During the frigid winter months, it’s only natural to crave comfort. For some of us, comfort comes in the form of flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers, for others it shows up in a hot steaming bowl. Oden is the quintessential comfort food in Japan to take the chill off of winter.
As soon as the leaves start turning color in fall, street carts, ramen shops and izakayas (pubs) all over Japan start serving the simple warming stew. You can even get it in cans out of vending machines. In a way, oden is a bit like what corned beef and cabbage is to Irish Americans.
While there are many regional variations, the oden I grew up eating uses a light dashi broth with fishcake, egg, konyaku, tofu products and vegetables in it. The ingredients are simmered together and are served with karashi (hot mustard). Like all stews, this one is best made in advance and given at least a day in the fridge for all the flavours to saturate into all the items that are in the broth.
I like to make a big pot of this at least once a year. The sweet smoky aroma of dashi is like a plush feather bed for my nose, and the wide assortment of tender fishcakes, vegetables, and tofucakes is light, yet deeply satisfying for a body that’s been burning calories trying to keep warm.
4 cups dashi (made with bonito and kombu)
3 tablespoons mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine)
2 tablespoons light colored soy sauce (this is not the same as “low sodium soy sauce”)
1 tablespoons kosher salt (halve if using table salt)