Anyone who’s been to a basho can tell you that food is one of the great parts of the sumo experience. Whether it’s a yakitori box or a full bento or an “Ozeki” sushi set, there are loads of great snacks to be had around the stadium to tuck into while you’re enjoying the day’s matches. The most revered dish of course seems to be chankonabe, the sumo stew that at the recent Nagoya basho had punters lining up well in advance of it going on sale. It is of course well known that this is the fuel that powers the gut busting development of the men who mount the dohyo.
Here in the States, and specifically in Los Angeles where I live, there are actually a surprising amount of places you can enjoy sumo staples – we are spoiled for choice when it comes to Japanese dining. But having been prompted by Bruce after he caught my tweet earlier today, I decided to write about making my own chanko.
There are a lot of recipes for chankonabe out there so I encourage a good old fashioned google search. What most recipes seem to state is that you can feel free to take some liberty with your recipe. I tend to cook a bit more by feel, so here’s what I did:
First I made a broth from bringing to a boil the following:
8 cups water
4 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin
4 tbsp sake (I used “Ozeki,” obviously)
1 tsp salt
Kombu – I cut up about 6 squares (probably 2″ x 2″) of kombu and threw that in the pot
1 packet (56g) of vegetable based dashi stock starter
1 packet (5g) of bonito flakes
There are a lot of different stock starters out there – I knew I was going to pour in a packet of bonito flakes so I opted to use a starter that had a vegetable base, and this gave me the broth that I was hoping for. It’s possible you don’t really need the dashi starter packet but as I used more water than some recipes do, it helped bring out more flavor. After bringing all of the above to a boil I let it simmer for probably 10 or 15 minutes while doing prep on the other elements.
Naganegi or long green onions cut diagonally into 2-3″ chunks (I tend to throw away the green ends, but I know different regions enjoy different ends of this)
1 whole green cabbage, chopped up into 3-4″ pieces
1 box of Shimeji mushrooms
1 nice big carrot, sliced about 1/8″
1 packet of tofu, about 1″ cubed
Once I got all of this together, I just put it in a bowl and reserved it off to the side.
1/2 lb ground chicken
1/2 lb sliced pork
I ground some fresh ginger into a paste (using a nice shark-skin grater I picked up in Asakusa on my last trip), and mixed it with some diced up smaller green onions and formed the meatballs from that mixture. Regarding the pork, you’re probably better off with a fatty cut like pork belly (and many Japanese and Asian grocers will have this pre-cut and pre-packaged) but that wasn’t available for me so I opted for a loin which got a bit tough. Next time I’ll try a juicier, less dense cut.
I dropped the meatballs and pork into the simmering broth first and put the vegetables in on top. I’d recommend putting the carrots in first so that they’re closer to the bottom of the pot and then the cabbage in last. I decided to cook the whole concoction over medium-high heat for about 18 minutes, stirring occasionally.
The nice thing about this meal is that anyone can do it: you just pile everything into the pot and let it go. This is probably why 18 year old recruits can make the food for the rest of the stable. While the dish that I made, along with a side of rice, will fill you up, I encourage everyone to try other variations using other proteins and additional elements like udon or shrimp or bok choy or miso, just for starters. You might be limited by what your local grocer carries, but your palette and imagination will help you make up for that. I know I’ll definitely keep working to improve my brand of chanko.