Chanko Nabe or Sumo Stew is a robust hot pot filled with all kinds of vegetables and tons of protein in a rich dashi and chicken broth. This well-balanced meal is traditionally eaten by sumo wrestlers but also enjoyed at home or some restaurants.
Spring is here and why am I still sharing a hot pot recipe? Well, the Japanese eat nabe (hot pot) more frequently in the fall and winter months, but they do enjoy all types of nabe dishes all year round. And for Sumo Wrestlers, they eat Chanko Nabe (ちゃんこ鍋) all the time!
What is Chanko Nabe?
Chanko Nabe (ちゃんこ鍋) is a type of Japanese nabe (hot pot), which I think is similar to a stew (but with more broth). It is traditionally eaten by sumo wrestlers in Japan and usually served in massive quantities as part of a weight-gain diet for sumo wrestlers. They eat this meal pretty regularly with different ingredients.
The characteristic of this hot pot is that there is no specific “recipe”. And unlike other varieties of Japanese hot pot meals, meats, seafood, vegetables, and pretty much everything can be thrown into the hot pot.
Chanko means “a meal” that is eaten by sumo wrestlers. There are a few different theories regarding the origin of the name “chanko”.
One of the theories is that Chan is an endearing name to call Oyakata (親方), or a retired sumo wrestler coach (coming from To-chan (父ちゃん) or daddy). And ko comes from kodomo (子供) or a child or a pupil (deshi (弟子)). So chanko stands for a meal that the sumo coach and his pupils share. You could use chanko in a sentence like “Today’s chanko is Gyudon.” (今日のちゃんこは牛丼だよ).
Today’s recipe is from this beautiful Japanese cookbook, Let’s Cook Japanese Food!: Everyday Recipes for Authentic Dishes. Author Amy Kaneko demystified home-style Japanese cooking in her book and I absolutely enjoyed reading this cookbook! If you love Japanese cooking then I highly recommend you to keep it in your cookbook library.
Amy is an American married to a Japanese husband and learned to cook Japanese food from her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. She brought her knowledge all into this beautifully photographed and illustrated cookbook, and I love her choices of recipes that she had selected to share with readers.
I know how much you love cooking Japanese food, so I’m giving away this cookbook to one JOC reader! You’ll see the link to my giveaway page at the bottom of this post.
The Delicious Broth for Chanko Nabe
The broth for Chanko Nabe is usually dashi and/or chicken broth soup, seasoned with sake and mirin to add more flavor.
For good luck before the match, they won’t use beef and pork bone for soup base because four-leg animals represent the loss for sumo wrestling (can’t touch the ground with any part of the body other than the soles of the feet). You can use them as ingredients, but not for soup broth.
There are various flavors added to the broth. The most common choices are:
- Soy sauce
Today’s recipe is with miso, and it’s recommended to use white miso for mild and creamy flavor.
What’s inside Chanko Nabe?
Common ingredients that are thrown into Chanko Nabe include:
- Chicken thighs
- Chicken meatballs
- Fish fillet
- Sliced pork belly
- Tofu (Thick/thin deep-fried tofu, medium-firm tofu, etc)
- Sesame seeds
- Vegetables (daikon, onion, carrot, napa cabbage, green onion, gobo, mizuna, chives)
- Mushrooms (shiitake, enoki, maitake, shimeji, etc)
- Udon noodles or Chuka noodles (Chinese style noodles)
Leftover Chanko Nabe broth can also be used later as broth for noodle dishes, and I enjoy drinking it as a soup (dilute with water or dashi a little bit if it’s too salty) as it has so much flavor from all the hot pot ingredients.
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
Chanko Nabe (Sumo Stew)
For the broth:
For the chicken meatballs:
For the stew:
- chicken meatballs (follow instructions)
- 1 ½ lb cod fillet
- 8 shrimp
- 6 oz sliced pork belly
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 14 oz medium tofu (momen tofu) (1 package)
- ½ head napa cabbage
- 2 negi (long green onion)
- 6 green onions/scallions
- 4-6 shiitake mushrooms
- ¼ carrot (for decoration; sliced and cut out with a vegetable cutter)
To make the broth:
- Gather all the ingredients for Chanko Nabe Broth.
- To make the broth, in a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat, combine the broth, sake, mirin, ginger juice, and garlic and bring to a simmer.
- Spoon several spoonfuls of broth into a small bowl, add the miso, and stir until smooth.
- Gradually add the miso mixture to the broth in the pot, stirring to avoid lumps. Once the miso has been incorporated, do not let the broth boil.
To make the chicken meatballs:
- Gather all the ingredients. This grater (I have 6" one) works great for grating ginger (daikon, garlic, etc) and keeping the juice from grating it. In this recipe, we only use ginger juice.
- In a large bowl, combine the chicken, ½ beaten egg (reserve the remaining egg for another use), the ginger juice, soy sauce, corn starch, panko, and green onion. Using your hands, mix all together.
- Once the mixture becomes a little bit white and well combined, shape the mixture into a ball. Sprinkle with panko as needed.
To cut all the ingredients:
- Cut the cod fillet into 2-inch chunks, peel and devein shrimp, cut the sliced pork belly into 2-inch pieces, trim the visible fat from the chicken thighs and cut into bite-sized pieces, cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes, and separate the leaves from napa cabbage and cut them into smaller pieces. Slice the carrot and cut out with a flower-shaped vegetable cutter.
- Cut negi (long green onion) diagonally into 1-inch-thick pieces, cut the green onions into 2-inch lengths, and remove stems of shiitake mushrooms and make a decorative cut on the caps if desired.
To set up the table:
- To prepare the stew ingredients, place the meatballs, seafood, pork belly, chicken, tofu, carrot slices, napa cabbage, long green onion, green onions, and mushrooms on the platter.
- Pour the ponzu sauce and sesame sauce (goma dare) into individual dipping bowls at each place setting along with chopsticks, a soup spoon (optional) and a soup bowl.
- Place a portable gas burner and the nabe, and the stew ingredients on the table. If you don’t have a gas/electric burner, you can cook the stew on the stovetop, transfer it to a large bowl, and serve it family style.
To cook Chanko Nabe:
- If cooking the stew ingredients on the stovetop, cook in batches. Add some of each of the ingredients to the broth, simmer (do not boil) until cooked, and serve them, returning to the stove to start a new batch as each previous batch is eaten. The vegetables and tofu cook more quickly than the meatballs, seafood, and chicken.
- Keep the broth at a simmer the entire time. If the liquid gets low, add a little water or chicken broth to have enough liquid to heat the noodles or rice at the end (even though you are thinning the broth, the flavorful ingredients you are cooking in it continue to enrich it).
- When diners are ready, remove any solids in the broth and add the noodles or rice. Simmer until heated through, then ladle into the soup bowls and serve.