A classic winter comfort dish in Japan, Oden is a one-pot dish with an assortment of fish balls, fish cakes, deep-fried tofu, hard-boiled eggs, konnyaku, and some vegetables simmered in soy sauce-based dashi broth. It tastes even better the second day!
This week has been really cold in the San Francisco Bay Area and I was thinking about what would be the best recipe that represents winter food in Japan. Although there are regional favorites in each area of Japan, I thought Oden (おでん) or Japanese fish cake stew would be a wonderful dish to introduce.
What is Oden?
Oden is a one-pot dish, which is a little bit different from stew or hot pot. It’s more like a simmered dish, which you can find assorted fish balls, fish cakes, atsuage (deep-fried tofu), hard-boiled eggs, konnyaku, and some vegetables gently cooked in a soy sauce-based broth.
If you are familiar with Japanese drama or cartoon, you have probably seen a scene of salarymen eating oden and drinking sake at a food stand at night with their coworkers. It has been known as a food stall dish during the night time for relaxing after a day of working. We can even find oden takeout from the conbini the Japanese convenience stores (e.g. Lawsons, Family Mart, 7-Eleven, etc.) during the wintertime. This special dish has even spread to other Asian countries. When I visited Taiwan, I was surprised to find that the 7-Elevens sell oden (關東煮).
Despite its mostly brownish appearance from the fish cakes, oden is brimming with comfort. Partaking a pot of oden is about enjoying each juicy, chewy and textural bite of the ingredients. Once you try it, you’ll sure fall in love with this winter meal.
How to Make Oden at Home
Quick overview of the cooking process:
- Make oden broth in a large pot or in a donabe (Japanese earthenware pot).
- Prepare the ingredients — cut vegetables, remove excess oil from oden fish cake set, etc.
- Place everything except the fish cakes and mochi packets in the donabe and bring it a boil. Once boiling, lower the heart to a low simmer. Cook covered on low heat for 30 minutes.
- Add the rest of fish cakes and mochi packets. Cook covered on low heat for another 30 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and set aside for 1 hour. This allows the ingredients to soak up the savory flavors of the broth.
- When ready to serve, reheat for 15 minutes.
Tip: I like to prepare the oden a day in advance. The flavor tastes so much better after soaking all the broth overnight. Make sure to let cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.
In my house, I usually serve oden with onigiri (rice ball) after learning this routine from my good friend. The pairing makes the meal super fun and enjoyable!
Where to Buy Oden Ingredients
The assortment of fish cakes and balls (or oden set) is called nerimono (練り物). Japanese grocery stores and well-stocked Asian grocery stores carry different types of nerimono, and these packages usually include 10-12 items such as chikuwa (tubed fish cake), gobo-maki (fish cake stuffed with gobo), kamaboko (fish cake), kanikama (imitation crab meat), etc.
The rest of the must-have ingredients for oden include daikon radish, hard-boiled eggs, and fried tofu pouch.
As long as you can find these ingredients, making oden at home is really easy.
Get Your Donabe (Earthenware Pot) Ready!
You can serve oden in a Dutch oven or in a donabe which is a traditional earthenware pot used in Japanese cooking. If you enjoy making hot pot dishes such as shabu shabu, sukiyaki, and nabeyaki udon, I high recommend getting a donabe.
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Ultimate Communal Comfort Dish
I hope you give this oden recipe a try. It makes a delightful meal to enjoy when you have friends and family over.
