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: assorted fish balls, fish cakes, Atsuage (deep-fried tofu), hard-boiled eggs, konnyaku, and some vegetables are simmered in soy sauce-based broth.
Although the fish cakes are mostly brown and may not look as appetizing to you, once you eat this dish, it’ll be your new winter comfort dish! In my house, I usually serve Oden with Onigiri (rice ball) after my good friend served her oden with onigiri.
I usually make Oden a day before so that all the ingredients will absorb the delicious broth and it tastes much better the following day.
Make Oden at Home
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. Fortunately, this dish can also be enjoyed at home and we can get takeout from convenience stores (e.g. Lawsons, Family Mart, 7-Eleven…etc) during the wintertime. This has even spread to other Asian countries. When I was in Taiwan last month, I saw the 7-Elevens sell Oden (關東煮).
Get Your Donabe (Earthenware Pot) Ready!
Oden (Japanese Fish Cake Stew)
For Oden 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 broth won't be too dark; you can use regular soy sauce)
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp sake
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp mirin
- ¼ tsp kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (to taste)
For Oden 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 make a knot. If your kombu is hard kombu, you can still cut into 5 smaller strips/squares and add to oden)
- 4 oz octopus sashimi (boiled octopus) (optional)
- 1 package konnyaku (konjac) (9 oz, 255 g)
- 1 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 mochi packets)
- 1 kirimochi or homemade mochi (for mochi packets)
- 1 inch carrot (cut into flower petals (optional); you can cut into "rangiri" style)
- Japanese karashi hot mustard (optional; Mix 1 tsp of karashi powder with ½ Tbsp of 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 fragrance. Unwrap the bowl and ready to use.)
To Prepare Oden Broth
- In a donabe (earthenware pot) or a large and deep pot, add dashi (Japanese soup stock) and the rest of the seasonings for oden broth.
To Prepare the Ingredients
- Cut daikon into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces and remove the skin. If you use a peeler, you can peel first before you cut.
- With the knife, remove the sharp edges of the daikon to smooth it out. This is called "mentori". The rounded corners/edges will prevent the daikon from breaking and protects its shape.
- If you are going to serve rice with oden, when you rinse the rice, preserve the white water from rinsing the rice. In a medium pot, place daikon and the white 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 smell from daikon and make daikon beautiful white color. Make sure to cook the daikon from cold water so the center of the daikon gets cooked slowly before boiling and that will help cook the daikon evenly.
- Cook eggs on medium heat from cold water. After boiling, reduce heat to simmer and set the timer for 12 minutes. Drain and run cold water to shock the eggs before peeling the shell.
- Tie the nishime kombu into a knot.
- Cut the octopus into 5 inches (13 cm) and skewer into a bamboo stick.
- Cut konnyaku into smaller pieces. Typically triangle shape like below.
- Add the konnyaku in water and bring it to a boil. After boiling, cook for 1 minute and drain. This is to remove the unwanted smell.
- Make mochi-filled tofu bags. Quickly run aburaage (fried bean curd) in boiling water to remove excess oil. Drain and cut in half. Cut mochi into half. Open one side of Aburaage so you can put mochi in it. Use a toothpick or kombu to tie the aburaage so the mochi won't fall out during the cooking process.
To Remove Excess Oil
- Put water in a big pot and bring it to a boil. Add oden set (Japanese fish cakes and fish balls - we call them nerimono) in boiling water for 15-30 seconds. This is a recommended process to get rid of excess oil (factory's deep-frying oil). Drain and set aside. Cut big pieces into halves. Do this in batches if all the fish cakes don't fit in the pot.
To Cook Oden
- Put everything except for all the fish cakes and mochi packets in the donabe and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to simmer (low), 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 for 1 hour at the later step, increase cooking time to 45-50 minutes.
- Add all 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 (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 for the next day. The flavor of oden is so much better after soaking all the broth overnight. Make sure to let 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.