Tag Archives: yakimono 焼き物

Tsukune つくね (Grilled Chicken Meatballs) with Lemon Zest

tsukunecitronpTsukune, in appearance a humble meat patty, is the first thing I order in a yakitori-serving restaurant in Japan because its taste and texture reflect the cook’s skills and/or imagination. My favourite tsukune in Tokyo contained aromatic yuzu (Japanese citrus) zest. Trying to copy them with locally available fruits I have added lemon zest and, even though they couldn’t hold a candle to the yuzu version, my tsukune turned out delicious and original.

The 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. The grilled skewered version is the only one I tasted during my two trips to Tokyo, so I tried to copy this one for now.

This simple recipe comes from the fascinating Izakaya: the Japanese Pub Cookbook by Mark Robinson where I discovered not only interesting dishes and snacks, but, most of all, fantastic Tokyo izakayas, one of which serves the above-mentioned yuzu tsukune I will never forget. Since Mark Robinson was given tsukune instructions from my beloved izakaya, I couldn’t imagine a better recipe source. I found it surprisingly effortless and simple: no binders (such as egg), no fillers, but simply good juicy meat, onion and yuzu zest. The author says that the main secrets are the use of various chicken parts (such as skin, offal or cartilage) and long meat kneading, but I decided to use simply skinned leg meat, which is relatively easy to mince at home and didn’t knead it really. My tsukune were not perfectly shaped and couldn’t even compare to the ones from the Tokyo izakaya, but they turned out juicy, aromatic and extremely flavoursome.

If you don’t like the lemon zest idea or are simply looking for other options and inspiration, you should check Nami’s gorgeous tsukune with shiso/perilla leaves (on Just One Cookbook blog).

TIPS : For optimal results do not use ground chicken breast here, unless they are the minority of the ground meat. The second time I prepared these tsukune with a mixture of chicken breast and legs (1:1): they were slightly dry and not even half as good as those made with leg meat only.

If you cannot find ground chicken legs, you can easily mix them in a food processor (this is what I did; I also debone chicken legs because it’s cheaper and really quick). 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 personally 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.

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


Ingredients (serves two as a snack):

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

1 small onion (I have used a shallot)

grated zest from one big lemon (preferably organic)

salt, pepper


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. I have also sprinkled them with ground black pepper.

Udon and Spring Onion Burger

udonburgerpMost of you probably regularly eat noodles and ground meat (not necessarily together), but would you ever think of combining them in a burger patty? I certainly wouldn’t and was sincerely surprised that such a crazy idea can yield an amazingly luscious burger. A huge amount of green onions – though less surprising – might also contribute to the final taste results, but in my opinion, the presence of chopped udon noodles is what makes the difference.

For those who have never heard of udon, it’s thick wheat flour variety of Japanese noodles, usually eaten in light soups. I am particularly fond of their chewy, slightly bouncy texture and always have a package in stock, but I would have never even dreamt of including them into a burger. Actually, I stumbled upon this recipe while looking for new ideas to use the abundance of Japanese green onions growing on my balcony. My long search led me as far as Kawaga prefecture’s official website and their filmed recipes.

Kagawa is apparenty famous for its udon (sanuki udon, to be precise) and its inhabitants are said to be addicted to these noodles (if you saw the film “Udon”, you know what I mean…). I have no doubts that only big passion for udon could have led to the creation of such an unusual idea. Ms Toshiko Tsukuda, from Kagawa prefecture’s research council group, presented this recipe (click here), aimed at using local green onion, under the name of (roughly translated, please correct me, if I’m wrong) “grilled green onion and udon surprise” (びっくりネギ焼きうどん). I was completely blown away by the idea of chopped udon in burger patties (not to mention being able to use a huge bunch of my green onions), so I bought the beef and prepared them as soon as possible. The burgers were incredibly juicy, surprisingly light and I particularly appreciated a slightly chewy typical udon “touch”.

As it often happens, I have modified this recipe already at the first cooking session. I changed the ingredients’ ratio (mainly increasing the beef amount), added crushed garlic clove and ground cumin to spice up the beef a bit and I also decided to glaze the burgers with teriyaki sauce (or rather my own, less sweet version of it). For the original recipe, check Kagawa Prefecture’s official website (unfortunately I haven’t found an English version, the video is in Japanese only, I think). (UPDATE: Thanks to Hiroyuki, I have found out this recipe is almost identical to Udon Gyoza, the specialty of Takatsuki).

TIPS: The patties are quite delicate, but surprisingly, they keep well the shape, if you form a ball in your hand, roll it a bit to make sure the ingredients “stick” and then slightly flatten it. Of course they should be turned very carefully.

If you use the “fresh” precooked udon (not the dried noodles), you don’t need to warm it or boil before chopping and including into the patty. Just unpack it and chop.

My teriyaki glaze is only slightly sweet (compared to the standard teriyaki glaze), so add more mirin and/or sugar if you want it typically sweet.

