Speak to chef Tadashi Ono about this hot pot and he at once turns dreamy-eyed—its milky broth reminds him of lakes frozen over. Black cod, also known as sablefish, thrive in the frigid seas off Alaska and Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island. Black cod comes into season in the winter as Japan's oceans cool and the fish migrate south. The cod's high fat content—crucial for survival in arctic waters—is what gives the flesh its silky, buttery richness.
In Hokkaido, a region renowned for its bucolic dairy farming, the broth is traditionally made with milk. This particular hot pot is a specialty of Aomori where the use of soy milk reflects a trend toward healthful ingredients.
Sweet, rounded, and delicate in flavor, this soothing winter soup found in Japanese Hot Pots by Ono and co-writer Harris Salat was our family's favorite. Though it doesn't have the spectacular visual appeal of other hot pots we tested, it's the kind of soup that hugs you inside. A primal comfort and so simple to prepare!
- 1 pound black cod fillet
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for curing the fish
- 4 cups soy milk
- 1 cup dashi stock
- 1/4 cup Shinshu shiro miso (white miso)
- 1/2 pound napa cabbage
- 1 negi (Japanese scallion, usually 3/4-inch thick and 2-feet long; may substitute with 2 green scallions)
- 1/2 pound (about 1/2 package) firm tofu
- 3 1/2 ounces enoki mushrooms (may substitute with white button or crimini)
- 3 1/2 ounces shimeji mushrooms (may substitute with white button or crimini)
- 4 ounces mizuna (may substitute with watercress or spinach)
- 4 teaspoons grated wasabi root (may substitute with grated horseradish, wasabi paste, or rehydrated wasabi powder)
- 4 ounces uncooked somen noodles
Mise en Place:
Prepare the dashi stock.
Lightly salt the fish on both sides and place in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for 1 hour. (This curing helps concentrate its flavor.) Remove the fish, wipe off excess moisture on its surface with a paper towel, and slice it into 3/4-inch pieces. Set aside.
Trim off the bottom head of the napa cabbage, separate the leaves, and rinse well to remove dirt, especially at the stems. Pat dry. Place a cabbage leaf flat on a cutting board. Starting from the white stem end, cut the leaf on a sharp diagonal into 2-inch wide pieces. (Cuttting the leaf at an angle exposes more surface area for the absorption of broth.) Segment the green part of the leaf in half or thirds, to make bite-size pieces. Repeat with the remaining leaves.
Rinse, pat dry, and remove any dead leaves off of the negi. Trim off the root and slice the whites and greens at an angle to form 2-inch pieces.
Drain, pat dry, and divide the tofu into 4 blocks.
Wipe off any dirt on the enoki and shimeji with a damp paper towel. Trim the root and separate the mushrooms.
Rinse and dry the mizuna leaves. Trim the leaves and cut down the stems into 2-inch pieces.
Cook somen using its package instructions. Drain and reserve.
Prepare the broth by combining the soy milk, dashi, the 1/2 teaspoon salt, and shiro miso in a bowl, whisking to blend well. Reserve.
Add the cabbage, negi, tofu, enoki mushrooms, and shimeji mushrooms to a hot pot, arranging each ingredient into separate neat bunches. Pour in the broth.
Cover the hot pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Keep an eye on your ingredients as they cook. If necessary, press them into the broth as they simmer so they poach uniformly.
Uncover the pot and arrange the black cod slices on top of the other ingredients. Simmer until the fish is cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Skim off any scum that builds up on the surface of the broth.
Add the mizuna and simmer for 1 minute more.
Transfer the hot pot to the dining table. Serve the ingredients together with the broth in small bowls, accented each bowl with wasabi.
After most of the hot pot ingredients have been eaten and only the broth remains, finish the broth off by making a shime of somen. Add the pre-cooked somen to the broth and bring to a boil over medium heat. As soon as the hot pot boils, turn off the heat. Serve the noodles and broth in individual bowls.