Japanese, Recipes
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Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake. The word okonomiyaki means “what you like, cooked”. Accordingly there are many types and variations — most have cabbage and some sort of batter; often pork is included, though sometimes seafood is used. The recipe below is for a type invented in Osaka which is the most commonly found type throughout Japan. Lots of toppings are added, most commonly: a sweet-salty sauce (okonomiyaki sauce or tonkatsu sauce), mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and aonori (seaweed powder). You can draw designs with themayonnaise or marble the sauces with a toothpick . When the tissue-thin bonito flakes are put on top of the hot pancake, they appear to “dance” — they move about from the hot air rising.

The version below uses thinly sliced pork belly (available at Japanese markets) — the notes at the end of the recipe explain how to substitute ground pork or minced shrimp. My favorites are the pork belly and the ground pork versions. I don’t recommend substituting bacon because its flavor is very strong; it overwhelms the pancake and tends to make the entire pancake taste like bacon. The sauces and toppings are some of the best parts of the pancake, and these stand out more against the more delicately flavored pork belly. Toasted (dark-colored) sesame oil is used to cook the pancakes; it can be used for cooking on medium heat (not high heat since it has low smoking point).

The recipe below specifies the brand names of two items: Bulldog brand tonkatsu sauce and Kewpie brand mayonnaise. Although you can substitute other brands (or even homemade), my preference is for these sauces since they are the most popular brands and are icons. Okonomiyaki sauce is too thick and sweet for my tastes; Bulldog brand tonkatsu sauce has the perfect balance of saltiness and sweetness. Kewpie mayonnaise is smoother, creamier, and has less oil than American mayonnaise; it has a tang from apple and malt vinegar and comes in a soft squeeze bottle which is perfect for making thin ribbons on top of the okonomiyaki.

Leftovers keep for one day, but they won’t be as good as a freshly made pancake. If you make extra pancakes, it is easy to reheat them if the toppings are left off; store in the refrigerator, re-pan fry to heat up, and then add all the toppings. If the leftovers have the toppings on them, I usually don’t reheat them — eating cold leftover pancakes for breakfast the next morning is one of my guilty pleasures.

Source: Adapted from “Osaka-Style Okonomiyaki” from “Japanese Soul Cooking” by Tadashi Ono & Harris Salat.

Okonomiyaki

  • Servings: Serves 4 (Makes 4 pancakes). Recipe can easily be halved or quartered.
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Dry Ingredients for the Batter:

  • 2 cups flour (unsifted)
  • 2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp sugar

Wet Ingredients for the Batter:

Additional Ingredients:

  • 1 lbs green cabbage
  • (optional) 1 cup tenkasu (crunchy bits of deep fried flour-batter bits)
  • toasted sesame oil, enough to thinly coat the pan
  • 8 oz very thinly sliced pork belly (preferably sliced about 1/32 to 1/16 of an inch thick) or 1/2 lbs ground pork

Toppings:

  • about 4 Tbsp Bulldog-brand Tonkatsu Sauce
  • about 4 Tbsp Kewpie-brand mayonnaise
  • about 4 Tbsp aonori
  • about 4 Tbsp dried, shaved bonito

Mix the dry batter ingredients. Add the wet batter ingredients and mix until just barely combined. The batter should be thick, stiff, and clumpy. It is okay if the batter is unevenly mixed or if there is a small amount of unmixed flour or unincorporated egg; don’t over mix. If you have time, let the batter rest for 2 to 3 hours at room temperature (place it in the refrigerator for longer storage times).

Remove the core of the cabbage and the thick veins from the cabbage leaves — the pancake comes out nicer when these tough parts are removed. You can either cut the cabbage into 1/2-inch squares (this makes an airier lighter pancake — don’t chop the cabbage too finely since the larger squares give it heft) or shred the cabbage into thin strips about 1/4-inch wide and 2 to 3 inches long (this size makes the pancake become more of a cohesive unit and blends the tastes more). The cabbage pieces don’t need to be precise or consistent; aim for approximately the suggested size.

If you have a grill pan which covers two burners or several pans (preferably cast iron), you can cook multiple pancakes at the same time. If you only have one pan, then cook each pancake separately. Preheat the grill pan(s) or cast iron pan(s) on medium low.

