Most people are not adventurous with ethnic or exotic foods. What on earth are they afraid of? They fear what is within and imagine something unnatural (in their minds) or tasteless like sea urchin, roe, or duck feet. This is so often true of Japanese food although the cuisine has become enormously popular in the U.S. for decades. People no longer limit themselves to teriyaki chicken or beef and white rice. They will try new dishes like shabu shabu. It is good to expand beyond your normal horizons when it comes to new comestibles. I have been happy to see the change in attitude over the years. I myself shy away from live octopus in Korean food that feels like it is moving around sucking at your inner cheeks—which it is doing!
Because it is tasty and almost traditional by now, shabu shabu has gained a large following. There are restaurants that serve only variations of this one hot pot dish. It is all about the broth and it must be made from scratch according to specific directions. Japanese chefs do not buy jarred beef broth like many Americans. They make it themselves from only fresh ingredients like green onions, sesame, Ponzu sauce, and other seasonings and oils. Many like the broth with paper-thin sliced beef of the highest grade. What makes shabu shabu an event is that it is cooked at the table. It is said to date back to the 1950’s in Osaka, Japan. Variations have arisen that include fish, pork, crab or vegetables in lieu of beef. I prefer the latter dipped in hot broth and swirled around for a few seconds. It doesn’t take long to cook. Then you eat the sliced beef with sauce. If you want to get really exotic and pricy you can order blowfish.
Not just any beef cut will do. Opt for sirloin, ribeye, etc. It depends whether you like your beef marbled with fat for flavor. It is also more tender this way. Never compromise on quality when making or eating shabu shabu since it is barely cooked. Your butcher will cut it especially for you if you tell him what you are making. You can also use a meat slicer or do it with a sharp knife by hand. But be careful of the implements! Remember that the broth gets special attention and it must be rich and deep. I swear that filtered water makes for a tastier broth so I never use water from the tap. I have installed a reverse osmosis system like these, which every chef worthy of the name should have. You will know when your broth is perfect and you can tell the difference if a restaurant uses tap water.
More and more chefs are learning about the benefits of filtered water. The reviews rave about it. Sure, you can buy it in bottles, but why not save money. You won’t be at the supermarket every other day.