You can use any green onions or chives you have. I find Japanese green onions more delicate than Western ones.

Preparation: about 30 – 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves 3):

200g (about 7 oz) cooked udon or “fresh”, precooked udon: you don’t need to cook this one here; just take it out of the package and chop it

200 g (about 7 oz) ground beef

a big bunch of chopped spring onion or chives (the volume equal to udon’s volume)

salt, pepper (I have added 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper)

ground cumin (I have added 1/2 teaspoon)

1 crushed garlic clove

1 egg


Teriyaki glaze:

6 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons mirin (sweet cooking sake)

Chop the udon as finely as possible (but don’t make a paste out of it!).

In a bowl combine the chopped udon, the spring onion/chives, the beef, the egg, salt, pepper, cumin and garlic.

Mix well with your hand or with a fork.

Put aside for ten minutes.

Heat the oil in a pan or heat a grill.

Form patties (beware: they are delicate and cannot be as flat as beef-only patties).

Fry or grill the burgers as much as you prefer (even completely cooked inside they were still juicy though). I fry them, putting a lid over the pan, so that the upper part is slightly cooked before I flip them (this way they are well cooked inside – I don’t like rare burgers – but not dry). Of course if you want them rare inside, don’t cover the pan.

In the meantime warm the teriyaki glaze in a small pan and make it boil until it thickens (watch the pan because it burns easily).

Before serving, brush the sauce over each burger.

Serve immediately.

Yaki Nasu 焼きなす(Japanese Grilled Aubergine)

yakinasupIf you still associate aubergine only with fat-soaked greasy chunks, prepare yourself for a big surprise. This refreshing, light dish doesn’t contain a gram of fat and is one of the most amazing aubergine treats I know. I noticed Yaki Nasu last week while looking for new inspiration on Just One Cookbook. Since aubergines are in season here and I had several small ones in the fridge, I prepared Yaki Nasu practically the same day (albeit with some modifications). Given the excellent results I obtained with all the Nami’s recipes, I shouldn’t have been surprised by another successful outcome, but once again, I was in awe of its typical Japanese sophistication in simplicity.

Yaki Nasu means “grilled aubergine”, but as you might guess from the photograph, this is not the usual sliced and grilled version. Actually, the whole aubergine is grilled, peeled, cut into pieces, then finally served with a light sauce and seasoning. As much as I wanted to follow Nami’s recipe to the letter, I was forced to introduce some modifications. First of all, I don’t have gas in my building, so the original grilling the aubergine over the stove flame was out of question. I simply grilled it under the oven grill, turning it once or twice (this took longer and my aubergine never had the beautiful light green hue I saw on Nami’s blog). Moreover, I didn’t have the required ponzu or chilli threads, so I decided to replace them with soy sauce and shichimi togarashi (spicy seasoning with seven spices), since my brand includes yuzu zest. I also have used small, but European aubergines, while Nami advises the Japanese ones.

In spite of all these changes, this side dish was fabulous and practical at the same time: I have already served it warm and cold and both versions were excellent. The cold one is pleasantly cooling on hot summer days and perfect as a snack too. Thank you so much, Nami, for one more Japanese discovery!

Visit Just One Cookbook  to see the original unchanged recipe with her clear, step-by-step explanations and discover her other easy and luscious Japanese treats.

TIPS: If you intend to have this dish cold, you can grill and peel the aubergine even one day before and keep it in the fridge.

I haven’t tested it, but Nami gives another delicious alternative sauce idea: a mixture of soy sauce and grated ginger, so if you cannot get ponzu or anything with yuzu flavour, try this combination.

If you realise you have grilled too much aubergine, you can always use it in a soup (delicious in ramen!).

Preparation: about 30 minutes (+ aubergine cooling time) or less, if you grill over a gas stove

Ingredients (serves two as a side dish):

2 Japanese/Asian aubergines or one small/two very small Western aubergines

katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)

green onions or chives

shichimi togarashi (seven ingredient spicy Japanese seasoning) or chilli threads

soy sauce (or ponzu, if you have it)

yuzu koshou (fresh chilli and yuzu paste, see the recipe here)

If you have a gas stove, go to Nami’s  blog to see the whole process.

If you don’t, heat the oven grill.

Prick the aubergines on the whole surface with a fork.

Score the skin horizontally into several “strips” to make the peeling process easier (it’s not a tragedy if you forget, but it’s easier this way).

Grill the aubergines under the grill until the skin starts becoming black and wrinkled.

Turn to the other side and grill observing the skin.

If the aubergine is very plump you might have to grill it on four sides. If it’s rather lean, two sides are enough.

Take it out and either peel it as soon as it is bearable to touch or let it cool down completely and peel it afterwards. (It depends if you want to serve it warm or cold and if you want to keep the green hue: if you wait, the aubergine flesh will lose the green hue; as you see mine was rather dark).

