If you don’t know okonomiyaki yet (I have written about it here and here), I will repeat what I have said in one of my posts: this messy-looking dish is one of the most brilliant inventions of the Japanese cuisine. Easy, quick, versatile and full of flavours, it is a dish one falls in love with at first bite and becomes instantly addicted to. Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き ), often called “Japanese pancake” or “Japanese pizza”, means more or less “grill what you like” (“okonomi” means “what you like/want” and ”yaki” means here “grilled”). In fact, apart from a regular “basis”, different ingredients can be added and okonomiyaki restaurants offer a whole range of versions. I have fallen in love with okonomiyaki at the first bite, it has become the most frequent Japanese dish I prepare and never get tired of it after dozens of meals. I have to say once more that this is one of those Japanese dishes which could become famous and loved all around the world due to its versatile ingredients and the lack of obligatory “exotic” products.
As a reminder, okonomiyaki is composed of three parts: the batter, the filling and the toppings. The batter has two main regional versions: Kansai (Osaka) style, according to which pancake batter is mixed with shredded cabbage, and Hiroshima style, which contains also noodles. I “practice” only the former which is lighter and easier to prepare. Beef, pork, dried shrimp and squid are the most popular ingredients added to the basic mixture, which is formed into a thick circle and fried or grilled. In Japanese restaurants clients grill the mixture of their choice over a smooth teppanyaki grill and I remember my okonomiyaki lunch as lots of fun.
Just before serving, okonomiyaki is topped with different ingredients. My favourite – and now obligatory – are mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce (which I prepare with a mixture of ketchup, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce), katsuobushi (dried shaved bonito, hated by many Westerners) and chives or spring onions. I also like to spice it up, adding hot paste, hot oil, chili bean sauce… Many people serve pickled ginger on top, but I prefer to serve it aside.
Visit Hiroyuki’s Blog on Japanese Cooking, Nami’s Just One Cookbook, Robert-Gilles’s Shizuoka Gourmet, Arudhi’s A Box of Kitchen to learn more about other okonomiyaki versions and Charles’s Five Euro Food to see a very European interpretation.
Since I discovered how to make okonomiyaki (here I must thank once more Hiroyuki, Nami, Robert-Gilles, Arudhi and Charles, who inspired me greatly with their different okonomiyaki versions), I must have prepared at least dozen different permutations (I have posted only two of them: first one with eringi mushrooms, bacon and dried shrimp and another one, with chicken). Nowadays fried pieces of chicken breast are my absolute favourite addition to the batter, although a Japanese friend told me this is unheard of in Japan. Anyway, I can add what I want, can’t I? As for toppings, these never change.
Bok choy, or pak choy (“chingensai” チンゲンサイ in Japanese) is not a traditional okonomiyaki ingredient . I only use it in stir-fries, so my choice of pak choy was purely accidental: it was late and my shop ran out of cabbage, but had beautiful, fresh bok choy. It is softer and much more delicate than white cabbage, therefore I worried it would become mushy and lose its delicate taste. I was wrong of course! Bok choy’s stalks were still slightly crunchy, the taste was subtler and made this okonomiyaki seem lighter and fresher. It was a nice change from the regularly used cabbage and I was glad to discover a new way to use bok choy. Needless to say, if you are familiar with okonomiyaki, I encourage you to try it with bok choy and if you are not, do try preparing any of the versions, such as these:
TIPS: Okonomiyaki batter mixture in powder can be bought in Japanese grocery shops or prepared from the scratch. Personally I am happy to prepare it from the scratch since it takes two minutes and I’m sure it tastes better. I have seen different batter recipes. Mine is composed of an egg, flour, dashi (Japanese stock), salt, pepper, baking powder and, last but not least, grated mountain yam (or yamaimo in Japanese), a slimy cousin of the potato (I find it in organic shops but it is sold in Asian groceries too) and I sometimes add a splash of milk. Both yam and dashi are not obligatory. When I don’t have yam or dashi, I simply omit them, trying to keep the same pancake-like texture (milk can be used instead of dashi). The result is still delicious, albeit slightly different.
Okonomioyaki mixture (with the cabbage) can be prepared in advance and fried/grilled the following day. As an addict, I often make a bigger batch and have it two days in a row. (Actually I even had it recently for three meals in a row: a lunch, a dinner and a lunch the following day…).
Special equipment: a big pancake spatula is very useful to flip okonomiyaki
Preparation: 40 minutes
Ingredients (serves 2):
5 slightly heaped tablespoons flour
3 cm/about 1,2 in grated mountain yam (yamaimo) (can be omitted, but then less flour should be added)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
10 bok choy leaves and stalks (or more if the bok choy is small) chopped or finely cubed
1 chicken breast
1 tablespoon oil
dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
okonomiyaki sauce (or a mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce)
chopped chives or spring onions
2 tablespoons oil
(chili paste, oil or sauce, such as Taberu Rayu)
Cut up the chicken breast into small cubes (1 cm x 1 cm). Season with salt and pepper, fry until golden brown and put aside.
In a big bowl combine the batter ingredients. Add the filling ingredients and adjust their amount (the mixture should be very thick, not liquid and the batter should only bind the ingredients together and not dominate them).
Heat one tablespoon oil in a frying pan or on a smooth grill (called teppanyaki grill or la plancha).
Put half of the okonomiyaki mixture in a more or less round-shaped heap (you can adjust it on the pan).
Flatten delicately the pancake, but not too much. Otherwise it might fall into pieces when you turn it over. (My okonomiyaki is max. 1,5 cm/about 1/2 inch high)
Cover the pan and let it fry at medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes until you see the upper part of batter set. If you use an old-fashioned pan (steel or iron), you might have to turn down the heat to the lowest because it might burn.
Flip the pancake over, cover once more and fry for another 5 minutes.
Repeat the same with the remaining batter mixture.
Serve topped with (I always do it in this order): okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, dried bonito flakes, chives (or spring onion) and chili sauce/oil or paste or anything you wish.