Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
Oden is a Japanese winter stew in which all sorts of absorbent, wiggly, squishy bits simmer for hours—even days—in a broth based on dashi, soy sauce, and mirin. I had my first taste of it a few months ago at the great izakaya Torihei, in Torrance, California. There it's served in a fairly refined "Kyoto style"—you order individual bites of "white radish," "hanpen fish cake," or "half raw egg with salmon roe," and out comes the particular morsel bathing in a small bowl of light dashi. But oden can be found all over Japan in convenience stores, on the street, or in individual oden-ya, served from great vats where chunks of daikon,
mountain elephant yam cakes (konnyaku), fried tofu pouches (like ganmokdoki or aburaage), and all manner of processed fish cakes (say, chikuwa or kamaboko) bob in the simmering stock, sometimes impaled on skewers, sometimes in compartmentalized dashi baths. The key to good oden is a long, slow simmer so the food can absorb the stock. Japanese friends tell me that some renowned oden-ya have maintained the same mother dashi for decades, constantly replenishing it as it reduces and concentrates in flavor.
I don't know anywhere in Chicago where you can eat prepared oden, but I do know lots of people must be making it at home, because stores like Mitsuwa, Hmart, and JoongBoo Market are stocked with whole universes of the fish cakes and tofu products required. They even sell frozen, prepackaged oden kits, with a varied assortment of bites, as well as instant stock powders. But there's no need to go that way, since the stock is simple to make. And you're only limited by your imagination in what you can put in it. Daikon is particularly brilliant after a few days, when it softens and absorbs the broth.
This recipe is for a crowd. You can easily halve or quarter the amounts with good results.
For the dashi:
3 strips kombu (dried kelp), washed
3 packed cups shaved katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
10 cups water
Soak the kombu in the water, then bring to a boil over medium heat, skimming the foam that rises to the top. Remove the kombu and add the bonito. Simmer on low for a few minutes while skimming. Take off heat and steep for 15 minutes. Strain.
For the oden:*
10 cups dashi
10 cups chicken stock
1 1/4 cup soy sauce
1 cup mirin
1 piece kombu, washed
1 package konnyaku balls, or triangles
2 small packages dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated
20 hard-boiled quail eggs, soaked in rice vinegar for six hours, then peeled
1 lb daikon, cut into one-inch cubes and scored
Various packages fish cakes such as nama chikuwa or kamaboko and fried tofu like ganmokdoki or aburaage, cut to bite size
Bring the stock, soy sauce, and mirin to a simmer with the kombu. Skim as needed. Meanwhile, salt the konnyaku, boil briefly in a separate pot, and strain. Pour boiling water over the fried tofu and fried fish cakes to wash off excess oil. Add all of the ingredients to the stock and simmer on low for a few hours, or even days, until it has reduced, concentrated, and permeated each morsel with intense umami goodness.
*I consulted a number of cookbooks before making oden for the first time, including Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat's Japanese Hot Pots, Tatsuo Saito and Raul Simone's Traditional Japanese Recipe Book, Masaru Doi's Japanese One-Pot Cookery, and Shizuo Tsuji's Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art. Most recipes called for a bit more mirin and soy than I cared for. Some even called for sugar. Adjust to your preference. I also took a little inspiration dashi-wise from David Chang's Momofuku.