Though not particularly prevalent in northern Japan and around Honshu, the south western island of Kyushu embraces the nose to tail ethos of consuming animals and has restaurants dedicated to beef and pork offal, or horumon, which you would be remiss not to visit if an opportunity arises. To most westerners, the term offal conjures up thoughts of tough, gamey, questionable tubes hidden amongst favourable cuts of meat, perhaps encased within a pastry crust, or smothered in so much gravy that you can’t distinguish what you’re eating. This is not the case with Japanese offal however- nearly always coming from prime wagyu cows, the organs have a rich beefy flavour, a tender bite and a slight underlying sweetness, and are generally served up in one of two popular ways: horumon-yaki, where delicate cuts of heart, diaphragm, stomach and cheek are grilled quickly over a charcoal brazier before being plunged into a dipping sauce and eaten scaldingly hot, or as the Fukuokan speciality, motsunabe.
Motsunabe is the soul food of the Hakata district- diners huddle around a hotpot perched on a portable gas stove, the pan containing a mound of peppery white cabbage, a lightly sweetened soy based stock, short lengths of pungent garlic chives and the star of the show, beef small intestines. The offal itself has a meltingly soft consistency, a pleasingly fatty bite and a rich, almost buttery flavour which pairs wonderfully with the vegetables and the ubiquitous cubes of tofu that you couldn’t have a nabe without. After the chunks of vegetable, meat and tofu have been greedily picked from the pot and eaten, the heat is turned up beneath the broth and fresh ramen noodles are added to the boiling liquid, cooking in a matter of minutes, soaking up the meaty flavours of the motsunabe and thickening the sauce. For me, this shime or ‘finishing course’ is the most anticipated part of the meal, an extra chance to savour the essence of the nabe and a final slurp of starchy noodles cooked in the fortified broth.
For the most authentic motsunabe at home, cooking the dish on a camping stove at the dining table is preferable, allowing diners to pluck morsels from the trembling liquid at various stages of tenderness and to breath in the wafts of steam that make hotpot dining so much fun.
- 750g white cabbage
- 1L chicken stock
- 400g beef intestines (you could also use the hard beef fat from around the flank of the animal which has a very similar flavour and texture after cooking)
- 300g firm tofu
- 200g nira (garlic chives)
- 2 sheets aburaage
- 75ml soy sauce
- 40ml mirin
- 40ml sake
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 cloves garlic
- 20g fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons dried red chilli flakes plus extra to serve
- yuzukosho to serve
- 400g fresh chukamen noodles for the shime course
- Cut the intestines into bite sized pieces and place then in a saucepan with the sake, half a teaspoon of salt and enough cold water to cover them. Put the pan on the hob and slowly bring to a boil before turning down the heat and simmering for an hour and a half. Skim and discard any froth that forms on the surface during this initial cooking. When cooked, allow the meat to cool down in the liquid ready for use in the main nabe later.
- While the intestines are pre-cooking, prepare the other ingredients ready for the hotpot- slice the cabbage into small pieces and the nira into five centimetre lengths, drain and cut the tofu into bite sized cubes, run the aburaage under boiling water to rinse off any oil then slice each sheet into eighths. Finally peel and julienne the ginger, and cut the garlic into thick slices.
- When you’re ready to cook the motsunabe, pour the chicken stock, mirin, soy sauce, sugar and remaining salt into a donabe or earthenware pot. Arrange the cooked intestines and all the other ingredients in a mound on top, reserving the noodles for the shime course.
- Bring the pan to the table and set it on a portable gas burner on a medium heat and leave it to come to a simmer. Let the nabe cook for around ten minutes, stirring occasionally as the vegetables wilt, then turn off the heat and allow your diners to select and eat whichever pieces they want from the broth, seasoning further if they wish with some extra chilli flakes or yuzukosho.
- At the end of the meal, turn on the heat under the broth and allow it to come to a rolling boil before adding in the fresh noodles. Cook until al dente and then portion them along with the remaining soup between your serving bowls.
Serves 4 people.