Comfort Food/Beef Sukiyaki

Mrs. Vino has written about the concept of “comfort food” before. For me, it is comfort food if the very scent of it being prepared takes you back to your childhood. It doesn’t matter what type of food. What matters is the emotion the food invokes.

When I was growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was a tradition that on your birthday, you got to pick a restaurant and the family went out to dinner. We didn’t go out very often, so this was a real treat. One of my favorite restaurants was on the SF Waterfront and was called Tokyo Sukiyaki. At this restaurant, I had my first sushi, my first tempura and my first Sukiyaki. This restaurant was a favorite of several family members – so we went there quite a bit. And this restaurant inspired my mom to find a recipe for Sukiyaki – so she could prepare it at home. She found a recipe and it became a regular dish in her repetoire. Anytime she took out the electric frying pan (hey it was the late 60’s) we knew what was coming.

When mom passed away, I ended up with her recipe box. It sat in my cupboard, I just wasn’t able to open it. As part of my massive cookbook cupboard clean out a few months ago, I took out the recipe box and looked through it. I found the recipe my mom clipped from a 1968 issue of Sunset Magazine for Sukiyaki. Just reading the ingredient list brought back my childhood. I prepared Sukiyaki for Mr. Vino for dinner the next night. When I brought it to the table and had my first taste, I burst into tears. Mr. Vino is kind of used to this behavior. Food moves me.

Sukiyaki has become a regular part of my repetoire, too. It is my ultimate 15 minute meal. Here is a slightly revised version of the recipe (cuz I don’t cook with lard and I don’t think Japanese people usually do either!) which is light, easy and delicious. Enjoy!

Beef Sukiyaki (hot pot)
Make with Morovino 2011 Pinot Grigio Rose (or sake)
Serve with Morovino 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

3 T brown sugar
½ c. soy sauce (low sodium)
2 c. Dry Pinot Grigio, Sake or other VERY dry white wine
1 onion, very thinly sliced
½ small head of cabbage, thinly sliced
4 ounces of mushrooms (½ package) thinly sliced
1 bunch green onions, cleaned, cut in half lengthwise, then cut into 2” pieces
3 carrots, peeled and sliced very thinly
1 lb. Beef tri-tip (or boneless rib eye) sliced in 1/8” slices (Mrs. Vino buys Tri-Tip when it goes on sale, cuts in into 1lb pieces and freezes it to save for this dish.
1” of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated
¼ t. red pepper flake

If you don’t have the veggies listed, you can use zucchini or other squash, celery, parsnips, green pepper, green beans – pretty much anything that is seasonal and delicious.

The important thing is that you want really, really thinly sliced veggies so everything cooks quickly and takes the same amount of time. For the onion, cut in half through the core (stem-to-root, not across the circumference), then put the cut side on your board and slice very thinly (do you get the idea we are looking for THIN slices??) so that you get long skinny pieces – not onion rings. When you slice the carrots, slice across the width of the carrot, but slightly on a diagonal, so you get THIN slices. To get really thin slices of beef, start with a very sharp knife and put the beef in the freezer for an hour before slicing.

When I cook this dish, I use a 14” non-stick sauteuse (higher sides). You can also cook this in a wok or at the table using an old fashioned electric frying pan. I haven’t tried it with an electric fondue pot yet, but theoretically it should work.

Put the sugar, soy and Pinot Grigio into your pan and bring it to a vigorous simmer – just under the boil. Add the ginger and pepper flake. Now place the meat and veggies into the pan in bunches – I try to put the thickest/longest cooking temperature stuff in first – so for this dish start with the carrots, then onions, mushrooms, then beef, then cabbage, then green onions. Turn the heat down to medium. As everything cooks, make sure to press the beef and veggies into the simmering broth with the back of a wooden spoon. When the veggies are crunchy tender and the meat is still a tiny bit pink in the middle (about 5 minutes) it is done. To serve, put a spoonful of rice (brown sushi rice is my fave) in a pretty Asian bowl. Add a bit from each bunch of veggies and meat. Then top with a couple of big spoonsful of the broth. This is almost a soup, but not quite. It is a perfect pairing with Cabernet.

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