Oden (Japanese Fish Cake Stew)
For the Broth
- 8 cups dashi (Japanese soup stock; click to learn more) (I use a standard Awase Dashi with kombu and katsuobushi)
- 4 Tbsp usukuchi (light-colored) soy sauce (I use usukuchi soy sauce so that the color of the broth won't be too dark; or you can use regular soy sauce)
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp sake
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp mirin
- ¼ tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (to taste)
For the Ingredients
- 8 inch daikon radish
- 5 large eggs (50 g each w/o shell)
- 5 strips nishime kombu (dried seaweed) (nishime kombu is skinny and softer kombu that you can tie in a knot; if your kombu is hard, you can cut it into smaller strips/squares and skip tying it)
- 4 oz octopus sashimi (boiled octopus) (optional)
- 1 package konnyaku (konjac) (9 oz, 255 g for 5 servings)
- 1 Tokyo negi (naga negi; long green onion) (you can use a leek or green onions/scallions)
- 2 packages oden set (Japanese fish cakes and fish balls)
- 1 aburaage (deep-fried tofu pouch) (.7 oz, 20 g for 5 servings; for the mochi packets)
- 1 kirimochi or homemade mochi (for the mochi packets)
- 1 inch carrot (cut into flower petals (optional); you can also cut it "rangiri" style)
- Japanese karashi hot mustard (optional; mix 1 tsp karashi powder with ½ Tbsp hot water in a small bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and flip upside down to let it steam under the bowl for 5 minutes to get good taste and aroma. Unwrap the bowl and it's ready to use.)
To Prepare the Oden Broth
- In a donabe (earthenware pot) or a large and deep pot, add the dashi (Japanese soup stock) and the rest of the seasonings for the oden broth.
To Prepare the Ingredients
- Cut the daikon into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces and remove the skin. If you use a peeler, you can peel the daikon first before you cut it.
- With the knife, remove the sharp edges of the daikon to smooth it out. This technique is called "mentori." The rounded corners and edges will prevent the daikon from breaking and protect its shape.
- If you are going to serve rice with the oden, reserve the cloudy water from rinsing the rice. In a medium pot, place the daikon and the cold, cloudy water. Cook the daikon on medium heat, uncovered, until a skewer goes through, about 15-20 minutes. Tip: In Japan, this method helps get rid of the bitterness and odor from the daikon and makes the daikon a beautiful white color. Make sure to cook the daikon starting with cold water. This allows the center of the daikon to cook slowly before the water reaches a boil and that will help cook the daikon evenly.
- Place the eggs and cold water in a saucepan. Bring the water to a boil on medium heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and set the timer for 12 minutes. Drain and run cold water over the eggs to shock them before peeling the shells.
- Tie the nishime kombu strips into knots.
- Cut the octopus into 5-inch (13 cm) pieces and skewer on a bamboo stick.
- Cut the konnyaku into smaller pieces, typically cut in a triangle shape.
- Place the konnyaku and water in a saucepan or small pot and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, cook for 1 minute and drain. This helps remove the odor.
- Make the mochi-filled tofu bags. Quickly blanch the aburaage (fried bean curd) in boiling water to remove the excess oil. Drain and cut in half. Cut the mochi in half. Open the aburaage pocket and put the mochi inside. Use a toothpick or kombu to close the aburaage pouch so the mochi doesn't fall out during cooking.
To Remove the Excess Oil
- Put water in a big pot and bring it to a boil. Add the oden set (Japanese fish cakes and fish balls--we call them nerimono) to the boiling water for 15-30 seconds. This is a recommended step to get rid of the excess deep-frying oil from factory processing. Drain and set aside. Cut the big pieces into halves. Do this in batches if all the fish cakes don't fit in the pot.
To Cook the Oden
- Put everything except for the fish cakes and mochi packets in the donabe and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to low to maintain a simmer, skimming off the scum and foam along the way with a fine-mesh strainer. Cook covered on low heat for 30 minutes. Tip: If you don't have time to set aside the oden for 1 hour at the later step, increase the cooking time to 45-50 minutes.
- Add the fish cakes and mochi packets. Cook covered on low heat for 30 minutes.
To Set Aside (Important!)
- Turn off the heat and set aside the oden (covered) for 1 hour. Simmered food tastes better when the ingredients soak up all the flavors. We do not want to keep cooking as the fish cakes become too soft and break into pieces. Tip: I usually prepare the oden the day before serving and store it in the refrigerator. The flavor of the oden is so much better after soaking in the broth overnight. Make sure to let it cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.
- Reheat the oden for 15 minutes. Serve it with a little bit of karashi (hot mustard) on the side.