How to Season a Donabe and Cook With it

If you ever have a conversation with someone who recently visited Japan, one thing they will always talk about is their food. Japanese cuisines are famous worldwide: sushi or ramen, for naming a few. 

Japanese food stands out because of its blend of flavor, rigorous preparation, and traditional techniques. They cook and serve in clay pots. These unique clay pots are called Donabe. 

If you have decided to use them for an exquisite Japanese culinary experience, let us look at how to season it and cook with it! 

Closeup of a platter with Japanese food

What is a Donabe?

Despite having all these modern nonstick pans and pots, clay pots have their significance in every culture. Japan has been using its unique form of clay pots since the 8th century, and they call these Donabes. Donabe is considered the best cooking vessel in Japan. These pots are from heat resistant soil of lake Biwa. The clay used in its production can retain heat. It makes it ideal for not only cooking but for serving dishes too. 

Kimchi soup

You can tenderize the hardest of vegetables and meat in these pots without losing their minerals. Due to its ability to retain heat, many restaurants use these as serving dishes. They save you from the hassle of heating the food again and again. As who likes cold food?   

They are glazed on the inside to avoid the food from sticking on the sides and porous on the outside, making them the best heat conductor. These traditional earthenware pots have an aesthetically pleasing art on the outside, making them the perfect addition to your dinner table.

How to Season a Donabe?

As we know that the clay used in making donabe, the pot has pores. Due to the porous texture, water sometimes leaks through the holes while cooking. So, to keep the moisture inside, you will have to seal them, or else the pot might break apart when exposed to high flames. Seasoning is done before using it for the first time and is a one-time process. Here is how you can do it: 

  • Wash the clay pot with water and soap.  
  • Using a towel, dry the pot inside out.
  • Make sure it is as dry as a bone before you start the process. 
  • Fill more than half of the donabe with water.
  • Add cooked rice; one-fifth of the volume of water. 
  • Cover the donabe and put it on low-medium heat for about 25 minutes. 
  • Remove the lid but keep heating the water and rice mixture unless it becomes a thick paste.
  • Keep stirring the mixture while it cooks to avoid burning at the bottom.
  • There is no need to boil the mixture. Just bring it to a simmer. 
  • With a spoon, spread the rice pudding all around the pot. 
  • Remove the mixture and wash your donabe.
  • Place the pot upside down to remove any moisture before storing it.

How to Cook With a Donabe?

Now that you have seasoned your donabe, it is time to try out some traditional Japanese dishes. Donabes help you to prepare one-pot family dishes to be shared at the dinner table. Other than white rice, you can make numerous dishes in a donabe. Follow the tips before you try out the recipes below:

  • Do not heat a donabe without liquid inside, or else the bottom will burn.
  • Increase the temperature gradually. A sudden temperature change will crack the clay pot.
  • Do not use oil or fry in a donabe. It will ruin the coating. 
  • Do not keep the pot soaked in water for long hours as the clay might get damaged and break.
  • If properly looked after, donabe last for years. Locals believe, the older the donabe, the more the flavor in your food. Using a donabe is easy and fun, so order one for yourself and enjoy steam hot and delicious cultural food at home.  

Some dishes to try at first:

1. Nabemono  

Nabemono dishes are popular hotpot dishes in Japan. We serve them in winters. They are combinations of vegetables, meat, tofu, seafood, and other seasonal ingredients. 

Seafood and soups served

  • Cook spinach in boiling water for a minute or two. 
  • Squeeze the water and cut the spinach into 1-inch lengths. 
  • Combine dashi stock, salt, soy sauce, and mirin in your donabe. 
  • Put the donabe on medium flame, and it cooks.
  • Add chicken to the soup and wait for it to cook.
  • Add udon noodles to the soup. 
  • Place the boiled spinach on top and let it simmer for a while.
  • Add Negi slices and crack an egg on the top. 
  • Cover the donabe and let the steam do the work.
  • You can now enjoy the udon straight out of the pot.  

2. Salmon Ikora & donabe rice 

Salmon and crispy rice? It is a must-try recipe and for sure the easiest one. Check what you need to do: 

  • Add water to the donabe and let it simmer.
  • Add rinsed and soaked rice in the water for about 30 minutes  
  • Drain out the water.
  • With the rice at the bottom of the donabe, add dashi, mirin, soy sauce, ginger, and shiitake.
  • Top it all with finely cut salmon.  
  • Cover the pot and let it cook on high heat for about 12-15 minutes.
  • Remove the lid garnish with caviar or ikura.
  • Serve hot while the steam is still coming out.

3. Tofu beef with Miso Soup  

This miso-based soup prepared on dry Mongolian leaf is a classic dish that originated from the Gifu maintains of japan. You can make it fresh at home:

  • Wash and soak the Mongolian leaf in water for around 30 minutes, and then dry it.
  • Marinate the beef with sake and marinade, preferably for a few hours.
  • Whisk together miso, mirin, and sugar to make miso soup 
  • Place the Mongolian leaf in the donabe and pour the miso soup over it.
  • Gracefully place the shiitake and beef slices on top. 
  • Cook it on medium heat until everything is well done.
  • Garnish with green onions and sansho.
  • Serve in the donabe steaming hot.
  • You can also add mushrooms for extra flavor.

Choosing Your Donabe 

Even if you are new to Japanese cuisines and customs, learning to use a donabe will be the easiest step. However, the first step is to choose a donabe that suits your needs. Here a little walk through the basics of a donabe. Donabes are available in numerous different sizes and shapes, so before purchasing your first donabe. Below are two things you should consider:

1. Your stove 

Donabes are from clay. Hence, require flame stoves to spread the heat evenly and work effectively. If you plan to use your donabe clay pot on an induction stove, that might not be a good idea. Hence if you want to work with the traditional Japanese clay pots, you will need a gas or barbeque stove. Some donabe work well on induction stoves too. So select your donabe depending on the type of stove available in your kitchen.  

2. Your meal  

Every type of donabe works for gas stoves and high flames. However, there are numerous Donabe available in the market for different cooking techniques. For instance, some clay pots are for baking and a quick simmer before serving.  

Some chefs prefer steaming their vegetables to keep the nutrients locked in: for this purpose, there are steaming-donabe available. 

There is a rice cooker Donabe type to prepare all-time favorite Japanese dishes of rice and stew. They are usually ceramic as ceramic holds the moisture, preparing shiny and fluffy rice. Some donabe features burning woods and let you enjoy the smokey flavor in your food. They are famous for barbeque-flavored Japanese cuisine at home.    

The Bottomline

With Donabe, you can enjoy a homely Japanese cuisine experience in its true essence. With our guide, you can now seamlessly season and cook it in. We have also covered three quick beginner recipes with tips to master the seasoning! 

Don’t forget to go through some tips on choosing the right donabe. Happy cooking and serving!