A donabe is a thick Japanese clay pot, which is used to cook a hot pot. It can be cooked on stove top. But once the food is cooked, the pot can be moved to the table and act as a serving pot. People at the table take food from the pot individually.
Hot pot is very popular in Japan particularly in cold winter months. It’s warm, quick, easy, economical, communal, and the ultimate one pot cooking. In our household, we cook donabe dish about once a week in winter.
Hot pot is cooked with meat (chicken) or sea food, vegetables, mushrooms, and noodles in dashi broth. Some recipe add flavors to the soup itself, but others use dipping sauce. Traditional ones are mizutaki, yudofu (tofu warmed up in kombu dashi), stewed udon noodles, yosenabe, etc. And because of its popularity, new recipes are constantly being added, such as tomato-nabe, soy milk-nabe, kimchi-nabe, curry-nabe. I will be introducing those recipes on my site. But the bottom line is there is no wrong way to prepare nabemono.
Other than using a donabe for hot pot, it can can be used to cook rice. I have a basic congee recipe here. As it doesn’t have any timer or thermostat attached, you have to adjust the amount of water and heat manually in old fashion way. But rice made in donabe tastes really delicious. I’ve also seen a French cooking cheese fondu in a donabe.
Donabe is thick, heavy and durable. It can take direct heat, and won’t break or crack easily. But if you heat it when the outside of the vessel is wet, it cracks. So that make sure to wipe off the outside before setting it on stove.
But even if you crack it, don’t panic. As long as water doesn’t leak, you can repair it by cooking rice in it. Simmer a handful of uncooked rice with a potful of water until the rice grains disappear. Leave it for 24 hours and let the glue seeps into the crack to repair the damage. If water leaks, you can’t cook with it any longer, unfortunately.
When you buy a donabe, make sure to buy the right size for your household. Look for the indication of how many people can be served by it. You can find a donabe at Japanese stores. I am not certain other Asian stores carry it. If you can’t find, here are the online links of donabe;