Which donabe should I choose?

Different donabes have different sizes, purposes and looks, and are suitable for different dishes. It’s hard to know where to start! That’s why donabe.nl has written this beginner’s guide to donabe, taking you through the essentials of this humble clay pot. Think of it as some donabe demystification: helping you find your way around the little world of donabe.

When you’re ready to dive deeper and learn more about making the most of the donabe heat retention technique, or why exactly a mushi-nabe steamed broccoli taste so good, then we invite you read Naoko Takei-Moore’s book on Donabe cooking. Takei-Moore is the English-language authority on donabe cooking.

What is a donabe?

A donabe is a round earthenware pot used in traditional Japanese cuisine. The word donabe literally means ‘clay hot-pot’. It’s quite simple to use – you don’t even have to be a pro Japanese chef. You can make all kinds of things in a donabe: ramen or tagines; a succulent coq au vin or fluffy white rice.

Japanese donabes have been used since the 8th century as a traditional way of preparing food at home. Elegant and unpretentious, donabes are the perfect one-pot wonder for busy families. Donabes are still made in the traditional manner in certain parts of Japan using century-old techniques. Their unique rough texture adds an extra layer of flavour to the food cooked inside. If your donabe is well-cared for, it can last for decades – or even centuries.

This longevity can even add some unique flavour. According to folk wisdom, your donabe stores a tiny bit of the flavours of all the meals you’ve cooked in it. This brings out the special ‘umami factor’, bringing extra richness and balance to the food, and reducing the need for salt and fat. There is some truth to this: the thick clay walls of the donabe store and release heat slowly, letting flavours suffuse a dish gently and thoroughly.

What donabe suits you best?

Donabes come in various shapes and sizes, and each one can be used in many different ways. We recommend a classic donabe if you’re starting out. It’s great for making mouthwatering stews, noodle soups or even your own tofu.

If you’re feeling more ambitious, there are also donabes that are designed for steaming, smoking and sautéing. We’ve written a complete guide to our range of donabes for those looking to experiment.

One of the best parts of making a donabe hot pot is that it’s easy to make a one-pot recipe, and serve directly from the donabe onto the plate. You simply put everything you would like to eat into the donabe and let it cook – perfect for when you need a delicious no-fuss dinner. Because of the porous properties of the clay, even simple white rice tastes sweeter and more fragrant after being cooked in a donabe. This quality has made donabe a favourite amongst home chefs in Japan, and given it a growing following worldwide.

Using your donabe hot pot

Before you use your donabe for the first time, you’ll need to prepare it by boiling rice in it. This is a simple process that takes about two hours. After this, your donabe will be yours for life. You can follow our simple instructions for preparing your donabe here.

Traditionally, Japanese donabe are best used over an open flame, like that of a gas or butane stove. However, there are also modern donabes for induction elements. This means you can make a donabe hot pot on an induction heater, too. When you buy donabe online, be sure to check that your donabe is right for your kitchen. Alternatively, you can buy a camping stove and use any donabe you like. There are many camping stoves available online, from the affordable to the deluxe

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