Mix the tenkasu into pancake batter just before cooking — this keeps the tenkasu crunchy. Add the cabbage and tenkasu to the bowl containing the batter. If using ground pork, break it up into small clumps and add it to the bowl. Gently mix until the cabbage is coated with batter and everything is evenly distributed.

Lightly coat the pan(s) with toasted sesame oil. To make each pancake, spoon out 1/4 of the batter on to the pan. Use two spatulas to gently press the sides of pancake so that it forms a circular shape about 6 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick. Don’t push down on the pancake too much; you want a fluffy pancake. If you are making several pancakes at the same time, spoon out each pancake into a separate area; the pancakes don’t spread out much, but you need enough space to be able to turn them and they should not be touching. If using the pork belly slices, lay enough pork belly slices over the top to cover the pancake in a single layer.

The pancake will be cooked for about 5 minutes on the first side, 5 minutes on the second side, and 5 minutes on which ever side needs more browning or split the time between both sides. The exact time depends on the temperature and thickness of the pancake; cooking time will be about 15 minutes in total. More detailed instructions for this step are below:

  • Begin by cooking for 5 minutes on the first side; while it is cooking occasionally slide the spatula underneath the pancake to loosen and then rotate the pancake once or twice so that it doesn’t get excessively brown in particular spots or unevenly cooked.
  • Use two broad spatulas or fish spatulas to flip the pancakes. Don’t press the pancakes down after flipping since you want tall pancakes. If you are unable to flip it using spatulas, you can place it on a plate, put another plate on top, and flip the two plates over in order to turn the pancake upside down before returning it to the pan.
  • Tuck any stray bits back into the pancake after flipping. Gently press any parts that break off back into the pancake. The first side of the pancake should be gently browned; adjust the heat if it is too high or low. Cook the pancake on the second side for 5 minutes, rotating once or twice.
  • Very thin slices of pork belly won’t release much fat, but thicker slices will. If the pork belly releases a thick pool of oil or fat, mop up the excess with a paper towel. Otherwise, the hot oil or fat may splatter and burn you when you flip the pancake.
  • Flip the pancake back on to the first side and check the amount of browning on the second side; cook for the final 5 minutes on which ever side needs more browning or split the cooking between the sides. Rotate occasionally.
  • When it is nearly done, check that the batter is cooked through by sticking a chopstick, skewer, or cake tester into the center. When it is cooked through, the tester should come out dry (it doesn’t always come out clean, but it should be mostly clean). If using a Thermapen, you can also use the inside temperature to judge doneness — it should be hot enough to cook ground pork through. The cooked pancake should be lightly browned on both sides, the pork should be cooked through, and the cabbage should be tender but still have some crunch; ideally the outside of the pancake should be crispy and the inside should be moist, tender, and gooey but cooked through.

Place each pancake on a plate, pork belly side up. Squeeze about 1 Tbsp of Bulldog Tonkatsu Sauce over the top, either in thin ribbons or spread evenly all over. Squeeze about 1 Tbsp of mayonnaise over the top in thin ribbons. Optionally use a toothpick to marble the tonkatsu sauce and mayonnaise. Sprinkle about 1 Tbsp of bonito flakes over and then garnish with 1 Tbsp aonori. Increase or decrease any of the toppings as you prefer.

Serve immediately while the pancake is hot. The tissue-thin bonito flakes may dramatically move and appear to “dance” from the hot air rising and steam.

Repeat cooking pancakes until you have used up all the batter.

Variations:

  • Substitute the pork belly with 1 lbs cleaned, peeled, minced shrimp or 1/4 lbs thinly sliced squid tubes (4 squid tubes) and 1/2 lbs cleaned, peeled, minced shrimp. Mix it in with the cabbage and pancake batter.
  • Add 2/3 cup kim chee.
  • Add 4 tsp Beni shōga (thin strips of pickled ginger, usually dyed red) to the cabbage and pancake batter just before cooking (adding it earlier to the moist batter will cause the dye to bleed).
  • Add 1/2 cup grated nagaimo (Japanese mountain yam).
  • Add some minced scallions to the batter.

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