Thursday, January 20, 2005

Donburi in the donabe

My donabe was an extravagance. I was wandering the crockery aisle at the Asian supermarket last spring when I saw this wonderful green donabe, painted with lucky cat vignettes. The lucky cat motif is of a cat lifting a paw (or both), often with stylized gold coins nearby. The image symbolizes abundance and prosperity.

The only problem was that the donabe was a lot of money for someone without a steady income. I waffled and finally left it. But the next time I was in the supermarket, I went to see if it was still there. There were acres of rice cookers and Chinese clay pots, but the donabe was nowhere to be found. I was crushed. I realized that, even though it was a lot of money, I had really wanted it. Now I would never see it again. It was very disappointing.

I did my other shopping and took one last longing pass through the crockery aisle. There was the donabe. How had I missed it the other times? What had it been hiding behind? No matter. I took it home.

A donabe is a Japanese earthenware pot. It is made of clay that can take a direct flame; the top part is glazed but the bottom is not. Sudden temperature extremes can shock it and crack the clay, so it needs to be treated with some care. I’m still kind of paranoid about cooking with my donabe, particularly because it’s a beautiful object I would’ve been happy to put on a shelf and admire. But tonight I used it for its intended purpose.

Tonight I cooked donburi in my donabe. It took a while to get things started, because I heated it tentatively. Then I started getting a little impatient and turned the burner up to the middle of the medium zone. After I started smelling something (not the food) burning, I hastily turned it down a bit. I finally got a decent boil going, covered the donabe and let the donburi simmer. In the end, the donburi was fine, but it took much longer than normal to cook. Someday I’ll get the hang of cooking with the donabe. But I still love it anyway.

Parenthetical note: rather than using the last few dashi cubes in the freezer or figuring out the right amount of water to mix with the powdered dashi concentrate, I used porcini soaking water as the stock in the donburi. It wasn’t bad.

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