Sukiyaki (thin slices of beef, cooked with various vegetables in a table-top cast-iron pan) (すき焼き)

"Sukiyaki" is a dish consisting of meat that is broiled (cooked) or boiled in a shallow cast-iron pot. The term "sukiyaki-fu" (sukiyaki style cuisine) refers to all dishes that are salted and sweetened by warishita (a stock made from a mixture of soy sauce, mirin [sweet rice wine for cooking] and sugar). It is also called "gyu-nabe" (a dish of beef cooked in a hot pot at the table).

Summary

Generally, sliced beef is used for sukiyaki, with additional ingredients such as negi (a type of scallion), shungiku (garland chrysanthemum), shiitake mushroom, tofu (bean-curd) and so on. Soybean sauce and sugar are used for basic seasoning. Sometimes, these cooked ingredients are eaten together with beaten eggs. In most cases, beef for sukiyaki is sliced thicker than that for shabu-shabu (a dish of thinly sliced beef boiled with vegetables,) which is sliced so thinly that it can be eaten after being dipped only once in boiling water.

History

Until the end of Edo period in Japan, beef was not commonly eaten due to the precepts of Buddhism as well as other reasons, however, there were still dishes referred to as 'sukiyaki.'

An old book published in 1643, titled "Ryori-monogatari" (a story of cooking) refers to a dish named 'sugiyaki.'
This was a dish of fish and shellfish, including sea bream, and vegetables, all boiled in miso soup (soup made from fermented soybean paste) in a box made of sugi material (Japanese cedar).
Furthermore, another cookbook "Ryori-hayashinan" (literally, quick guidance for cooking) published in 1801, states that 'The term 'sukiyaki' refers to cooking birds' meat (as per mentioned on the right) by grilling it on the blade of a suki (a spade) until its color changes and it looks like it would taste good.'
Other concrete descriptions of sukiyaki exist in the books "Ryori-Dango-shu" (literally, collection of consultations on cooking) published in 1804, and "Geiniku-Chomi-kata" (literally, how to season whale meat) published in 1829, from which we can derive that sukiyaki dishes were cooked by broiling poultry meat such as duck and chicken or other meat like whale meat, on a heated spade over a fire. These two dishes, 'sugiyaki' or boiled fish and shellfish, and 'sukiyaki' or grilled birds and fish meat, are regarded as the origins of current day 'sukiyaki' in the form of nabemono (a dish served in a pot at the table) with beef. Another theory is that the name of 'sukiyaki' came from sukimi (scraped meats) being used as ingredients.

In 1859, when the Yokohama Port was opened, large quantities of beef were brought in from rural areas (such as Kobe) on behalf of foreigners living at enclaves who hankered for beef. Under these circumstances, a restaurant which served gyu-nabe was established in 1862 by an owner of a Japanese style pub, Isekuma, in the town of Irifune-cho, Yokohama. In 1868, a cattle slaughterhouse was built to meet larger demands of foreigners for beef. Since then, gyu-nabe restaurants became popular in Tokyo, and were regarded as a symbol of cultural enlightenment. This shift in society was depicted in "Agura-nabe" a popular novel written in 1871 by Robun KANAGAKI (a writer of light literature late in the Edo period). At the same time 'gyu-nabe' appeared in the Kanto region, the people of the Kansai region were making 'sukiyaki' for which beef was broiled before seasoning it with sugar, soy sauce and broth. Gradually people in the Kanto region began to use the term 'sukiyaki' as well.

Now, in Yokohama, there is a restaurant famous for its gyu-nabe which uses chunks of beef basted in thick miso sauce (sauce from soybean paste) and sautéed with warishita in a pot. At the end of the Edo period, boiled beef dishes were served at street stalls in the port of Yokohama. This dish seems to have been a beef stew boiled in miso broth, which was a derivation of botan-nabe (wild boar meat cooked in a pot at the table). Early in the Meiji period, 'gyuya' (restaurants that served beef dishes) were assumed to have sold mainly such miso-based gyu-nabe dishes. The above mentioned miso-based dish with beef chunks may be regarded as a remnant or prototype for other gyu-nabe style cooking.

Different ways of cooking sukiyaki by regions

The way sukiyaki is cooked differs by region of Japan.

