Ever heard of oden before? From a distance, it doesn't look like much. The dish appears to be a collection of jiggling beige-hued shapes-- some rounded, some cubical, some resembling chicken nuggets-- simmering quietly in a large and somewhat shallow pot. A few components are discernable as hard boiled eggs, chunks of simmered radish, and small bundles of glassy shirataki noodles. The entire thing smells warm, salty and slightly fishy, but in that sort of comforting way that cup ramen does when you first pour hot water over it. You ladle a few promising-looking shapes, an egg and a chunk of radish into a small bowl and take a bite. The shapes, it turns out, are fish cakes, and when you're done you feel not just full, but warmed up from the inside out. This, is oden.
In a more technical sense, oden is a type of one-pot stew-type dish that is a very popular winter-time food in Japan. Like, considered to be a quintessential-food-of-the-season level popular. Oden usually consists of a few different types of fish cake, fried tofu, konnyaku (yam cake), daikon radish pieces, hard-boiled eggs and tofu-wrapped mochi all simmered for hours in a gentle fish and seaweed based broth called dashi. Ingredients can vary by region and occasionally things like beef tendon, octopus, and giant green onion pieces are included. During the winter in Japan, food carts, stands, and convenience stores all dedicate themselves to selling the stuff by the cup. The cups are often customizable, with the attendants happy to fill them with only your favorite ingredients.
On top of having a wonderful taste, oden is also fairly simple to prepare. While all the ingredients, from the broth to fish cakes, can be made from scratch, it is very common to find pre-made “oden sets” in Japanese or general Asian grocery stores. A typical oden set includes the full variety of fish cakes, fish balls, tofu cakes and mochi bags and takes the guess-work out of deciding which ingredients to include. Oden broth can also be purchased pre-made, either as a general concentrated dashi stock, or as specific boxed oden powder. Use the following recipe to make quick and easy oden right at home!
How To Make Oden
Prep time: 1 hr
Cook time: 3 hrs
Total: 4 hrs
1 packet of S&B oden seasoning and soup mix
5 cups water
1 frozen Kibun no Kisetsu oden set (contains chikuwa, hanpen, tsumire, fish balls, tofu and mochi-kinchaku pouches) defrosted
½ daikon radish
1 package black konnyaku
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
1 tokyo negi, cut into 3-inch pieces
Spicy karashi mustard (optional)
First, prepare the oden components:
Peel the skin from the daikon
Cut daikon into inch-thick slices
Using a knife, bevel the top edge of each daikon slice. This will prevent the slices from coming apart in the broth.
Parboil the daikon slices until they are soft enough to be pierced by a toothpick. This step is optional, but may help to reduce the smell from the cooking daikon slices later. Simmering daikon has an unusual odor that may be unappetizing to those unfamiliar with the smell.
Set the daikon pieces aside.
Slice the konnyaku into triangles
Parboil the konnyaku for 1 minute, then set aside.
Briefly (no more than 30 seconds!) dip each of the fried fish cakes into the boiling water to remove the excess oil, then set aside.
Diagonally cut the chikuwa (the long tube-shaped fish cake) into 3-4 pieces
Then, prepare the broth:
Bring 5 cups of water to boil in a large stock pot
Add one packet of S&B oden soup mix and stir until powder dissolves.
Reduce to low heat
Once the ingredients are ready, combine them in the following order:
Place daikon slices, tokyo negi slices, hard boiled eggs, and konnyaku into the broth and simmer, covered, for 2-3 hours, periodically skimming any fat that accumulates on top.
After the daikon, negi, eggs and konnyaku have had ample time to simmer, add the fish cakes, fish balls, tofu and mochi-kinchaku from the oden set.
Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes.
Serve oden hot in a pick-and-mix fashion with a scoop of broth for flavor and a small dot of karashi mustard for spice. Like most simmered dishes, the flavor of oden will continue to deepen as the ingredients sit together, making it taste even better the next day. Oden will actually keep for several days, provided that it is adequately covered, refrigerated, and reheated between servings. If you find yourself running low on broth, simply mix a fresh batch and toss it in a stock pot with your remaining fish cakes and like. Many oden shops in Japan use this method to create a deeply flavorful “master stock” out of broth that has been saved and replenished over the course of years. No matter how you choose to prepare it, oden is wonderful winter treat that warms you even on the coldest days.
[Editor's note: Updated Febrary, 2021]