One of my books is titled “Japanese Food and Cooking”, written in 1956 by Stuart Griffin. Griffin introduces the cookbook with a funny story about the American husband in Japan conspiring with the Japanese maid to introduce his recently-arrived wife to Japanese cuisine;
“This he handles carefully. Wife, gastronomically, is entrenched behind the Maginot Line of canned soup, liver and bacon, Waldorf salad, pie a la mode, and demitasse. She mustn’t suspect…..
Rice is tasty. The conspiracy begins to pay off. American Husband and Japanese Maid exchange glances. Wife likes rice – Ah so!….
The day of the great test dawns clear and cold — soon, it’s evening. Husband has masterminded his plans all day. What they eat, or don’t, will make him or break him. The Chinese say that the journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step. What is that step? There is only one answer: Sukiyaki.
And Wife is wild about it.”
Sukiyaki is a one-dish meal, really a type of quick stir fry. The key ingredients are thinly-sliced beef and yam noodles, or shirataki, made out of konnyaku. Konnyaku is a gelatinous substance made from the corm (underground stem) of an Asian plant, not really a yam at all. Other ingredients may include tofu, mushrooms and a variety of vegetables.
I bought softened shirataki noodles in the refrigerated section of the Asian grocery store. I have used a similar dried yam noodle in a Korean dish called japchae. I actually like the texture of those dried noodles better, they were softer and a bit thinner.
The traditional manner of eating sukiyaki is for each diner to have a beaten egg in a small bowl. Pieces of meat and vegetable are dipped in the raw egg before eating. The idea is that if the dish is hot enough, the egg “cooks” upon contact with the food, but my healthy fear of salmonella prevented me from replicating this step. Still it was very tasty, and easy to make with whatever vegetables are on hand.
Sukiyaki (2 servings)
1/2 lb. sirloin or round steak
1/2 onion, sliced
1/2 bell pepper, sliced
2 oz. enoki or shiitake mushrooms
4 large outer leaves of chinese cabbage, chopped
1/2 block tofu, drained and cubed
6 oz. shirataki noodles (if dried, boil them first)
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. broth (dashi or beef)
1 Tbsp. sugar
Freeze the beef for about an hour, then slice it very thinly with a sharp knife. Mix together the cooking sauce ingredients to dissolve sugar, and prepare all other ingredients.
Heat a wok or deep skillet to high heat. Add a bit of oil, then saute onion, pepper and beef together for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Move those ingredients to one side of the pan and add cooking sauce, tofu, noodles and other vegetables. Cover and cook just until beef is done and vegetables are tender.