Sukiyaki in the Kanto region is based on the gyu-nabe popularly eaten in the Meiji period, where beef is boiled in a soup of warishita which has been prepared beforehand by mixing soup stock with soy sauce, sugar, mirin and sake. However, in the Kansai region, sukiyaki refers to a dish in which beef is grilled first, as the phrase sukiyaki implies ("yaki" meaning to broil or grill,) which is then flavored by covering it with sugar and soy sauce. The procedures for cooking sukiyaki in the Kansai region has various characteristics which include, boiling the meat and moist vegetables separately, as well as not cooking it together with Konjac paste which can harden the meat, and so forth. However, in some parts of the Kansai region, people prepare sukiyaki by putting vegetables and other ingredients in the pot only after the beef is cooked, with the intention of the sugar and soy sauce mixing together with the water from the vegetables and other ingredients.

It's said that there is a border in Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture, that divides the two different ways of cooking sukiyaki between the Kanto and Kansai regions. Nowadays, however, this border has become unclear due to warishita soup being commonly sold in markets as an all-purpose seasoning.

In Hokkaido and Niigata Prefecture, people used to use pork in Sukiyaki instead of beef. This was because beef was once so expensive in those areas that people were less accustomed to eating it. Today, however, people often use beef for sukiyaki, which is now available at comparatively cheap prices in the market.

In Shiga Prefecture, it is also sometimes customary to use chicken meat in sukiyaki.

Also, the vegetables used as ingredients for sukiyaki differ by region, like moyashi (bean sprouts), potato and so forth.

Beaten eggs

According to an essay written by Roppa FURUKAWA, Kansai is the birthplace of the custom of eating grilled meat and other ingredients after dipping them in beaten eggs, and reportedly, there was no restaurant in the Kanto region that offered beaten eggs for gyu-nabe based sukiyaki dishes at the time. Later, when sukiyaki restaurants in the Kansai region expanded their business into the Kanto region, they brought with them the custom of eating sukiyaki with beaten eggs and it later became generally accepted in the Kanto region.

The reason why beaten eggs were used was to lower the temperature of hot ingredients before putting them into your mouth to prevent being scalded.

Ingredients

Each quantity is for about four people.

Beef:

400 grams

Napa cabbages:

One half to a whole cabbage

Green onions:

Two whole onions

Edible Konjac (a plant often made into a gelatin):

One lump

Shiitake mushroom:

12 mushrooms

Yakidofu (grilled bean curd) (this is frequently used due to it holding its form better than normal bean curd):

Two cakes

Shungiku:

One bundle

Any other vegetable, as you like;
Enokidake mushroom, burdock roots, potatoes and other ingredients may be used in sukiyaki.

Hetto (beef fat for cooking purpose):

One lump (may be substituted by edible oil)

Warishita

Soup stock:

Half a cup (may be omitted)

Soy sauce:

Half a cup

Mirin:

Three tablespoonfuls (may be substituted by sugar)

Sugar:

Three tablespoonfuls

Liquor for cooking;

Four tablespoonfuls (you should be careful not to use too much because it has a high salt content and tends to make the dish salty.)
Japanese sake (rice wine) may be added to dilute the warishita stock if it becomes too strong.

Beaten eggs:

A moderate quantity (approximately, one egg per person)

How to prepare

Beforehand, ingredients should be cut into proper sizes for ease of eating.

Put an adequate quantity of warishita stock into a heated pot for sukiyaki, then boil the meat and vegetables together in it. If you are using strong warishita stock the amount used may be so little as to barely cover bottom of pot. If the stock isn't as strong, use about the same quantity of warishita stock as would ordinarily be used for cooking in a pot.

When the meat and other ingredients are cooked thoroughly, take them out of the pot and dip them into a beaten egg before eating.

To finish, put boiled noodles into the pot and allow the flavor of the remaining soup to soak into them before eating. Keep in mind that if the warishita soup still has a strong flavor, it may simply make the noodles spicy.

Rosanjin KITAOJI recommended 'to alternate between eating the meat and the zaku (ingredients other than meats).'
He also said 'no sugar should be added to sukiyaki prepared especially for sake drinkers.'

Ingredients

Each quantity is for about four people.

Beef:

400 grams

Napa cabbages:

Half of one cabbage

Green onions:

Two whole onions

Onion:

One onion; Sometimes in the Osaka area, sukiyaki is eaten with onions but without green onions.

