If I were transported to another time and place, no doubt I’d be poised above some treacherously fanged animal with glinting spear in hand, courage in my belly and the iron-rich taste of meat on my mind. This week I have been on a hunt- the hot pursuit of fat, the energy filled calorie, and the ripe marrow of flesh. I have been hard at work with Jack, my steely eyed Slavic trainer (physical therapist) who silently pushes me to the next arduous level of rehabilitation. My essence has dwindled down like the rapidly burning wax of a candle and this depletion has necessitated the need to refuel ad infinitum. My down time is now filled with vivid images of crimson red steaks, piles of glossy doughnuts plucked from a roiling vat of fat and buckets of strawberry milkshake. Triumphant horns from the theme song of Rocky and the fleshy slaps of Rocky Balboa punching inert sides of beef provide a lively backdrop of testosterone and adrenaline to fuel my work and recovery.
In between fortifying my food with flax seed oil, drinking cups of cocoa capped with cream and consuming an obscene number of omelets, I cannot help to marvel at the power and girth of my expanding appetite. I am stalking prey.
Following the path of hunger requires the same skills as a hunter: lithe agile instincts, rapt attention, patience and stillness and a fluid mind able to read the tracks. While one part of me expends energy out, beats my chest and lets out guttural groans of exertion, another part bends inward listening to the quiet of my microcosmic world. My fluctuating appetite coincides with the needs of my corporeal mass and this mass wants to stretch, expand and soar.
Another part of this truth is that my body has been in hibernation, a slow peaceful sleep and is just a touch recalcitrant and stiff. I feel as though I must woo the mitochondria of my cells and massage the fibers of my muscles to encourage them to be fruitful and multiply. I need some help to keep me nourished and motivated. What I need is a food that imbues me with primeval power and symbolic meaning. I need Chanko-nabe or Sumo Stew.
Buta Chanko-nabe Miso Aji adapted from Nov 2002 issue of Saveur
Serves 4 or 1 Sumo wrestler
Chanko-nabe is a filling and nutritious throw-it-down in a pot meal famous for fattening up wrestlers. While the ingredients themselves are not particularly caloric, it is how they eat that packs on the weight. These athletes exercise strenuously without breakfast and then eat a large lunch followed by a long nap and then a large dinner. Avoid this routine if massive weight gain is not desired.
4 dried shrimp
3” piece of kombu
Grated knob of ginger
4 dried shitake mushroom
1lb. thinly sliced pork belly
3 Tbs. Sake
2 Tbs. Mirin
6 Tbs. Brown Rice Miso
10 C cold water
1 carrot peeled and sliced into diagonal chips
1 small daikon radish, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into ½” slices
1 medium onion, halved and cut into slices
4 green onions cut into 2” pieces
10 oz. firm tofu cut into 2” chunks
¼ head of napa cabbage cut into 2” pieces
4 cups steamed Japanese short grain rice or 1 lb cooked udon noodles
2 eggs lightly beaten
Directions: Bring water to a boil in a medium sized pot and add shrimp, kombu, mushrooms and ginger. Reduce heat to a simmer and add sake, mirin and pork belly. Cook until pork is tender, 15-25 minutes and reserve meat. Add carrots, daikon and onion and cook until tender. At this point pull out the mushrooms, de-stem them and slice the caps. Add the sliced Shitakes back in. Next add the green onion, tofu and cabbage and cook until tender. Pull out about 1 cup of broth to make a slurry with the miso. Pour the mixture back into the soup. Lightly pour in the egg and stir. Ladle the hot pot into medium sized bowls full of rice or udon. Eat strenuously then nap.