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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Oden (おでん)

I have been so excited, waiting for the temperature to drop. It's been so hot this fall, that I've been dreaming of sweaters, hot apple cider, and my favorite cool weather Japanese foods while wearing shorts and sandals and bemoaning the overbearing sun.

Apparently Southern California weather has some serious flaws when you love winter.

Around this time of year, oden starts popping up on menus at izakayas and other Japanese restaurants. A hot pot hodgepodge of fish cakes, tofu, daikon, and more simmered in broth, oden is a soul warming comfort food similar to tomato soup and a grilled cheese here in America. When it rains, it's always a toss up between oden and my mom's turkey soup.

My fish cake heavy version
The thing I love best about oden is that everyone does it differently. In the Shizuoka area, the dark heady broth is flavored with beef and dark soy and everything is on skewers. Conversely, Western Japan favors a lighter dashi broth, and in the Nagoya area it is made with miso. Even convenience stores will have oden, and you can get it canned out of vending machines!

Oden is one of those wonderful dishes that everyone makes different depending on what you grew up with.
From wiki, check out this epic oden!

The first time I had oden, I called it "fish cake soup" because I had no clue what it was called.

The nice thing is that everything tastes better the longer it's simmered, and it is even better the next day reheated. So for New Year's my family would have a crockpot with oden warming up on a side board, a perfect dish to make ahead and reheat for the party.

You can add whatever you want to your oden. I have a recipe at the end, but it is really up to you. There are premade oden sets in the Japanese markets, feel free to go with these until you decide which additions you like, then pick out your own! The most common ingredients are daikon radish, hard-boiled eggs, chikuwa and other fish cakes, konnyaku, and tofu- both fried and fresh. The more unusual and regional ingredients include beef tendon, octopus, and pig trotters!

For some more cool oden: Marc Matsumoto on his blog has tons of great ingredients that he uses, as well as a detailed explanation of each. Shizuoka Gourmet doesn't have a recipe, but has an interesting post with tons of pictures of the dark skewered beef version that area favors as street food. I would so love to go around Japan in winter just to sample all the different oden.

I had leftover russet potatoes from Thanksgiving, but I actually prefer whole fingerling potatoes because they won't fall apart when you reheat the oden. Don't peel them.

Oden (おでん)
Simmering Daikon

5 cups of dashi
1/2 cup mirin
2 tbs shoyu
4" long piece of daikon
2 chikuwa
4 hard boiled eggs
12 satsuma-age: deep fried surimi balls (or the larger ones, cut up)
4" of kamaboko: fish cake
12 fingerling potatoes
4 kinchaku: deep fried tofu pouches stuffed with pieces of mochi

Adding in the fish cakes
Peel and then slice the daikon into 1/4-1/2" half moons. Slice the chikuwa in 1" rounds, and thinly slice the kamaboko. Put the dashi, mirin, and shoyu in a large pot with the daikon, and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until soft. Add in the fingerling potatoes and everything but the eggs and let simmer until the potatoes are just soft, about 10 minutes. If you are serving right away, you can simmer the eggs along with the potatoes, but I prefer to let the oden cool down and refrigerate it at least overnight to let everything meld. Adding in the eggs off the heat lets them marinate without risk of overcooking, and being able to take this to work on cold days when I'd rather be home in bed is so nice!

For use in a slow cooker, place everything in the slow cooker and put on low for at least 8 hours. Some people have a crockpot of oden heating for 24 hours! You can also use a slow cooker to keep it warm for a get-together, just take the refrigerated oden straight from the fridge and keep it on low to concentrate the broth and warm everything up. Serve with spicy mustard, karashi, or just enjoy straight from the pot!

I don't add extra salt to mine, but depending on how salty your shoyu is, you might want to add some salt, about a tablespoon or less.

Below is a picture of our family's oden at New Years, served with hot mustard and soy sauce for dipping. I love being able to sit around a bubbling pot of oden at the table with family.

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