Friday, June 12, 2009

Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki at Home

Okonomiyaki is one of those cool street vendor foods that you really don't see on many Western restaurant menus. There are several different versions, each reflecting the region of Japan in which they are more popular. The basic concept is a pancake style base with shredded cabbage and other toppings (fish, meat, more vegetables, eggs, etc) and served sort of like a pizza. Some versions mix the cabbage right into the pancake batter, others also include noodles.

The Hiroshima style is a whopper - it has a crepe batter base, a filling of shredded cabbage and bean sprouts, topped with meat or seafood (or both), a layer of noodles, and a fried egg to finish it all off. I have had the simpler type of Okonomiyaki before - with just the cabbage pancake base and some vegetable toppings. I had never eaten the Hiroshima style before tonight, but after watching a few videos of chefs preparing them in Japan, I decided to give it a try. If you want to see the chefs in Japan in action, here is a great video demo, which I used as a guide when making my own version at home.

You will need some basic equipment in order to make this successfully at home - a large flat griddle surface, the kind that takes up two burners is perfect. You will also need two large wide spatulas to flip and move the pancake around easily.

There are also a few ingredients that might be tricky to get your hands on, such as the bright forest green dried seaweed seasoning Aonori and tiny little crispy bits of Tenkasu, (fried tempura bits), which resemble Rice Krispies in shape and texture. Dried bonito flakes (dry shredded fish) are typically added, but I omitted them. The sauce used, Otafuku, is available prebottled, although I have found that British brown sauce (such as HP sauce) is a very acceptable substitute. Many online recipes suggest using Worcestershire for the sauce, which to me is nothing at all like the actual Otafuku Okonomiyaki sauce. The HP is a very close match in both taste and consistency, and it is likely something you might have lying around anyway in a Western kitchen or at the very least, a bit easier to find in your local grocery store.

You will want to have your cabbage shredded very finely and all of your ingredients ready to go before you begin. The crepe batter should be made first and left to rest for about 15 minutes or so while you gather everything else. The batter can be covered and placed in the fridge if needed. Make sure your griddle is preheated and greased well enough to prevent sticking. This is not one of those times when you can get away with a quick spritz of cooking spray. You don't need vats of oil, but your griddle should have a nice sheen to it.

Hiromshima Style Okonomiyaki for the Western Kitchen (adapted from this recipe and the video linked above)

Crepe Batter:
(enough for about 6-8)

2 cups plain flour (all purpose flour)
1/4 tsp dashi powder (dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water) - or use 1/2 cup fish stock or vegetable stock
1 tsp Mirin
2 cups cold water

Mix the above together with a whisk until smooth and lump free. Allow to rest 15 minutes before using.

Cabbage Layer:
(per serving)

1 huge handful of finely shredded Napa cabbage, about 1 1/2-2 cups
1 smaller handful of fresh bean sprouts,about 3/4 cup
Japanese seasoned salt & pepper blend, to taste (enough to dust the crepe)*
1/4-1/2 cup Tenkasu
2 strips bacon (back bacon, belly pork, or streaky bacon - your choice)
bonito flakes, to taste

Noodle Layer:
(per serving)
1 package soft yakisoba noodles, cooked and drained (left unseasoned)
(to do this, simply place the noodles in a bowl, cover with boiling water and let sit about 5 minutes, drain)
1 Tbsp Otafuku sauce or HP brown sauce

Egg layer:
(per serving)
1/2 tsp oil
1 egg
2 Tbsp Aonori
1-2 Tbsp Otafuku sauce or HP sauce

Now that that seemingly endless list of ingredients is done... time to start cooking! It is really not hard at all. The only slightly tricky bit is flipping the pancake, but it really isn't that difficult to do if you have two nice wide spatulas and if you did a good job greasing your pan.

Preheat the griddle to medium low on the front burner side, and low on the back burner side. Make the pan glisten with a coating of oil.

Using a metal ladle, spread a wide thin circle of crepe batter into the greased, warm skillet (about medium low heat). Spin the batter around in a spiral to get about a 6-8" diameter circle.
*If you have some Japanese seasoning, sprinkle a bit over the crepe, otherwise you can add just a bit of salt, white pepper and ajinomoto (optional). If you are using bonito flakes, sprinkle a bit on now as well. Drop a huge handful of raw shredded cabbage on top of the crepe, followed by a smaller handful of fresh bean sprouts. Next place the Tenkasu in the center and drape the bacon slices on top.

Moment of truth time! .. Grab your spatulas and carefully flip the crepe over. (I found the easy way to do this is the have one spatula under the crepe itself, and the second pressing down the bacon to hold in the cabbage). Press down the top a bit to flatten slightly. Allow the bacon to cook about 3-4 minutes, then using your spatulas again (relax - no flipping yet), carefully scoot the pancake back a bit towards the other side of the griddle. It will continue to cook over low heat while you prepare the noodle layer.

If the griddle isn't looking shiny, take a clean paper towel and wipe a bit more oil on the surface. Stir fry the drained noodles with 1 Tbsp of brown sauce, this should take about 2 -3 minutes. Spread the noodles in a wide flat circle, the same size as your crepe. Carefully stick the spatulas underneath the crepe, lift, and place the crepe on top of the noodles (no flipping yet). At this point, your crepe with its two layers should now be back at the front of the griddle and the back side should be empty.

Add a tiny drop of oil in the clear back space of the griddle, then crack the egg on top, poking the yolk to break it. Once the egg is halfway cooked, grab your spatulas again and lift the whole crepe up and place it on top of the egg. Allow it to cook another 30 seconds, then carefully slide your spatula underneath to loosen the egg, then flip the entire crepe over again.

Using a pastry brush, liberally paint some more brown sauce over the surface, about 2 tbsp should do the trick. Sprinkle Aonori on top. Remove the crepe to a large plate and using a pizza cutter, cut into wedges. You can roll up the wedges a bit to pick them up with your hands, and enjoy the juices messily oozing down your arm. This is street food after all, so expect it to be a bit indulgent and messy.

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