Japanese hot pots are satisfying, warm meals that you and your family treasure during the cold-weather months. Today’s recipe is Mille-Feuille Nabe, one of the most popular hot pot recipes enjoyed at home in Japan.
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 is the French word “mille-feuille” used 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?
In French, “Mille-feuille” means a thousand leaves and typically refers to the classic French pastry that consists of three layers of thin puff pastry with two layers of cream filling and topped with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. This dessert is sometimes called Napoleon as well.
So Mille-Feuille in this recipe is the “thousand layers” of cabbage leaves and pork belly slices and Nabe means a hot pot dish in Japanese.
There are about three theories of how Mille-Feuille Nabe was introduced to Japan. 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.
It’s also a great party menu during the cold months. You can prepare everything ahead of time and cook the hot pot right after your guests arrive.
3 Important Ingredients for Mille-Feuille Nabe
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 3 ingredients.
- Napa cabbage
- Pork belly slices
- Dashi (Japanese soup stock)
Since the pork belly is the fattier part of the meat, a simple dashi broth is a perfect match for this dish. The flavors from the meat, veggie, and broth come together nicely for an amazing umami flavor. It is incredible how these simple ingredients can offer such a harmonious taste!
3 Important Tips for Making Mille-Feuille Nabe
The most important thing when making this nabe is to pack the layers tightly! When the napa cabbage is cooked, it releases water and shrinks. As a result, the layers get loosened during the cooking process. Therefore, before you start cooking, you want to make sure the layers are packed very tightly and all the ingredients are not moving around.
I put thick outer layers of napa cabbage near the wall of the pot, and a 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 the outer layers while some do it from the center. It’s really up to you, but I like to pack from outside toward the 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 When Running Out of Napa Cabbage
The goal is to fill up the pot with the layers till the center, however, 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.
For that reason, I recommend buying shimeji mushrooms or enoki mushrooms as a backup filler. Just in case when you run out of layers of napa cabbage and pork belly, you can stuff the empty space in the center with these mushrooms. As they have a more neutral taste, they won’t affect the flavors of the dish too much.
When you’re an expert in making this dish, you can add other ingredients like meatballs or fish balls, but let’s stick with the basics today.
The Finale of Hot Pot – “Shime“
Toward the end of the hot pot when most of the ingredients are consumed, you are left with the umami-packed soup. Don’t throw it away!
The remaining soup can be enjoyed with a serving of steamed rice or noodles. 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 to the soup to make Zosui (Japanese Rice Soup). When the rice absorbs the broth, drizzle in beaten egg and cover to cook for a few minutes. Season with salt and white pepper and sprinkle with some green onion. It is so yummy!
Since the soup absorbs the flavors from the ingredients, it’s amazingly delicious. You can eat a small portion at the end, so don’t miss the finale of the hot pot even when you’re full.
For the Hot Pot Broth
- 1 knob ginger (1 inch, 2.5 cm)
- 5 cups dashi (Japanese soup stock; click to learn more) (I use Awase Dashi made with kombu and katsuobushi; in a pinch, substitute a Dashi Packet or Dashi Powder; use Vegan Dashi for vegan/vegetarian)
- 2 Tbsp sake
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- ½ tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Slice the ginger and thinly cut the green onion/scallion. Keep the ginger on the side and put the green onion in a small serving bowl.
- Cut the head of napa cabbage into quarters lengthwise; DO NOT cut off the core from the four wedges yet. The core keeps the leaves attached at the root end and makes layering in the pork belly much easier. Next, carefully wash the leaves without detaching them from the core and drain well. Don’t throw away any leaves that naturally come off while rinsing. We’ll use them later on.
- Layer the pork belly into the napa cabbage by placing one pork slice between each of the leaves. If you have extra pork belly, you can put an additional slice in the outer layers that have wide leaves. If the pork belly is too long for the napa cabbage, you can trim it with kitchen shears and layer it in other parts of the napa cabbage.
- Once the pork belly slices are neatly tucked in, cut each napa cabbage wedge into 3-4 pieces each about 2 to 2½ inches (5-6 cm) long. Take care to keep the layers of napa cabbage and pork belly neatly stacked as you slice. Then, carefully cut off the core from the root end pieces without disturbing the layers.
- Next, start packing the ingredients in a donabe, hot pot, or regular 10-inch pot. Turn the stacks on their side as you pack them so the pink and green layers are visible. Start from the outer edges of the pot and work your way toward the center. I usually place the thicker cabbage leaves near the edge and the tender leaves in the center. Make sure that you pack the pot tightly as the layers will become loose once the ingredients start cooking.
- If you don’t have enough layers to pack the pot tightly, consider using a smaller pot or place other ingredients in the center. Here, I stuffed the center with the napa cabbage leaves that came off when I cut and rinsed the cabbage. You can also put enoki mushrooms or shimeji mushrooms in the center.
- Combine the broth ingredients in a separate measuring cup or mixing bowl. Don’t reduce the salt since the napa cabbage will release liquid during cooking and dilute the soup.
- Pour the broth into the pot with the napa cabbage and pork belly. Start cooking on high heat. Once boiling, skim off the foam and fat on the surface using a fine-mesh skimmer. Then, reduce the heat to medium low and cook uncovered until the napa cabbage is tender and the pork belly is cooked through, roughly 8-10 minutes.
- To make the dipping sauce, add the ponzu, chopped green onion/scallion, and optional shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice) to small individual bowls. When the Mille-Feuille Nabe is cooked through, serve it hot.
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for a month.
- A large pot (size: 10"/26 cm)