This Japanese tabletop-cooked dish is less a recipe and more of a guideline; you can use whatever seafood (and other ingredients) you like. Most people think of hot pot as a winter dish, but because this recipe (or guideline) uses dashi broth instead of a heavier soup, it’s light enough to eat throughout the year.
For the broth, I cheat and use a dashi bag (it looks like a tea bag), rather than katsuobushi (shaved katsuo) and kombu. Dashi bags are sold at shops specialising in Japanese groceries, and are easy to use – they only need to be soaked in hot water for a few minutes to make an umami-rich broth.
This amount of ingredients is plenty for two diners, but you can easily scale up to serve more people. I usually don’t serve this dish with a dipping sauce, but if your guests insist, you can add a Cantonese touch by mixing chopped red bird’s-eye chillies with soy sauce, and serving it in small individual bowls. Be sure to put a large bowl on the table for empty shells.
1 dashi bag
2 flower crabs, about 300 grams each
4-6 fresh prawns, with bodies about 6cm in length
8-10 fresh clams
2 or 3 types of Japanese fishcake
1 block (about 200 grams) soft bean curd
1 small head of Chinese cabbage
1 negi (Japanese leek)
½ a pack shimeji mushrooms
½ a pack enoki mushrooms
1 pack udon noodles
Scrub the flower crabs under cool, running water. Just before cooking them, poke a sharp metal skewer between the eyes into the brain, to kill them. Rinse the prawns and clams and put them in a colander to drain. Slice the fishcakes and cut the bean curd into four pieces. Cut the Chinese cabbage in half lengthwise and trim off and discard the core. Slice the cabbage into 2cm-wide pieces. Cut the negi on the diagonal into 1cm-wide pieces. Trim off the bottom part the enoki mushrooms, and break them and the shimeji mushrooms into clumps.
Pour 500ml of water into a clay or cast-iron pot that holds about two litres. Bring to the boil over a portable burner, then add the dashi bag and leave to soak for a few minutes. Remove the dashi bag from the pot.
Simmer the seafood, putting the ingredients in the pot according to how long they take to cook. Start cooking the crabs first, simmering them for about three minutes before adding the prawns. Let the crab and prawns cook together for a few minutes, then add the clams, fishcake, bean curd, cabbage, negi and mushrooms. If the pot is too full, cook all the seafood together first and eat it when it’s ready; when there’s room in the pot, add the bean curd and vegetables. Adjust the flame of the burner as needed (or turn it off altogether) so the ingredients don’t overcook. If too much liquid evaporates, add some water.
After eating most of the ingredients, add the udon noodles to the pot and simmer until done. Eat the noodles and remaining ingredients with the broth.
Mixed seafood spaghetti
This easy recipe uses the same fresh seafood as the first dish, and as with that one, you can change the ingredients according to your preferences.
Try to time the cooking so the spaghetti is ready at about the same time as the seafood.
4 flower crabs, about 300 grams each
12 fresh prawns, with bodies 6cm-8cm in length
12-16 fresh clams
400 grams spaghetti
80 grams unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
A small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Scrub the crabs under cool, running water. Use a sharp metal skewer to poke the crabs between the eyes, to kill them. Pull the top shells from the bodies. Set aside the top shells, cup-side up. Remove and discard the gills from the bodies. From the bodies and the top shells, scrape the gooey crab innards (green, orange and soft white parts) into a bowl and mash with a fork until the innards are almost smooth. Split each crab body down the centre into two pieces. Rinse the prawns and clams and put them into a colander to drain. If you like, remove the shells from the prawns (but leave on the heads), then cut a slit down the back and take out the dark vein.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and start simmering the pasta, timing it so it’s ready when the seafood is cooked. When the spaghetti is slightly firmer than al dente, ladle off about 250ml of the pasta water, then drain the pasta in a colander.
Put the butter, garlic and shallot in a wok (or a large skillet) and place over a medium flame. As soon as the butter melts, put in the crab pieces. Cook for several minutes, stirring often. Add the prawns and clams and a sprinkling of salt then mix well. Add about 50ml of water then cover the wok with the lid and cook, stirring often, until the crab is almost cooked, the prawn shells turn red and the clams open.
Add the drained pasta and mix. Stir about 100ml of the pasta water into the crab innards, then mix this into the ingredients. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until the pasta is al dente and lightly coated with the sauce. If it seems dry, stir in more pasta water.
Mix in some freshly ground pepper and more salt, if needed. Divide the ingredients between four shallow bowls and sprinkle with chopped parsley.