Monday, February 26, 2007


Oden is a traditional Japanese stew that's often served in the fall and winter by street vendors at little sidewalk stalls. We're somewhat chagrined to admit it, but our interest in oden was spawned, at least in part, by the fox spirit oden stand in xxxHolic, a manga (and now anime) by Clamp. The oden looked so good, and the fox spirits were so cute, that we just had to try some.

Oden is typically filled with an array of tasty bits, often including various types of tofu, fish cakes, and root vegetables. The flavoring is relatively subtle; much like sushi, this isn't a dish that's going to blow you away with spices. The main flavorings are dashi (fish stock), soy sauce, sake, mirin, a little sugar, and the savory flavors the other ingredients release after being simmered for a few hours. That's it. The joy of this dish comes from comparing the subtle flavor and texture differences between the various ingredients, all the while being warmed to the core with steaming hot, savory broth. This is a great soup for a cold winter evening, and thus it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

6 hard-boiled eggs
3 carrots, peeled
3 red (or other waxy) potatoes
~6 inches daikon root, peeled
1 burdock root (gobo, scrubbed but not peeled)
1 block extra firm tofu (~19oz)
1 block fried tofu (abura-age or atsu-age, ~9oz)
1 package fried tofu and vegetable balls (ganmodoki, ~4oz)
1 block yam cake (konnyaku, ~10oz)
1 fish cake (kamaboko, ~6oz)
1 broiled/grilled fish cake (yakichikuwa, ~6.5oz)
1 tubular gluten cake (chikuwabu, ~5oz)
3/4 cup low salt soy sauce
1/2 cup sake
1/4 cup mirin
3 tablespoons sugar
Enough dashi to cover (~12 cups, but may vary widely)
Japanese mustard (karashi; we use prepared neri wakarashi that comes in a small tube)

0. We've read that boiling the yam cake can remove some bitterness; to do this, simmer the yam cake in a pot of water for ~5 minutes.
1. Cut all the solid ingredients into large pieces (~1 1/2-inch cubes or slices for most items; cut the gluten cake into ~1/2" slices, and the fish cakes into ~1/4" thick slices, as they may expand during cooking). The pieces should be a good size to pick up with chopsticks.
2. Put all ingredients except the mustard into a large pot and bring to a bare simmer.
3. Simmer very gently, covered, for at least 1 hour, stirring infrequently; the longer the oden simmers the better (aim for at least 2 hours). You don't want the oden to boil rapidly, as this may cause the ingredients to fall apart.
4. Serve in bowls; attempt to place a sampling of each ingredient into each bowl. Serve with mustard on the side in little dipping bowls; we mix our mustard with a little bit of the oden broth to make a dipping sauce. Japanese mustard is very hot (much like wasabi), so use with caution.


Oden is extremely customizable; it can be made with just a couple of ingredients or a whole host of them. We cobbled together the list above by perusing various recipes online, but there's nothing special about what we've included (and we most certainly make no claims as to the authenticity of this recipe). Use whatever you like, and experiment with proportions - the amounts listed above are just what we can easily pick up at our local Japanese market.

To make dashi from scratch, see our recipe here.

To hard-boil eggs, we cover raw eggs with warm tapwater (by at least 1") in a large pot, and then cover the pot and put it over high heat. Once the water boils, we reduce the heat and simmer the eggs for 15 minutes (for large or extra large eggs). Then we drain the hot water from the pot, fill the pot once or twice with cold tap water to stop the eggs from cooking, and then leave the eggs in a bowl of cold tap water until needed. You should be able to hard boil the eggs while you chop the rest of the ingredients.

We don't particularly like the yam cake (we left it out of our most recent batch), but we've included it in the recipe becuase it's apparently a traditional addition to Oden.

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