Shungiku:

One bundle

Dried mushrooms:

Six mushrooms

Edible Konjac:

One lump

Tofu (in many cases, yakidofu are used):

One cake

Fu (dried bread-like pieces of wheat gluten):

Six pieces

Any other vegetable, as you like;
Sukiyaki goes well with moyashi and other vegetables that are often used for teppan-yaki (a dish grilled on an iron plate).

Gyushi (beef fat for cooking purposes):

One lump (may be substituted by edible oil)

Seasoning

Soy sauce (with strong flavor):

About one third of a cup

Sugar:

About three tablespoonfuls

Liquor for cooking:

About four tablespoonfuls (when Japanese sake is used, salt must be added to supplement the flavor.)

Beaten eggs:

Proper quantity (approximately, one egg per person per serving)

How to prepare

Beforehand, the vegetables, tofu and other ingredients should be cut into proper sizes for ease of eating.

Grease a heated pot with a lump of beef fat, then grill the beef in it until it is thoroughly cooked.

Spread sugar on the grilled beef, then pour cooking liquor and soy sauce over it.

Put the other ingredients into the pot, including vegetables and tofu. Although some quantity of water may be released from the vegetables, you can adjust the flavor by adding more water, Japanese sake or seaweed broth, as you like.

The grilled beef and other ingredients are eaten after being dipped in beaten eggs. This is how sukiyaki is eaten according to the Kanto-style.

SUKIYAKI song by Kyu SAKAMOTO (Uewo Muite Aruko)

This song by Kyu SAKAMOTO with the lyric "Uewo Muite Aruko" (literally, let's walk looking upward) was a big hit in the United States of America in 1963. The reason the song was titled SUKIYAKI, is attributed to the fact that sukiyaki is a dish representative of Japan, as well as the fact that the head of the record company enjoyed eating delicious 'sukiyaki' in Japan. This song was ranked No. 1 by two magazines, Billboard and Cash Box on June 15, 1963. Even today, this is the only Japanese song to ever rank No. 1 in the charts in the U.S.A.

Remarks

Certain ingredients such as shirataki (white stringy food made from konjac starch) should be set apart from the meat in the pot, because calcium contained in the shirataki causes the nearby meat to harden.

Some households in Japan are said to have sukiyaki on New Year's Eve or on New Year's Day, in which case sukiyaki is seemingly regarded as a symbol of extravagant cuisine.

In Okinawa Prefecture, sukiyaki is often listed on the menu at inexpensive eating locations, but their sukiyaki is different from the mainland's sukiyaki that is served in a cast-iron pot.
Sukiyaki in Okinawa is an a-la-carte dish made from meat, vegetables and tofu boiled together for sweetness and then served on a plate with a raw egg (or an egg fried sunny-side up.)
It's possible that in Okinawa which is in a subtropical region, similar to Hawaii, meals which require a large heated pot at the table were unlikely to be developed.

In the U.S., sukiyaki is popularly known as a dish representative of Japan. However, the raw eggs are often excluded due to Americans having a strong dislike for raw eggs.

Hawaiian people have a dish made of boiled foods called 'Hekka.'
This is a dish introduced by Japanese immigrants that settled in Hawaii, however, it uses chicken instead of beef.

In Thailand, there is a dish called 'Thai Suki' (Thai-style sukiyaki,) which is, however, more similar to shabu-shabu than sukiyaki.

As Koki MITANI described in his essay, a considerable number of people understand sukiyaki to be 'a dish in which meat is lightly grilled, then water is added and boiled together with sauce, sugar, vegetables and shirataki.'
In this case, the sukiyaki is 'boiled' rather than 'grilled.'
This is due to skipping the preparation of warishita stock (in Kanto-style) or the layer of sugar (in Kansai-style) because it would be too troublesome or time-consuming.
In extreme cases, children are sometimes taught to understand sukiyaki to be 'a boiled dish of meat (after being grilled with grease from beef fat) in hot water and soy sauce (without vegetables and shirataki,)' or 'a dish of nikujaga (a sweet boiled dish of meat and potato) without the potato.'
It sometimes happens that a person taught that this 'boiled sukiyaki' is sukiyaki would identify the above mentioned original sukiyaki as a different dish altogether, regardless of it being Kanto-style or Kansai-style. This boiled sukiyaki may be called 'sukini' in order to distinguish it from genuine sukiyaki.