Oden is difficult to avoid in Japan during the colder months, sold from food carts and convenience stores; you often detect the warm, nourishing aroma on the breeze before you notice the huge vat of slowly steaming dashi in front of you, with its bobbing islands of fishcakes and vegetables. A cheap way of getting protein into you, oden carts are a popular pit stop for salarymen before making their way back home, spicing up the myriad selection of nerimono fish pastes with a dab of sinus-clearingly hot karashi mustard. You are free to pick your favourite items from the assortment on offer, scooping them into a bowl before having a helping of the sweet, fishy broth ladled over the top.
Oden is a great family style meal to place in the middle of the table and let everyone tuck in. It always feels like a special dish, bountiful and overflowing with good things, and while it isn’t traditionally a celebration dish, we like to view it as such. The selection of ingredients in your oden can be changed quite readily depending on what’s available, just make sure you have a wide range of textures, flavours and shapes.
- 2 litres dashi stock
- 5 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 600g assorted Japanese nerimono- we used 2 chikuwa, 2 gobo maki, 1 maruten fishcake, 1 kamaboko, 8 agé fish balls, 1 hanpen and 1 narutomaki
- 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms
- 1 sheet aburaage
- 1 block konnyaku
- 4 hard boiled eggs, left whole and peeled
- 3 small octopus, cleaned and boiled for half an hour
- 3″ renkon (lotus root)
- 4″ daikon
- 3″ x 6″ piece dried kombu
- Karashi mustard to serve
- Rinse the piece of dried kombu under the tap, then place in a bowl and pour boiling water over, and leave for 10 minutes to soften. When it is more flexible, cut the kombu lengthways into 1/2″ wide strips, and tie each of the pieces into a knot. Prepare the konnyaku for the stew by cutting it into 1/4″ wide strips, then add to a small pan of boiling water and cook for 10 minutes; this helps set the konnyaku into shape and removes any odours. Drain and set aside.
- To make the broth for the oden, take a large pan and add the dashi stock, soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar and salt, then bring this to a gentle simmer over a medium heat.
- Clean the mushrooms with a paper towel or dry brush and discard the stalks, and peel the renkon and daikon. Cut the daikon into 1″ slices, using your knife or a peeler to remove the sharp edges from each slice to prevent it falling apart during cooking. Cut the renkon into 1/2″ slices. Add the vegetables, octopus, kombu knots and konnyaku to the broth and simmer for an hour until everything is tender and infused with the flavours of the broth.
- While the vegetables are simmering, prepare your aburaage and nerimono. Chop the aburaage sheet and hanpen into triangular quarters, thread the agé balls onto skewers and cut the narutomaki into thick portions. Slice the chikuwa and gobo maki diagonally into large pieces, and the maruten fishcake in half, then cut the kamaboko crosswise into thin slices.
- Once these items for your oden have all been prepared, par-cook them in a pan of boiling water for a couple of minutes to remove excess grease left from their production, then remove from the water with a slotted spoon. Add all the fishcake- apart from the hanpen, as it will soften too much if cooked for too long- to the simmering oden. Now you can also add your hard boiled eggs to the oden, and simmer it all for another 20 minutes. Add the hanpen pieces 5 minutes before the end of cooking.
Serve the pan of oden in the middle of the table, allowing everybody to pick and choose their favourites from the selection offered. Eat the stew with a dab of hot mustard and don’t forget to drink some of the tasty broth after you’ve enjoyed the nerimono.
Serves 4-6 people.