Tag Archives: yakimono 焼き物

Spring Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savoury Pancake) with Wild Garlic

Okonomiyaki is one of the most frequent Japanese dishes in my house. From the beginning I took its name literally (it means roughly “grill what you want”) and never stopped improving, adapting to my changing palate and, of course, seasons. As a big garlic fan, I made crushed garlic the obligatory ingredient of every single batter. Last weekend I decided to add chopped wild garlic leaves instead and this seasonal twist made me discover one of the best versions (actually I wonder if it wasn’t even the best okonomiyaki in my life…). It’s definitely one of the best wild garlic dishes in my collection.

If you have never heard of okonomiyaki, it’s a kind of savoury pancake (sometimes called “Japanese pizza”), but the batter contains only a small amount of flour and lots of white cabbage. The magical side of every okonomiyaki is a generous choice of toppings added once it’s fried, and these 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 also be played with and enriched with sliced pork, beef, raw calamar or dried shrimp and it is often topped with thinly sliced pork belly, fried when the pancake 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 and which I find too heavy. 

As I have mentioned, I have experimented a lot with both the batter and the toppings. Most modifications are surprisingly successful and I can only hope the pancakes I make can still be called okonomiyaki….

If you don’t have wild garlic/ramsons (click here to learn more about it), you might like one of these versions:

Okonomiyaki with Chorizo

with Chorizo

Okonomiyaki with Bok Choy and Chicken

with Bok Choy and Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Chicken

with Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Eringi Mushrooms and Bacon

with Eringi Mushrooms and Bacon

...with Red Cabbage and Garlic

with Red Cabbage and Garlic

Okonomiyaki with Green Onions

TIPS:

Okonomiyaki batter mixture: it can be bought in Japanese grocery shops or prepared from the scratch. Personally I am happy to prepare it from 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, some flour, some 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 and I know Asian and Chinese grocery shops sell it).  It is not necessary, but in my opinion it largely improves the texture, making it lighter and fluffier. Yamaimo freezes very well (I freeze it peeled in individual portions and then grate when half thawed). When I don’t have yam, I skip it and when I don’t have dashi, I simply replace it, trying to keep the same pancake-like texture. The result is still delicious, albeit slightly different.

Okonomiyaki is always served with okonomiyaki sauce. I once bought it and it was much too sweet, so I was more than happy to learn from Hiroyuki how to make my own sauce, mixing ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce in desired proportions. (Nowadays I go even further, replacing sometimes this sauce with my homemade Indian style tomato chutney)

Okonomioyaki mixture can be prepared in advance and fried/grilled the following day. As an addict, I often make a double batch and have it two days in a row.

Okonomiyaki toppings: these usually include okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise and katsuobushi (flakes of dried bonito). Ao nori (powdered seaweed) is also very frequent, but I have noticed many Westerners dislike its “fishy” aroma. Personally I prefer to skip it and sprinkle with green onion or chives. Among my obligatory toppings are also taberu rayu (chilli oil with sediments) and very often tobanjan (Chinese chilli paste, which I buy in… Japanese shops and in Japan!). You can add of course whatever topping you like!

Preparation: 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2):

Batter:

5 slightly heaped tablespoons flour

30 ml (about 1 oz) dashi (Japanese stock, home-made or instant) or a mixture of milk+dashi or good quality chicken stock or simply water (though the latter yields the least flavourful pancake)

1 egg

3 cm/about 1,2 in grated mountain yam (yamaimo) (can be omitted, but then less flour should be added)

salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

10  bok choy leaves and stalks (or more if the bok choy is small), chopped ; if your bok choy has more leaves than stalks, use only half of the leaves, otherwise the pancake will be too soft (at least for me)

1 big handful of chopped wild garlic leaves

1 chicken breast

1 tablespoon oil

Toppings:

dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)

okonomiyaki sauce (or a mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce) ; I have used here my Indian-style tomato chutney

mayonnaise

chopped chives or spring onions

2 tablespoons oil

(ao nori, or powdered seaweed)

(chili paste, oil or sauce, such as Taberu Rayu)

(pickled ginger)

(6 thin slices of smoked bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces)

Cut up the chicken breast into small cubes (1 cm x 1 cm). Season with salt and pepper, stir-fry until golden brown and put aside.

In a big bowl combine the batter ingredients. Adjust the consistency adding more liquids or more flour (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).

If you use smoked bacon, place the pieces on top, 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 until the bacon is slightly browned.

Flip over onto a plate and add your favourite toppings.

Repeat the same with the remaining batter mixture.

