Mille-Feuille Nabe (ミルフィーユ鍋, 重ね鍋) is a simple Japanese hot pot that is made with napa cabbage and pork belly slices cooked in a savory dashi broth. Why the French word “mille-feuille” in a Japanese dish? So strange right? Well, let me introduce this easy and delicious hot pot dish to you and explain the story behind the name.
What is Mille-Feuille Nabe?
Mille-Feuille Nabe refers to many layers of napa cabbage and pork belly slices packed in the hot pot.
In French, “Mille-feuille” means a thousands leaves and typically refers to the classic French pastry that consists of three layers of thin puff pastry, and two layers of cream filling topped with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. This dessert is sometimes called Napoleon as well.
There are about three theories regarding how Mille-Feuille Nabe was introduced, and the recipe first appeared in a cookbook back in 1991. Since then it became one of the most popular hot pot recipes enjoyed at home in Japan.
Mille-Feuille Nabe is very visually appealing and I get hungry just staring at the pictures at the steamy hot soup with the tender napa cabbage. The best part about it is that it requires much less ingredients compared to Shabu Shabu or Sukiyaki, and it tastes equally delicious!
It’s also a great party menu because you can prepare everything ahead of time and cook it right after your guests arrive.
3 Simple Components of Mille-Feuille Nabe: Napa Cabbage, Pork, and Dashi
You can make the layers and soup base with any ingredients you prefer, but the basic and authentic Mille-Feuille Nabe is always made with napa cabbage and pork belly slices cooked in dashi broth.
Since the pork belly is fattier part of the meat, simple dashi broth is a perfect match for this dish and the flavors from the meat, veggie, and the broth come together nicely for an amazing umami flavor. It is incredible how these simple ingredients can offer such harmonious taste!
Things to Remember When Making Mille-Feuille Nabe
The most important thing is to pack the layers tightly! When the napa cabbage is being cooked, it releases water and shrinks. As a result, the layers get loosen during the cooking process. Therefore, before you start cooking, make sure the layers are packed very tightly and ingredients can not move around.
I put thick outer layers of napa cabbage near the wall of the pot, and soft leafy part toward the center. Use one hand to hold the layers in the pot, and use the other hand to keep adding the layers. It’s okay if the layers get loose and slip. You can start fixing the layers when you put more in the pot to bunch them up against one another.
Some people start packing layers from outer layers while some do it from the center. It’s really up to you, but I like to pack from outside toward center. This way when I run out of napa cabbage before the pot is full, I can still use my “backup plan”.
The “Backup Plan” – Ran Out of Napa Cabbage
Although the goal is to fill up the pot with the layers till the center, if you’re making this dish for the first time it could be difficult to estimate the amount of napa cabbage you will need for the pot you’re using.
For that reason, I recommend buying shimeji mushrooms or enoki mushrooms, just in case when you run out of the layers of napa cabbage and pork belly. You can stuff the empty space in the center with these mushrooms. As they have more neutral taste, they won’t affect the flavors of the dish too much.
When you’re expert in making this dish, you can add other ingredients like meatballs or fish balls, but let’s stick with the basic today.
Shime (Finale of Hot Pot)
At the end of hot pot when all or most of the ingredients are consumed, what’s left in the pot is the umami-packed soup. Don’t throw away!
We add a serving of steamed rice or noodles to the remaining soup. This last dish is called Shime (〆, しめ) in Japanese.
I like adding chuka noodles (ramen noodles) but my kids would always vote for udon when we’re having hot pot. Mr. JOC likes to add rice and make tamago zosui (卵雑炊, egg porridge). When the rice absorbs the broth, drizzle beaten egg and cover to cook a few minutes. Season with salt and white pepper and sprinkle green onion. It is so yummy!
Since the soup has absorb the flavors from the ingredients, it’s amazingly delicious. You can eat just a bit at the end, so don’t miss the finale of the hot pot even you’re full.
I hope you enjoy making this Mille-Feuille Nabe recipe! If you try it, don’t forget to share your picture on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter with #JustOneCookbook. Thank you so much for reading, and till next time!
- 1 large napa cabbage
- 1 ½ lb. thinly sliced pork belly (NOT bacon - bacon is cured sliced pork belly. See Note)
- 1 inch (2.5 cm) ginger
- 5 cups (1200 ml) dashi (I use awase dashi)
- 2 Tbsp. sake
- 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- A large pot with 10 inch (26 cm) diameter
- Slice the ginger and thinly cut green onion/scallion. Keep the ginger on the side and put the green onion in a small serving bowl.
- Cut the napa cabbage into quarters lengthwise. Without cutting the edge, wash the leaves carefully and drain well. Don’t throw away the leaves that naturally came off while rinsing. We’ll use these leaves later on.
- Place each slice of pork belly between the napa cabbage leaves. If you have extra pork belly, you can put additional slice in outer layers which have wide leaves. If the pork belly is too long for the napa cabbage, you can trim with a kitchen shear and place it in other parts of the napa cabbage.
- Once the pork belly slices are nicely tucked in, cut the napa cabbage into 3-4 pieces, about 2 - 2 ¾ inches (5-7 cm).
- Start packing the layers of napa cabbage/pork belly from the outer edges of donabe (or hot pot or regular pot) and work your way towards the center. The napa cabbage/pork belly layers should be packed tightly as they become loosen once it starts cooking.
- If you don’t have enough layers, you might want to consider a smaller pot (remember the size of your napa cabbage and proportional pot size you used for next time) or place other ingredients in the center. Here I stuffed the center with napa cabbage leaves that came off while rinsing and cutting the napa cabbage. You can also put enoki mushrooms or shimeji mushrooms in the center.
- Combine the soup ingredients (5 cups dashi, 2 Tbsp. sake, 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, slices of 1 inch ginger, and ½ tsp. kosher salt). Don’t cut down on the salt as napa cabbage releases liquid when it's being cooked and will dilute the soup a little bit.
- Pour the soup into the pot and start cooking on high heat. Once boiling, skim the foam and fat on the surface. Then reduce the heat to medium low and cook until napa cabbage is tender and pork belly is cooked through.
- Serve hot with ponzu, green onion/scallion, and shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice).
Pork belly slices or block can be purchased in Asian grocery stores (especially Japanese, Korean, and Chinese). Some American grocery stores with good meat section (where butchers work behind the counter) carry it, but usually they keep it in the freezer so you have to ask for it. When you slice, you have to defrost until a knife can go through, and don't thaw it completely. It'll be harder to slice thinly. If your pork belly has skin/rind, you will need to remove it.
Recipe by Namiko Chen of Just One Cookbook. All images and content on this site are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission. If you’d like to share this recipe on your site, please re-write the recipe in your own words and link to this post as the original source. Thank you.