Tabletop cooking need no longer be relegated to special nights out at fancy teppanyaki restaurants, where smiling chefs send shrimp and vegetables flying through the air. If you can live without the theatrics, you can grill or have sukiyaki or shabu-shabu at home anytime. It’s a great family experience, and a wonderful way to entertain at home, allowing each family member or guest to add the meats or vegetables they desire to the pot or grill. We’ve done everything from fajitas, pancakes, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, Korean bulgogi and fish juhn, Japanese nabes and okonomiyaki, and this grilled Vietnamese style pork with rice vermicelli noodles.
Rather than buying an electric appliance that leaves you with a trailing electrical cord and extension to deal with, we recommend this simple butane stove that sits compactly on the table and has an easy-to-control flame. This model comes in a plastic case for carrying and storage, and retails here in Hawaii for less than $20. I have also seen sleek stainless steel models selling for closer to $70. The non-refillable butane cartridges are less than $2 a piece. If you’re having a hard time finding a butane stove, try a Korean or Japanese grocery. The added bonus, especially for we who live in hurricane-earthquake-tsunami prone areas, this doubles as a handy emergency stove. In fact, we bought this for that latter purpose and had it in the house for almost a year before the little light bulb went on over my head, and I remembered a dinner with friends who used a butane stove to grill bulgogi at the table. That was such a fun meal! Why not make everyday meals more fun, too?
The cookware you use for tabletop cooking should be pans that do NOT have a long handle. With one or more persons reaching toward the hot pans, a long handle is easy to tip over, catch in a sleeve, or bump. With hot liquids and oils, and an open flame, it is an invitation to disaster to use any pot, pan or wok with a long handle. Here are some safer options.
For grilling, this yakiniku grill is ideal. This model is non-stick and includes a drain hole for the excess grease (you need to put a small bowl at the drain point to catch the hot oil). We use this for fajitas, pancakes, yakiniku (literallly, “grilled meat” in Japanese), and okonomiyaki. It retails between $20-25 (in Hawaii, sometimes Long’s has it on sale too — same with the stove and butane cartridges). In a pinch, you could also use a shallow pan like the paella-style one we use for sukiyaki, below.
For soups and nabes, we used to use this 3 quart pot from All-Clad just because it was already in the kitchen, any similar pot will work. Recently we’ve acquired this beautiful stoneware nabe pot too. We make kimchee soup, nabes, and other quick soupy stew-like meals in these.
For sukiyaki and other braised dishes, this shallower paella-style pan from Calphalon works well. Photos of traditional cast-iron nabe and sukiyaki pans can be seen on this commercial site.
Here is a simple and tasty dish that’s perfect for entertaining or to liven up a weekend meal at home. Thin slices of pork (you can certainly use beef or chicken, as well) are marinated in a sweet lemongrass marinade, grilled and served atop a bed of rice vermicelli noodles (called bun, “buhn”) and fresh salad and herb base. Of course, you don’t have to grill the meat at the table — prepare it all in the kitchen and simply serve this delicious “Vietnamese noodle salad”!
VIETNAMESE BBQ PORK BUN
Recipe for 4 persons
Marinade for 1 lb. (450g) pork, beef, or chicken
1 TBL. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. cornstarch
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots or 1/2 small onion, minced (about 3 TBL.)
1 stalk lemongrass, peeled and tender parts minced
2 TBL. fish sauce
1 TBL. oil
Thinly slice (as for sukiyaki) pork or beef. (In these photos I used pork sliced for tonkatsu, but that’s too thick. Next time I’ll get a thinner slice, or pound this cut thinner.) Or slice and pound thin chicken breasts or thighs. Combine marinade ingredients and add meat. Let marinate at least 1 hour, and up to 3 hours.
10 oz. (280g) bean sprouts (moyashi)
1 large bunch Thai basil
1 large bunch mint
1 large bunch cilantro
4 stalks scallions, roots trimmed
1 Japanese cucumber
1 head Romaine or leaf lettuce
1 package of rice vermicelli, soaked in warm water 30 minutes or until pliable
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped (optional)
Carrot Pickle (recipe below)
Wash and pick leaves off basil, mint and cilantro. Rough chop herbs and scallions and set aside.
Peel cucumber. Cut off ends, then cut into quarters lengthwise. Cut off seeds, then julienne. Cut lengths into 2″ (5 cm) pieces. Set aside.
Wash and remove thick ends, if necessary. Julienne.
Blanch the soaked rice noodles in boiling water until they turn bright white, about 30 seconds. Drain and set aside.
Combine 3/4 of the herbs, cucumber and lettuce together. Place 1/4 of the salad in the bottom of a deep bowl (like a saimin or ramen bowl).
Coil 1/4 of the rice noodles over the salad in a mound.
Garnish noodles with remaining herbs, cucumber and Carrot Pickle (and peanuts, if using). Place garnished bowl, chopsticks and a small bowl with dipping sauce (Nuoc Nam, recipe below) in front of each diner.
Remove meat from marinade and arrange on serving platter. Lightly dab with paper towel to make sure it is not too wet (it will splatter in the hot oil).
Assemble the grill and place it where the cook can reach it safely (this meal is best prepared where one cook handles the raw meat, placing it on the grill — while other diners remove pieces to their bowls as the meat cooks). Set the grill pan securely on the stove notches to make certain it doesn’t move around or slip. Put a catch bowl at the oil drip spout, if necessary. Turn on grill and allow pan to heat to cooking temperature. Lightly oil grill and carefully place slices on the pan (do not drop pieces onto oil, which will splatter). Have a clean plate on hand to remove meat as it cooks, if the diners don’t keep pace with the cooking. Let folks remove cooked meat to their bowls and begin eating.
A final caveat: you have an open flame and hot liquids or oil on the table, so you do keep a close eye on the stove; and never allow young children to reach near the open flame. Also, since you’re cooking meats with some fat on them, there will still be some splattering from the grill, so all diners should be warned of the possibility of splatters, no mater how careful you are. It should go without saying, too, that you probably want to try this out before inviting friends to participate so you have a better idea of how far the splattering oil can reach.
This photo is BBQ pork bun from our favorite restaurant. (See how thin the meat is?)
More tabletop cooking to come . . .
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 TBL. sugar (I still use brown sugar)
6 TBL. fish sauce
2 TBL. lime juice
1/2 cup water
1 sliced serrano or bird’s eye chile (optional)
Stir well until sugar dissolves. Divide into 4 dipping bowls.
2 medium carrots, shredded or julienned
1 TBL. sugar
1/4 cup water
2 TBL. rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. sea salt
Sprinkle carrots with sugar. Leave for 15 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over carrots. Set aside until needed.