Oden in the early stages of cooking and before addition of fish cakes, fish balls and cuttlefish (in place of octopus).
Leftover oden, two days later.
I was reading Blue Lotus' wonderful blog recently and she did a post on oden, a Japanese dish that is available in the street stalls of Japan in the winter. Bento Pet had also raved about oden, and I thought I had never seen or eaten this until I decided to cook it, and that's when I realised that I have seen simmering pots of oden in small conveniences stores in Tokyo and also at Hyatt Hotel where it is placed near the kitchen counter during their weekend Japanese buffet. I have tried it once or twice but was more into eating all the money for value dishes (buffet remember) like teppanyaki beef, sushi and tempura.
With the recent rainy days and temperatures at night in the nearly low to mid-20s (cool compared to the usual high 20s), I cooked oden last Sat for my sister and family, and friends Linda and Arthur. When I announced that dinner was to be 80% root veggies and tofu products, Arthur nearly stormed out of my house, the meateater that he is (okay, I exaggerated. Again.). But he stayed and ended up having at least 3 large bowls and didn't even bother much with my side dish of boiled organic chicken, alongwith two cans of Tiger Stout so I think it went down well with him, literally. It helped that it rained and we had a great time discussing the upcoming elections and the exploits of the super hunk from Canada, E.Chan (what an entertaining world).
Oden is basically a soupy stew of winter veggies such as those you see in the pics above. Meat is limited to beef tendons, octopus and surimi or processed fishpaste (I think that is one of the worst culinary contribution by Japan, in terms of health) in various forms. According to Blue Lotus, some restaurants in Japan have been using the same stock for generations, replenishing the soup and veg daily I suppose. Like most stews, oden gets richer in flavor and tastes better after a day or more as the veg and surimi soaks in the broth and at the same time add flavor to it. Because of that, I started cooking the stew at 2 pm, then switched off the fire after 2 hours to let the veg steep in the broth. An hour before my guests arrived, I started simmering the stew again, adding the softer and easier to cook ingredients then. This dish can feed an army; a bit of this and that will add up to an unwieldy stew and I needed a big wok and a pot to cook all that stuff you see in the first picture.
Next time you have eaten too much meat, and you need to detox, oden is a good dish for that. There's no oil or meat except for the processed fish products. I don't like processed products which are basically made of flour, flavorings and color so I made fresh fish paste into fishballs and slices. Actually my helper Vero made that; she makes the smoothest and springiest fish balls (all gone in the first round!) so to this day I haven't mastered that skill.
Choose a rainy/cold day and some good company (who need to detox on meat. Haha, that's why I invited you, Arthur and Lim), set the oden stew over a small stove at the table and let the small talk begin.
Kikkoman soy sauce
2 large pieces of Japanese kelp
Use veggies such as carrots, radish, potatoes, lotus root, dried shiitake mushrooms, tofu products such as semi-soft tofu, fried tofu balls, fish paste products, hard-boiled eggs and--fun to eat--konnyaku jelly.
1. Put the kelp in a large pot of water and put on the heat. When it begins to boil, remove the kelp. Add the seasoning and then the harder to cook veg such as lotus root, mushrooms and radish and let it simmer, really simmer under low fire, for about 1 1/2 hours. After that, add the other veg and ingredients in stages according to their tendency to soften and simmer again. Adjust the soup with more seasoning or water. The soup shouldn't be too salty; it's a soup not a gravy. I cheated a bit. I used the water in which I boiled my RM86, 5kg home-reared meant-for-CNY chicken.
2. Meanwhile, make a ponzu dip of soy sauce, mirin and lemon juice . I wouldn't add dashi because the soup's dashi-y enough. You can go Malaysian and serve with a chili-lime sauce like I did.
3. When oden is ready, tranfer a portion of it into a claypot and set it over a small stove at the dining table. Serve a bowl of rice to each person to go with the oden.