Cut the aubergine into bite-sized pieces and arrange on one or two plates

Pour soy sauce over it, sprinkle with shichimi togarashi, katsuobushi and chopped green onions. Serve with yuzu kosho.



Negiyaki ねぎ焼き (Okonomiyaki with Green Onions)

oko_negipThose 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:

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

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

30 ml (about 1 oz) dashi (Japanese stock, home-made or instant) or milk or a mixture of both or chicken stock or simply water

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

(ao nori)

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

(pickled ginger)

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.


Chorizo no Okonomiyaki (Japanese Omelette/Pancake with Chorizo)

okonchorpBefore I start talking about the dish you see above, I owe an apology to all my dear readers for the considerable break in my posting schedule due to long and busy holidays in Tokyo. As usually, my plans to write posts in advance simply didn’t work and this second trip to Japan being at least as pleasantly exhausting as the previous one, I haven’t managed to take care of my blog. I would like also to apologise for neglecting all my blogging friends and paying them visits with such a big delay. Moreover, I don’t know why but I didn’t feel like taking photos (apart from some restaurant or bar menus which are intended for my progress in Japanese, but I doubt anyone would be interested), so there will be no Japan-related post this time. I did come back with lots of new ideas, inspirations, quite a collection of tableware, food products, etc., so my stay in Japan will be in a certain way present in my future posts.

My first post after holidays in Tokyo could only be about Japanese food of course, so today I would like to present you another version of my beloved okonomiyaki, aka Japanese omelette, the dish I have had at least once a week for the last year. The name means roughly “grill what you like” and I have never been scared of modifications (see some of them below), but this one is probably the boldest and at present my favourite version of okonomiyaki (if I am still allowed to call this fusion creation by this name).

For those who have never heard of okonomiyaki (お好み焼き), it might sound a bit complicated, but it’s really very easy and quick to prepare. Its ingredients can be divided into three groups: the batter, the filling and the topping. The batter’s amount is small and it’s there only to bind the filling, which is composed mainly of shredded/chopped cabbage and sometimes includes squid, pork or tiny dried shrimp. Thin slices of pork belly are often put on top and grilled when the omelet is turned. The toppings can be adapted to everyone’s taste, but chives (or spring onion), mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce (easy to make at home), pickled ginger and katsuobushi (dried shaved bonito) are recurring items. There are two main regional types of this dish, Hiroshima-style, containing noodles, and a lighter Osaka (Kansai) style. My okonomiyaki are rather Osaka-style.

In this bold version I have modified all the three groups of ingredients, keeping only the batter in its original form. I have put bok choy (chingensai) instead of the shredded cabbage in the batter. Then, instead of the smoked bacon I have always loved on top of the omelet, I put thin slices of hot chorizo. Once the omelet turned, they became crunchy and the omelet gets soaked with their spicy juices. As for the toppings added on the plate, instead of the traditional okonomiyaki sauce, I opted for my Indian Tomato Chutney, which went perfectly well with chorizo (though okonomiyaki sauce would go well with it too). The magical dried bonito, mayonnaise and chives/green onion were a perfect pairing, though fresh coriander was also fantastic instead of chives. I have no words to express how I love this spicy fusion okonomiyaki. If you like fiery food, I strongly advise experimenting here with chorizo.

You might also like these versions:

Okonomiyaki with Bok Choy and Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Bok Choy and Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Eringi Mushrooms and Bacon

Okonomiyaki with Eringi Mushrooms and Bacon

TIPS: Okonomiyaki batter mixture can be bought in Japanese grocery shops or prepared from the scratch. 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 and  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 or Asian shops). When I don’t have yam or dashi, I simply omit them, trying to keep the same pancake-like texture. The result is still delicious, albeit slightly different.

Okonomioyaki batter 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 sauce is usually available in Japanese grocery shops, but personally I find it too sweet and prefer a home-made version Hiroyuki kindly taught me. It is simply a mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce in proportions adjusted to your taste.

Special equipment: a big pancake spatula is very useful to flip the okonomiyaki

Preparation: 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2):

2 tablespoons oil


5 slightly heaped tablespoons flour

30 ml (about 1 oz) dashi (Japanese stock, home-made or instant) or milk or a mixture of both

1 egg

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 tablespoon oil

15 thin slices of chorizo 


dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)

okonomiyaki sauce (or a mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce) or, if you feel like making Indian tomato chutney, it would be perfect 


chopped chives or spring onions (or fresh coriander)

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

In a big bowl combine the batter ingredients. Add the filling ingredients (except for the chorizo!) 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).

Put the bacon slices on top, 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 (you probably don’t need covering if you have a grill; I always prepare it on a  frying pan).

Turn the pancake over, cover once more and fry for another 5 minutes.

Repeat the same with the remaining batter.

Serve the chorizo side up, topped with mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce or Indian tomato chutney, chives, dried bonito flakes and chili sauce/oil or paste, pickled ginger and whatever you want.