Brazil and Peru are two countries with vibrant, multinational food cultures, and Nikkei cuisine is no exception. A product of the Japanese diaspora, the Nikkei are ethnic Japanese who have lived in Latin America for generations. Their influence on Peruvian and Brazilian cooking resulted in a new kind of Asian food that is distinctly East Asian with South American twists, depending on the ingredients available over the years. Nikkei dishes have gained popularity in recent years, thanks to those like classically trained, Brazilian-born Japanese-Italian chef Luiz Hara, who continues to popularize this vibrant hybrid cuisine in London and just released a book of recipes. Can’t find sake for your sukiyaki? Dark beer will do very nicely.
Sukiyaki is a Japanese hot pot enjoyed all over the world, but particularly in the Nikkei households of Brazil, where we have a real fondness for beef. Sake was hard to come by when I was a kid, so we substituted dark beer, which gave an extra richness to the broth, like a good carbonade of beef. To enjoy sukiyaki, we sit around the pot, pick out the ingredients as they are ready and take them into individual serving bowls. It’s a great social event, and fresh ingredients are added back to the hot pot until everyone is satisfied.
Cook’s note: If your butcher cannot cut the sirloin finely (about 1/8 inch thick), you can buy a piece of sirloin beef, partially freeze it and then cut it yourself at home. Alternatively, find a Japanese or Korean supermarket or butcher and buy the beef already cut for sukiyaki.
- 7 ounces white shirataki yam noodles (available in most Japanese food shops)
- 1 cup tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- 1 large bunch stalky spinach
- 9 ounces mixture of shiitake, shimeji and oyster mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons beef suet
- 14 ounces sirloin (or top round) beef, very thinly sliced
- 6 spring onions (scallions), cut into 3/4- to 1 1/4-inch pieces on the diagonal
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/4 cups soy sauce
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup stout or other dark beer
- 2 teaspoons instant dashi powder
- 3/4 cup mirin
- 3/4 cup water
- Heavy cast-iron Japanese sukiyaki pan or another heavy shallow casserole (Dutch oven) about 10-12 inches in diameter
- A portable gas burner
For the sukiyaki
Start by making the broth. In a small pan, add the soy sauce, sugar, stout or other dark beer, dashi powder, mirin and water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and set aside. Boil plenty of water in a medium pan and cook the noodles for one minute. Drain the noodles, reserving the water. Place the noodles in a bowl and, using a pair of scissors, cut them up roughly. Set aside. Return the reserved boiling water to the pan, bring back to a boil and cook the tofu pieces until they rise to the surface. Drain the tofu pieces into a colander and leave there for 30 minutes. Next, place the tofu in a metal bowl and blowtorch them until lightly browned, about 30 seconds, or lightly brown under a hot grill (broiler) for a couple of minutes.
Cut off and discard the end of the spinach stalks (keeping most of the stalks) and wash. Cut into 2-inch-long pieces, stacking the leaves together to make a tight bunch. Remove the stems of the shiitake mushrooms and carve out a cross on top of each cap. Cut off and discard the woody end of the bunch of shimeji mushrooms. Wipe all mushrooms with a damp cloth. Cut any large oyster mushrooms into bite-size pieces.
Set the gas burner on the table, heat the sukiyaki pan with the oil and suet until hot, and fry the onion and a few slices of beef until a beef crust forms on the bottom of the pan and the onion is softened.
Carefully pour the broth (using a measuring jug cup or ladle) into the pan, without overfilling it; more broth can be added later. Bring it to a boil, then start adding the ingredients.
Place the noodles in the middle of the pan, then the grilled (broiled) tofu, mushrooms, spinach, spring onions (scallions) and the slices of beef. Do not overcrowd the pan or the broth will overflow when cooking the ingredients in the pan. Any leftover ingredients can be arranged on plates and placed around the pan, so that they can be added to the hot pot (hotchpotch) as other ingredients are taken out during eating. Once the broth boils again, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.
Pick bite-size portions from the pan as the ingredients cook. If you like, you can break and lightly stir an egg into a serving bowl and dip the ingredients in the raw egg before eating. Or each diner can add their own egg to the sukiyaki pan and lightly poach it before eating; this will thicken and flavor the sauce. Over time, the sauce will evaporate and become saltier; you may add more fresh broth and some hot water if you wish.