“Okimiaki” was the one word message Joe sent me one Tuesday night during his office hours. My response, “huh?” seemed appropriate, poor guy, he has been working too much I thought. His response was “Japanese pancake made w cabbage- I want to make them”.
Okay, that was a new one for me, I thought I knew quite a bit about Japanese cooking so I did what everyone does these days, I Googled it. No appropriate response for the okimiaki spelling but when I googled “Japanese pancake” I started getting some information.
Joe heard about the Japanese pancake from a patient of his who is a chef and a writer. She and some friends were making them for a party. It was something new for both of us. I have quite a few Japanese cookbooks that go beyond the typical sushi and sashimi recipes, none gave any reference to Japanese pancakes or okonomiyaki as they are also called. I even called on a friend who travelled to Japan this past spring to see if she could give me any insight but she was not familiar with this now puzzling dish.
I learned that okonomiyaki is Japanese street food made popular in the cities of Osaka and Hiroshima. Because of it’s shape, it is sometimes referred to as Japanese pizza or pancake in the United States. The ingredients in an Osaka style okonomiyaki are mixed together while the ingredients in a Hiroshima style are layered and topped with noodles and a fried egg. Okonomi is translated “what you like” and “yaki” is grilled or cooked, so okonomiyaki is essentially “cooked as you like it.” The one thing they all have in common is a pancake like batter and shredded cabbage, the rest is up to the cook to make the pancake “as they like it”. There is special okonomiyaki flour, the only difference I could find in it were the special seasonings and possibly some powdered yamaimo, Japanese yam. Yamaimo’s gelatinous texture gives the pancake added fluffiness.
The “as you like it” aspect can get interesting and I have seen recipes include shrimp, squid, pork belly, cheese and vegetarian options. How you top your pancake is equally important and might include chopped scallions, sesame seeds with a flourish of okonomi or tonkatsu sauce and Kewpie mayonnaise. Bottled tonkatsu with the red bull dog on the label is also labeled “vegetable and fruit sauce” but you have to read down the list of ingredients a bit to find either. I presume the brown color is from the prune paste. There are also recipes on line for tonkatsu sauce. You will find Kewpie mayonnaise on the Asian aisle in larger supermarkets. It has a Kewpie doll with outstretched arms on the package. It differs from our good old fashioned Hellman’s with it’s use of rice vinegar, giving it more tang and MSG to up the umami flavor.
I spent quite a bit of time contemplating what recipe to use. I wanted to stay fairly basic for our first attempt and decided on an Osaka style recipe from Serious Eats. We, or as I should really say, Joe made them on a sashimi night which is a weekend night when we recreate some of our favorite sashimi recipes using salmon, scallops and tuna. His efforts turned out quite good, the first was topped with bacon, then he got a little more creative and topped the second with seared tuna. We finished them off with tonkatsu sauce, mayo (not Kewpie) with sriracha, toasted sesame seeds and pickled ginger. The combination of the crispy exterior and soft interior is quite addictive and very filling. We had enough for a breakfast okonomiyaki for Joe and smaller ones for dinner the next day. Would we try them again? Not every week, but definitely.
Makes 4 large pancakes
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/3 cups dashi or low-sodium chicken stock
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 8 cups finely chopped cabbage-we used a combination of green and red
- 2 cups chopped raw shrimp or baby shrimp
- 8 scallions, sliced, divided
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 8 slices bacon, sliced in half- the second, slices of seared tuna
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Kewpie Mayonnaise or sriracha mayo
- Okonomiyaki or tonkatsu sauce
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Pickled ginger
- In a large bowl whisk together flour, dashi or stock, and eggs. Add chopped cabbage and mix so that the cabbage is gently folded into the batter. Fold in shrimp and scallion whites then season with salt.
Heat 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat until shimmering. Add 1/4 of the batter, gently pushing the batter down with a spatula until flattened. Cook until underside is browned, about 4 minutes, then place 4 pieces of halved bacon on the top side. Gently flip the pancake so that the side with the bacon is now cooking. Cook until the bacon is crisp and the pancake is cooked through, about 5 more minutes. Serve immediately with mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce, toasted sesame seeds, pickled ginger, and scallion greens. Repeat with remaining pancakes.