Donabe Buyer’s Guide
Choosing your first donabe
When it comes to choosing your first donabe, there are several important factors to consider. Donabes come in different shapes, sizes and materials, so it’s important to know what you want to use. That’s why Don Abe has put together this first-time buyer’s guide – to help you find the best beginner donabe for your kitchen.
What stove do you use?
The biggest question before you purchase a donabe hot pot is what type of stove you have in your home. Donabes are traditionally made of clay and are intended to be used on flame stoves, like gas stoves or barbecues. Unfortunately, this means that most donabes cannot be used with an induction stove, because the heat from an induction plate does not distribute as evenly through the clay. Luckily, the geniuses at Kinto have invented a kind of donabe that works just as well on an induction stove as on an open flame.
Induction heating donabes
The Kinto Kakomi range features a design of donabe for induction surfaces, meaning you can make a delicious donabe hot pot on a portable stove in no time at all. The Kakomi induction-plate donabes are available in 1.2 litre or 2.5 litre sizes.
All Japanese donabes are designed to withstand high heats, which means that you can use them directly over an open flame. This could be a gas stove, a barbeque, or even a small camp stove. They are also oven-proof, microwave-proof, and many can be stored safely in the fridge.
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What are you making?
All donabes can be used to make tasty one-pot meals. Japanese hot-pot is a great idea, of course. But you can also make tagines and French stews, too, and some donabes let you steam vegetables as you cook. There’s even a donabe that specialises in smoking meat and vegetables. Picking a donabe is thus also a matter of picking a cooking style that works for you.
The traditional use for a Japanese donabe is making donabe hot-pot, so almost all donabes can make very fine stews. But for all-around versatility, you can’t beat the Cocer, from 4th Market. It’s just as happy in the oven, on a barbecue, and on a gas stove. Of course, it comes in the classic donabe shape, so you can make all the traditional donabe recipes.
Steam and stew
Steaming is a healthy way to prepare meat and vegetables, as it keeps the nutrients locked in. Traditionally, Japanese chefs steam quickly and lightly, so that the original flavours stay present. Steaming donabes, like the Mushi Nabe from igá-monó and Kinto’s Kakomi, have a removable steaming plate. are capable of preparing classic donabe hotpots too.
Rice and stew
Developed in 2010, the Kamado-san rice-cooker from igá-monó has become an instant classic in Japan. Rice cooked in a Kamado comes out extra shiny and fluffy because of how the moisture stored in the ceramic is gradually released during the cooking process. Like with the steamers, the rice-cooking lid can be taken out, and you can use the donabe to make soups and stews.
igá-monó’s renowned Ibushi Gin has been a gift for people who want to achieve the delicate, smoky flavours of a barbecue without the space requirements of an actual barbecue. However, because its main use is to be filled with burning wood, we would recommend against using it for non-smoking purposes.
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In Japanese culture, nabe can simply mean the social activity of spending time making donabe stew with friends. So it’s important to think about how many people you want to make to make food for!
Of course, different meals require different amounts of space. A large donabe, like the 5-cup Kamado-san, can make perfect donabe rice for eight people. But if you’re using it to make a donabe hot-pot, the same same size better serves four people (as a rule of thumb, 500ml of volume for a donabe serves about one person). Of course, if you’re planning to have more people, it’s always possible to refill your donabe hot-pot as you go.
Donabe for 1-2 people
If it’s just the two of you, you can use any size donabe pot. However, if you’re just planning to use your donabe for simple home cooking after work, it can be more efficient to take a small, versatile donabe. The 2-cup Kamodo-san specialises in cooking rice, makes enough for four. It’s also large enough to comfortably make a Japanese hot-pot for 2 people.
For regular donabe one-pot cooking, we can also recommend the small induction-heating Kakomi donabe for stewing and steaming, and the small or medium Cocer donabe from 4th MARKET.
Donabe for 3-5 people
People with families need to cook larger quantities, so investing in a bigger pot is well worth the expense. Steaming vegetables in a medium-sized Mushi Nabe or large Kakomi is a fast and practical way to get greens on everyone’s plate, while the large Cocer has everyone covered for stew. The 3-cup Kamado-san makes shiny, fluffy donabe rice for about 5 people.
If you’re going to be more than 5, then the 5-cup Kamado-san makes enough rice for eight people. The Mushi nabe steamer is deep enough to make a large stew, but it’s more important for its steaming function. Steaming is fast, so you can keep refilling it with fresh meat and vegetables as the meal goes on. This way, you can easily make a large variety of meals with just rice and fresh produce.