One of the brightest cookbooks of the season is “Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking” by Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton. Moore, an Echo Park resident, is also an importer of traditional ceramics from Iga, in Japan’s Mie prefecture, where the making of ceramics can be documented back to the 7th century.
The earthenware cooking vessels she brings in are made by Nagatani-en, a family firm founded in 1832. You can find their donabe at her website Toiro Kitchen. Many of them are featured in the book. The donabe come in many versions, including a thick-walled, double-lidded pot which makes perfect Japanese rice. There are traditional donabe for soups and stews, a grill version and even a stovetop smoker with a water seal to keep the smoke from invading your kitchen.
One of the most versatile is the donabe steamer called Mushi Nabe, which comes in either a black or white glaze. Use it to steam vegetables or fish, even meat. The excess fat will drain through the ceramic grate, so this is a great cooking tool to give someone who you know is going to resolve to eat healthier in the new year. Use it on a gas stovetop or on a portable gas burner placed in the middle of the table.
Without the ceramic steamer grate, you can use this pot just like a regular donabe for cooking soups and stews, hot pots or braised dishes.
But here’s something novel: this donabe can be used to keep food cold and fresh. Soak the top and bottom in water for a few minutes, then spread ice on the bottom and the top of the grate. Arrange your sashimi, fresh vegetables or fruit salad, for example, on the grate. Cover with the lid, and the food will stay chilled, without getting wet. As the ice melts, the water falls through the holes of the grate.
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