Those of you who remember my passion for okonomiyaki will not be surprised to see one more version of this amazing savoury pancake. During my experiments I learnt that its versatility has no end. Even white cabbage, the pillar ingredient of okonomiyaki, can be successfully replaced with bok choy and – as I discovered during my last trip to Tokyo – with “negi”, a Japanese cousin of our leek and green onion. Original negi is not available here, but now that green onions are cheap and sold in huge bunches, it is a perfect moment to try to copy this delicious light summer version.
For those who have never heard of okonomiyaki (お好み焼き), it is described either as a Japanese “savoury pancake” or “pizza”. The name means more or less “grill what you like” and resumes very well its versatile character. Okonomiyaki is composed of a batter, traditionally mixed with chopped or sliced white cabbage, and of a very generous choice of toppings, which usually include a special okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, katsuobushi (dried and shaved bonito), green onions, pickled ginger, ao nori (seaweed “flakes”)… The basic cabbage batter can be enriched with sliced pork, beef, raw calamar or dried shrimp and it is often topped with thinly sliced pork belly, fried when the panckage is flipped. There are two main variations of okonomiyaki: Kansai/Osaka-style (the one I “practice” and describe above), and a very filling Hiroshima style, which contains also cooked noodles.
I don’t recall the name or the location of the place where I tasted this particular okonomiyaki, but I remember very well that I loved its surprising lightness. Negi, the Japanese plant used instead of the usual cabbage, has different varieties; some are closer to Western green onions; some are closer to the leek. It also depends whether the green or whiteish parts are used. In the okonomiyaki I had in Tokyo only negi’s green parts were used and they were quite thin, so I decided to replace them with green onion’s green parts. I was worried my experiment would yield too harsh flavours because negi is milder than green onions, but luckily I was wrong: the green onion pancake was perfect! The taste was delicate and much lighter in taste than the cabbage or bok choy version. I think I should call it “summer okonomiyaki” because due to the huge amount of green onions, abundant in the summer, and its pleasant lightness, this is an ideal dish for this time of the year.
I have recently discovered that any okonomiyaki batter tastes much better when a crushed garlic clove is added, so this one includes garlic too. If you don’t like garlic, just skip it.
Here are some other okonomiyaki versions I have posted:
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. My batter recipe is usually 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. Here I have skipped the egg to make the batter even lighter, but if you cannot get the yam, replace it with one small egg. Dashi is not obligatory. When I don’t have yam or dashi, I simply omit them, trying to keep the same pancake-like texture (milk or stock or even water can be used instead of dashi). The result is still delicious, albeit slightly different.
The Japanese often top okonomiyaki with thinly sliced raw pork belly (it is put on top of the pancake and then is grilled when the pancake is flipped). I prefer by far smoked bacon and I have discovered the best product is dried and smoked bacon (though I’m not sure it is easily found everywhere). Smoked bacon goes perfectly with katsuobushi’s smokey aroma.
Pickled ginger is one of the usual ingredients here, but I prefer to serve it aside rather than inside the batter or on top of it.
Okonomiyaki sauce can be bought in every Japanese grocery shop, but I find it too sweet, so thanks to Hiroyuki I have been preparing my own quick okonomiyaki sauce, mixing soy sauce, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce in ratios suiting my preferences.
Special equipment: a big pancake spatula is very useful to flip okonomiyaki
Preparation: about 30 minutes
Ingredients (serves 1):
3 slightly heaped tablespoons wheat flour
4 tablespoons grated mountain yam (yamaimo) or 1 small raw egg
1 garlic clove, grated or crushed
1/4 flat teaspoon baking powder
10 long, thick green onion stalks, chopped (loosely they fill almost 2 US cups, i.e. a bit less than 500 ml volume)
(1 tablespoon of tiny dried Japanese shrimp; do not use dried Thai shrimp which is too big and too chewy)
3 very thin slices of pork belly (I always use smoked bacon and my favourite, if you can find it, is dried and smoked bacon)
dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
okonomiyaki sauce (or a mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce)
chopped chives or spring onions
(chili paste, oil or sauce, such as Taberu Rayu)
1 tablespoon oil
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).
Cut the belly or the bacon into pieces that will be easy to eat without destroying the whole pancake. (This is not necessary, but I found a long time ago it makes the eating process less messy and easier).
Heat one tablespoon oil in a frying pan or on a smooth grill (called teppanyaki grill or la plancha).
Put the okonomiyaki mixture in a more or less round-shaped heap and flatten it delicately, but not too much (you should be able to turn it over). My okonomiyaki is max. 1,5 cm/about 1/2 inch high.
Cover the okonomiyaki with bacon/belly pieces.
Cover the pan and let it fry at medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes until you see the upper part of batter starting to 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.
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.