Sometimes a cherished recipe is handed down from one generation to the next. But occasionally, a family's most beloved dish comes from a completely unexpected place. Such is the case with Mary Amundson's sukiyaki.
Mary was born in Arcadia and now lives in Beacon Bay, a beautiful waterfront neighborhood in Newport Beach. She has never traveled to Japan, where sukiyaki originates, and none of her family members are Japanese. The first time she cooked it, she wasn't following any recipe at all. Instead, she was trying to re-create a dish that had been her late husband's favorite while he served in Japan at the end of World War II. She had only his recollections to go on and was limited by the ingredients available in California at the time. To her surprise, he loved her version of sukiyaki. Her children and grandchildren loved it, too--so much so that it became the family's favorite meal, one that every grandchild asks for on his or her birthday.
The table is set with stacks of beautiful plates, bowls, and cups. There are spoons and chopsticks to use and, in the very center of the table, there is a small stove, upon which sits a cast iron skillet. Mary prepares a flavorful broth in the skillet and arranges chopped vegetables, thinly sliced raw meat, noodles, and tofu on platters. Each person gets to participate in the cooking process by picking up an ingredient, dropping it into the simmering broth, and transferring it to his or her own bowl. "The grandchildren have loved trying to use chopsticks, stealing each other's cooked food, and stretching the cellophane noodles as high as possible before slurping them," she said. "Sometimes they splash everyone!"
Mary Amundson's Sukiyaki
Look for thinly sliced beef at Asian markets, or ask the butcher to slice a whole steak for you. Mary has used many different heating elements over the years, but she prefers a portable butane stove, which is quite affordable and can be purchased at most hardware stores. As is traditional for sukiyaki, the cooked meat is dipped in raw egg, so be sure to buy fresh eggs from someone you trust or choose pasteurized eggs.
6 ounces cellophane noodles (also known as bean thread or glass noodles)
1 pound very thinly sliced rib eye steak or flank steak
1 pound tofu, diced
6 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
3 cups spinach
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup mirin
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup sake
6 eggs, for dipping
Steamed rice, for serving
Place the cellophane noodles in a bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Set them aside to soak for a few minutes. Meanwhile, arrange the steak, tofu, scallions, and spinach on platters to pass at the table. When the noodles are soft, drain the water and pile the noodles on one of the platters.
To make the broth, combine the soy sauce, mirin, sugar, sake, and ½ cup water in a skillet set over medium-high heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. When the broth comes to a boil, transfer the skillet to the burner on the table and adjust the heat so that the liquid barely simmers.
Now comes the fun part: crack an egg into a small bowl and stir with chopsticks. Add ingredients to the simmering broth, as quickly or as slowly as you wish. If you like, dip the cooked meat in the raw egg. Serve with the steamed rice.
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