Grilled Aubergine with Miso Glaze (Nasu Dengaku なす田楽)

nasudengakupI must have seen this dish dozens or maybe hundreds of times in the past years but never tried making it. I haven’t had any occasion to taste it during my trips to Japan either, so I had no idea what to expect from it. I worried about the slight sweetness of the miso glaze, but it was just perfect to enhance the delicate slightly smokey flavours and soft texture of the aubergine. The process was surprisingly quick, easy and feasible even with my simple oven grill, so I think I have just found a new delicious summer vegetable side-dish.

I have learnt from my precious Japanese cuisine source (Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji) that the word dengaku (田楽) comes from medieval public entertainment during agricultural festivals and celebrations. At the time “dengaku houshi” was the name given to dancers on tilts. Nowadays this words refers to grilled vegetables or tofu covered in a miso glaze, usually grilled on one thick skewer, reminiscent of these dancers. Shizuo Tsuji’s book contains two miso glaze types (red and white miso-based) and both call for egg yolks. Since the use of egg yolk requires a bigger batch of glaze, I decided to skip it (especially since most recipes found online didn’t mention it). Apart from this, I have also skipped sugar because I didn’t want my glaze to be excessively sweet. I have also mixed my white miso with black miso (I’m not fan of them separately, but they taste better together). Even such a modified aubergine/eggplant dengaku was fantastic. I encourage you to visit Shizuo Tsuji’s extraordinary book to check not only this recipe, but to learn much more about the world of Japanese cuisine.

TIPS: Use any miso you like. I have mixed here white and black, but you can use red miso too.

Adapt the sake, mirin and miso ratio to your taste.

It’s probably better to use Asian aubergine/eggplant here, but I had only the Western one (medium size) and the result was delicious too.

The thing I love about this recipe is that you can make it either on a real grill or under the oven grill/broiler or even on a pan. I found the oven broiler great not only because I simply don’t have an outside grill; it was also practical the second, glaze-grilling stage.

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a side dish):

1 medium Western aubergine cut in half lengthwise (or two Asian aubergines, cut likewise)

Miso glaze:

2 slightly heaped tablespoons red miso (or any other miso you have;I have mixed here white and black miso)

2 tablespoons dashi (Japanese stock) or water

1 tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking sake)

1 tablespoon sake (you can double the mirin content if you don’t have normal sake, but the result will be sweeter)

sesame oil

toasted sesame seeds, dry furikake, green herbs…

Make a criss-cross pattern over the interior part of the aubergine halves.

Preheat the grill (or the oven grill).

Brush the aubergine with oil just before grilling (on both sides).

Grill first the cut side until dark golden (not burnt!).

In the meantime heat the glaze ingredients, stirring until dissolved.

Flop the aubergine halves and grill on the skin side for max. 5 minutes.

Place the aubergine on baking paper, cut side up.

Brush with miso glaze.

Grill until the miso glaze start bubbling (it took me 3 minutes under the oven grill).

Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds or furikake or whatever you like.

Duck Tsukune (Japanese Ground Duck Skewers)

ducktsukunepTsukune, or ground meat skewers, are the first thing I order whenever I go to an izakaya, a Japanese pub (the probability they serve it is very high). As I have mentioned here, in a place specialised in yakitori (chicken skewers), tsukune’s taste measures the cook’s skills and the place’s ambitions, so if they are just average, it’s probably high time to move to a different pub… A huge majority of tsukune are prepared with chicken meat, so using another bird instead is not a revolutionary idea, but this slight modification does make a nice change and I see this stronger-flavoured version as cold-season tsukune. I found the green chilli and lime zest paste (raimu koshou, my Westernised version of yuzu koshou) an extraordinary flavours enhancer here.

If it’s the first time you come across this name, “tsukune (捏ね or つくね)” apparently comes from the verb “tsukuneru” (to knead) and refers to the fact that the patties shaping process involves more or less kneading. Even though they are usually made with chicken, other meats can also be used or a mixture of meats. The shape also varies: while most yakitori-serving restaurants give them an oval shape and grill them on skewers, tsukune can also be round and pan-fried or simmered in soups.

This recipe is loosely based on the Chicken Tsukune posted here, which was based on a recipe from  Izakaya: the Japanese Pub Cookbook by Mark Robinson, a fabulous cookbook and Tokyo izakaya guide in one. As I have mentioned above, I served these tsukune with raimu koshou and its mixture of hot and slightly bitter flavours was the best seasoning I can imagine.

