It’s that time of year when food cravings for most of us in Japan turn to thoughts of steaming nabemono hot pots. The clear, savory broth of the chicken nabe made by Toritsune in Tokyo, accented with the citrusy tang of ponzu, is one of the tastiest treats of these colder months. Third-generation owner Akihiko Yamamoto tells us more about their recipe.
A Chicken (or Two) in Every Pot
My grandfather ran a poultry shop at street level and a restaurant on the second floor; customers could also order oyakodon (chicken and egg over rice) and other dishes for takeaway. My father closed the meat shop to concentrate on the restaurant business, and opened our branch in Soto Kanda.
Thanks to its location across from Yushima Tenjin, our main restaurant receives a lot of business from visitors to the shrine.
November, when the annual chrysanthemum festival takes place, is always busy. Throughout the winter months we see a steady rush of students who come to pray for their success in entrance exams, and of course we have our regulars, too.
In the summer our customers come not for hot pots but for our oyakodon. We serve two, sometimes three, types of free-range pedigree chicken in each hot pot. The photos here show Nagoya Kochin and Hinai Jidori from Aichi and Akita prefectures. We also use Okukuji Shamo from Ibaraki.
We purchase the fowl whole and do the butchering ourselves. The thighs, heart, and liver go into the hot pots; the rest goes into our stock, which we slow-simmer for two hours. Its only other ingredient is water-nice and simple.
We make our meatballs from thigh meat, grinding it twice and mincing it further on the cutting board before adding egg yolk. At our Shizendo branch in Soto Kanda, waitstaff cook the hot pot at your table, beginning with the cuts of meat, then adding the vegetables and meatballs in turn. But the atmosphere at our main restaurant is more relaxed. Most of our clientele here are regulars, born and raised in this part of town. They’re a no-fuss lot, and prefer to do the cooking themselves, at their own pace.
Why the different types of pedigree chicken? Back in 1990, our main supplier ended its business, and we decided to source the best poultry that was available ourselves. At the time, not many restaurants were offering free-range fowl. Ever since, we’ve been purchasing directly from the poultry farms.
Our customers enjoy the chance to compare the different pedigrees in one hot pot-the texture and umami are quite different. For oyakodonburi we use Daisen-dori from Tottori. Its plump, juicy meat is just right for this dish.