I’ve written several times about my adventures with okonomiyaki and I will probably never stop because I keep on inventing new versions and playing with the basics. For those who have never had it, I must insist that though it might sound like a complicated fancy exotic dish, in reality it’s an easy, down-to-earth one-pan meal, perfect for a quick dinner, even after a busy day. Usually I have all the ingredients apart from the fresh cabbage, but it’s sold everywhere, all year long, so okonomiyaki is one of the most often cooked dishes in my house. I cook it even more when summer comes because not only is it quick, but also light and healthy.
Apart from these practical sides, okonomiyaki is such fun, given the endless choice of ingredients and toppings, as its name suggests (see below). I always add some chicken, bacon or chorizo (or two of them combined), but this time I chose only eringi mushrooms as the protein source (you will have to believe me if I say they are there, under the heap of katsuobushi and other toppings!). It was one of the most delicious meatless dishes I’ve ever cooked (though now that I think katsuobushi (bonito flakes) doesn’t make it 100% vegetarian…).
Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き ) can be translated roughly as “grill what you like” and is often called “Japanese savoury pancake” (or Japanese pizza, but I don’t agree with this one). As its name suggests, okonomiyaki versions are endless, though the ingredients aren’t random. There are certain recurring items such as a thick pancake batter, shredded or cubed cabbage and okonomiyaki sauce. There are also two main okonomiyaki styles: Kansai (Osaka) and Hiroshima style. Both are very well described and accompanied by detailed recipes on Shizuoka Gourmet blog. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki contains noodles, while Osaka (Kansai) doesn’t. I prefer the latter, lighter type transformed throughout years with my own twists, such as crushed garlic I consider now obligatory in the batter though it’s rarely used ingredient in Japanese cuisine. I also use smoked bacon as the topping because it simply tastes better than raw pork belly.
Eringi (also called king oyster mushrooms) are farmed Asian mushrooms (though I guess wild eringi grow somewhere…). Their fat big stems resemble cep (aka penny bun or porcino), but they have ridiculously small caps. They are popular in Japan and Korea and become more and more easily available in Europe: they are sold in my “standard” big supermarket (grown in Switzerland too!) and I’ve seen them in similar German shops too. Don’t be put off by the lack of aroma: raw eringi don’t have any, but when they are grilled they yield a very pleasant delicate aroma and have a surprisingly meaty texture I love. They are particularly good with teriyaki sauce, but I think they are quite versatile in both texture and taste and as such can easily be included in Western dishes too (unlike certain Asian mushrooms). They taste wonderful, for example combined with eggs or bacon.
If you don’t have eringi, you might be interested in these:
TIPS: Unlike an ordinary pancake, okonomiyaki is not floury or heavy because the cabbage is the main ingredient. The batter should be kept to a strict minimum: it’s there only to bind the cabbage and shouldn’t dominate the dish which should stay healthy, light and packed with cabbage. The excessive amount of batter is the mistake most people make when preparing okonomiyaki for the first time (especially if they have never tasted it in a Japanese restaurant), so I prefer to warn you. Add the batter gradually stirring into the cabbage until you obtain a mixture that will keep together (it’s difficult to give the exact proportions as I feel they change due to the difference in cabbages).
Yam is a traditional ingredient of the batter, but it’s not necessary! I always keep individual portions of mountain yam in my freezer for my okonomiyaki (I find it in French organic shops) because they make the batter lighter and fluffier, but they are definitely not obligatory. I’d rather skip the yam than buy the ready-to-use okonomiyaki batter mix (it’s sold in Japanese shops and many Japanese homecooks buy it). Mixing flour and egg with stock or water produces also a very good batter!
As its name suggests it, you can play with okonomiyaki’s ingredients as much as you like. Even white cabbage can be substituted with green onion (I had such a version in Japan too!) or red cabbage. The only thing to remember is that okonomiyaki should not become a heavy, carb-loaded pancake!
You can buy okonomiyaki or tonkatsu sauce in any Japanese shop or make your own mixing ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce in desired proportions, as I learnt from Hiroyuki.
Toppings are what makes okonmiyaki eating most exciting, so feel free to experiment!
If you use white cabbage, the best choice is the young one (usually sold here in spring and summer and all year long in Japan), with light green rather loose leaves and more delicate flavours.
Preparation: 20-25 minutes (if you have your cabbage already shredded)
Ingredients (serves two as the main course):
5 slightly heaped tablespoons flour
1 big garlic clove, crushed
(3 cm/about 1,2 in grated mountain yam (yamaimo), if you can get it)
1/2 flat teaspoon salt (no salt if your stock/dashi is salted)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 small (if possible young) cabbage leaves chopped or finely cubed (the hard central “veins” removed)
6 big eringi mushrooms, sliced (1/2 cm/about 1/4 in thick), slicing them crosswise makes okonomiyaki easier to eat
dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
okonomiyaki sauce (or tonkatsu sauce)
mayonnaise (my favourite is the Japanese Kewpie, I use the low-fat one)
chives or green onions or garlic chives or/and shiso leaves, chopped
chilli oil with sediments, such as taberu rayu or a chilli paste, if you like spicy food
Combine the batter ingredients (except for the cabbage). It should be slightly thicker than a pancake batter.
Place the shredded cabbage to a bowl and add the batter gradually until the mixture keeps together easily (you’ll get better at this every time!). The less batter, the better your okonomiyaki will be!
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), I like mine to be about 1.5 cm thick (a bit more than 1/2 in).
Put the mushroom slices on top, flatten delicately the pancake, but not too much. Otherwise it might fall into pieces when you turn it over.
Cover the pan and let it fry at medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes.
Turn the pancake over, cover once more, increase the heat slightly and fry for another 5 minutes or more, until the mushrooms start becoming golden (difficult to guess for the first time, so check under the edge from time to time).
Repeat the same with the remaining batter.
Serve mushrooms side up, topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, chives, dried bonito flakes and chili sauce/oil or paste and whatever you feel like. I usually start with okonomiyaki sauce, so that it moistens well the surface, then add some katsuobushi (bonito flakes), then thin streaks of mayonnaise, chives and other herbs and finally chilli sauce or paste.