If you don’t have or like duck meat, you might want to try the basic, chicken tsukune version:

Tsukune

Tsukune

TIPS : For optimal results do not use ground duck breast here (you can use it as a small part of the meat mixture), otherwise the tsukune will be tough and dry.

If you cannot find ground duck legs, you can easily mix them in a food processor (this is what I did). After grinding, remove any long stringy white bits you see (unless you have a real meat grinder; then the result should be perfect). You can grind the meat almost to a pulp, if you wish, but I liked the slightly chunky texture too.

I prefer my teriyaki glaze less sweet than the one usually served in Japanese restaurants, but feel free to add more mirin or sugar if you prefer it sweeter.

Raimu koshou (lime zest and chilli paste) recipe is very easy and goes perfectly with strong flavoured meat dishes or ramen soups:

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

If you don’t have time to make the lime and chilli paste properly (it does take several days to mature), you can try a quick version, mixing the chilli and the zest with salt just before serving the tsukune.

Special equipment: skewers (I have used 8) and a brush

Preparation: about one hour

Ingredients (serves two as a snack):

ground meat from 2 medium duck legs (about 250 – 300 g/9 – 10 oz)

1 small onion (I have used a shallot)

(optionally: grated zest from one big lemon or 2 limes)

salt, pepper

oil

Teriyaki glaze:

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sake

1 tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking sake)

Chop the onion and combine with the zest, the salt and the pepper.

Refrigerate for one hour (you can skip this step if you are in a hurry, but it lets the flavours mix better together).

15 minutes before grilling or pan-frying, soak the skewers (if you use wooden ones) in water.

Form equal balls in your palms, slightly kneading the meat.

Give the balls an oval shape and “stick” them around the skewers, pressing with your palm, making sure they don’t fall off the skewer (I was worried they would fall, but mine never did).

Heat the glaze ingredients in a pan until it thickens.

Put aside.

Grill the skewers on a grill or on a pan, turning them regularly.

If you grill them on a pan, I advise keeping the pan covered, so that you don’t end up with raw meat inside and burnt outside. I turned them four times (as if they had four sides), each time after about a minute.

Just before serving, warm the teriyaki glaze a bit and brush the skewers with it.

Tofu and Bacon Snacks

tofubrollsMost people, both vegetarians and carnivores, are so convinced that tofu is simply a meat substitute, they are utterly surprised when I say I like tofu most when it’s combined with meat. Mapo doufu, for example, is one of my favourite dishes and removing either meat or tofu from it, makes it lose all its charm. Therefore, I am thrilled to present you this sensational snack I have fallen in love with and cannot imagine with either of the two main ingredients removed or substituted.

Thanks to my recent progress in Japanese reading I dare more and more often the Japanese food web. Thus, not only do I find new cooking ideas, but at the same time I progress with my language level. Fun and studying in one! Anyway, browsing through Cookpad, the biggest source of recipes in Japanese, I stumbled upon very tempting-looking tofu and pork belly rolls. Even though I have substantially modified it, I kept the original tofu and meat combination idea, which I am so fond of.

First of all, since I didn’t have the pork belly, but plenty of smoked bacon, I used it instead. I have also made snack-sized cubes instead of the original bigger pieces. Accidentally, I happened to have smoked tofu too, so it was a double smoked modification. The author adds some seasoning and sauce, in which the rolls are quickly simmered, but smoked bacon doesn’t require any simmering, so I simply skipped this part. As a tofu and bacon fan, I knew it could only be good, but frankly I didn’t expect such an amazing taste. I am already planning to “trap” all the tofu haters I know with this delicious snack 😉 The author uses shiso (perilla) leaves, but since I only had mitsuba from my balcony (another aromatic Japanese herb), I decided to put it instead. As a chilli fan, I tried putting them instead of the herbs and it worked perfectly too, so feel free to add whatever you like between the meat and tofu cubes. Click here to check the original Kirakira’s recipe (I don’t know if there is an English translation yet).

Preparation: about 10-15 minutes

Ingredients (serves three as a snack or two if served with rice as a main course) :

200 g (about 7 oz) firm tofu (I have used smoked tofu)

12 very thin slices of smoked narrow bacon (mine width : 2 cm only) or less slices if they are wider

12 big leaves of shiso, mitsuba, edible chrysanthemum, Thai basil, chives/green onion cut into bigger strips or thinly cut fresh chilli peppers

sauce of your choice or chilli oil or nothing

Put the tofu into boiling water for two minutes.

Drain and pat dry with paper towels.

