip the cooked sukiyaki into the raw, beaten eggs if you would like. As the liquid is reduced, add more sukiyaki sauce or hot water…”

Chinese cabbage, shitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, and chrysanthemum greens are among the most popular vegetables added to the meat. In some households, pork and chicken are used n this dish, but beef remains the classic meat ingredient for sukiyaki.

Pairing Sukiyaki with Wine

In Tama’s Sukiyaki, Touring and Testing unreservedly states that “Though beef is in this dish, pair a crisp, white wine actually goes better with the flavors in sukiyaki than red.” Anya Von Bremzen echoes this in Wines Without Borders: A Global Pairing Guide, a post made in Food and Wine. She recommends a light-bodied Pinot Noir as perfect the wine to accompany this dish.

In Japanese Food and Wine’s post Japanese Food & Wine Pairing Chart, Didier and Mizuki give a longer selection of wines that will go well with this dish. Their list includes “…ripe Pinot Noir (Oregon, Sonoma, 2003 or 2009 Burgundy), Côtes du Rhône (’07 Châteauneuf du Pape or Gigondas)…”

Next time you plan to serve this hearty yet delicate hot pot dish, don’t think you need to stick to sake. Sukiyaki is a fine way to create a perfect fusion between oriental food and western wine. Serve your Japanese hot pot, pour the Pinot Noir, and enjoy!

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