Cut the tofu into pieces as wide as the bacon slices. (As I have mentioned I had very narrow bacon, so I cut the tofu into 12 x 2 cm pieces).

Roll the tofu pieces first into bacon, inserting herbs or chilli between tofu and bacon strips.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan and pan-grill the rolls (or rather cubes in my case) 20- 30 seconds on each side (if you use raw pork belly, you should cook the rolls much longer).

Serve immediately with a sauce of your choice or brushed with chilli oil or serve them as they are.

Eringi Mushrooms, Buckwheat Groats and Teriyaki Sauce

eringi_buckpSome dishes suffer from even the tiniest modification, but sometimes what seems a daring crazy fusion idea proves one of the most natural harmony of flavours and textures. Such was the case with buckwheat groats with eringi mushrooms, both seasoned with teriyaki glaze.

Buckwheat grains/groats (sometimes labelled “kasha”) are dried, slightly triangular seeds of a plant (Fagopyrum genus) which is not a grass, nor a cereal, even though it looks like one and is not related to wheat. They are very rich in protein, contain minerals, antioxydants, iron and are gluten free, so they can be consumed by people who don’t tolerate it or try to reduce it. They are particularly popular in certain Eastern and Central European countries, usually consumed in a toasted, nutty tasting version. Reduced to flour, buckwheat is consumed in other countries too and soba noodles are probably now the best known product.

Even though soba noodles are widely consumed, all the Japanese I asked have never tasted untransformed groats. Porridge-like dishes, made with non-toasted groats do exist in Japan (thank you, Hiroyuki, for the links), but I guess it’s difficult to find their fans… Meanwhile, in several Eastern and Central European countries buckwheat groats have been a part of traditional diet for a long time, often served with dishes in sauce, as a carb side-meal, instead of potatoes or bread. Their toasted version is the one most people prefer and know (actually I discovered the non-toasted one only some years ago, finding it utterly bland and pointless). When cooked, they have a smokey, nutty aroma, a slightly crunchy texture (there is a certain resemblance to quinoa or barley) and are perfect with mushroom dishes.

Obviously, I wasn’t surprised that eringi (also called king oyster mushroom, Pleurotus Eryngii), as a particularly versatile mushroom, went well with both buckwheat and teriyaki sauce. Luckily the latter also proved a dream seasoning for buckwheat groats. In short, a simple but delicious autumn recipe I’ll be making with other mushrooms too.

In case you wonder what else to do with buckwheat, you can also fry it like you do with leftover rice:

Fried Buckwheat Groats

Fried Buckwheat Groats

TIPS: Buckwheat groats are not such a crowd-pleaser as white rice, for example, mainly because of their texture, but also because of the strong flavour, so don’t be surprised if you don’t like them (if you are a quinoa/barley fan, there are more chances you like them).

I strongly advise against buying non-toasted, light greenish buckwheat groats. Most buckwheat groats lovers (including me) hate this bland, softer form. Toasted buckwheat groats are luckily easy to recognise: they are simply brown.

Buckwheat groats are easy to overcook (mushy ones are not good at all…), so respect the cooking time and don’t worry if it doesn’t work for the first time. Sometimes it depends on the brand, on the pan, etc..

I prefer my teriyaki sauce less sweet than the one usually served in Japanese restaurants, but feel free to add more mirin or sugar.

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

150 g/about 5,3 oz toasted buckwheat groats

1/2 teaspoon salt

300 g/about 10,5 oz eringi (king oyster) mushrooms, sliced

Teriyaki sauce:

9 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons sake

3 tablespoons mirin (sweet cooking sake)

(freshly ground pepper)

Put the buckwheat groats into a cup.

Measure the double of the buckwheat’s volume in water.

Pour the water into a pan. Bring it to a boil, add the salt.

Throw the buckwheat into the pan and let it cook partially covered at medium heat for about ten minutes.

Lower the heat and let it simmer, fully covered, for about 5 more minutes.

The water should be completely absorbed by the grains. If it’s not absorbed yet, put the pan aside, leave the cover on and it will get absorbed without cooking too. (If it’s absorbed, cover the pan anyway and put it aside keeping it warm).

Heat the glaze ingredients in a pan until it thickens.

Put aside.

Grill the mushrooms on a grill or hot pan brushed with oil.

Turn them after 5 minutes and cook 3 more minutes.

Warm the teriyaki glaze while grilling the mushrooms. Mix 2/3 of it with buckwheat groats and 1/3 with mushrooms.

Taste the buckwheat and add some more soy sauce if it’s not salty enough.

Serve the mushrooms on top of buckwheat.

(Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper).