From the Chronicle Kitchen Okonomiyaki, “As You Like It” Pancake
Okonomiyaki, literally “grilled as you like it,” originated as home-style food in Osaka. It calls for mixing vegetables, meat, fish, or shellfish into a batter, cooking the batter, and then topping the finished pancake with a Worcestershire-style sauce and mayonnaise. The ingredients and combinations can be customized to individual tastes and almost anything goes. Thinly sliced fatty pork, bacon, and shrimp are popular additions, as are squid, chicken, beef, vegetables, cheese, scallops, and so on.
In Japan, there are restaurants that specialize in okonomiyaki. Customers sit at individual grill tables and prepare their own dinners. I was sitting at just such a place outside of Kyoto one night when suddenly I felt the table shaking. Even though a small earthquake was in progess, I was the only diner who looked up from the grill to see if the roof was falling in. Everyone else just kept on cooking.
Okonomiyaki is easy to prepare at home and is a crowd-pleaser, especially for kids. A griddle is great for cooking this dish, but a frying pan can be used, too. The disadvantage to the latter is that while a griddle allows you to prepare at least two pancakes at once, a frying pan limits you to one pancake at a time. Let each diner drizzle on as much sauce and mayonnaise as he or she wants. And be sure to eat the pancakes while they are hot.
10 slices thick-cut bacon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup minus 1 tablespoon water
2 large eggs
1/2 medium green head cabbage, shredded or coarsely chopped
1 green onion, including tender green tops, thinly sliced
5 shrimp, boiled for about 3 minutes until cooked throughout, drained, peeled, and cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1 cup okonomiyaki sauce
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Aonori or katsuobushi (see note)
Preheat the oven to 275°F and have ready a rimmed baking sheet (this is for keeping the cooked pancakes warm until they are all cooked).
Lay the bacon slices between 2 or so layers of paper towel and microwave on high for 3 minutes. The bacon will not be completely cooked, but some of the fat will have been rendered and absorbed by the towels. Alternatively, cook the bacon in a frying pan over medium-high heat, turning as needed, for 4 to 5 minutes to achieve the same result. Cut each bacon slice into 4 equal pieces and set aside.
In a large bowl, using a fork or chopsticks, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and water. Beat in the eggs until well mixed. Add the cabbage, green onion, and shrimp and stir to combine.
Place a 10-inch nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, arrange 5 pieces of the bacon in a circle roughly 6 inches in diameter in the center of the pan. Then, using a ladle, immediately spread one-fourth of the batter over the circle of bacon to create a pancake about 6 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Press 5 more pieces of bacon into the top of the pancake. Cook, without disturbing, until just browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. At this point, the pancake should easily slide in the pan. Do not be tempted to flip it before it is set! Using a spatula, flip the pancake and cook on the second side until browned, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Transfer the pancake to the baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining bacon pieces, batter, and oil to make 3 more pancakes, keeping each one warm in the oven as it comes out of the pan.
When all the pancakes are cooked, transfer 2 of the pancakes to individual plates and leave the others in the oven. (Or, you can cook 2 pancakes, eat them, and then cook the remaining 2 pancakes.) Have the sauce, mayonnaise, nori, and katsuobushi in small separate bowls on the table. Each diner drizzles as much sauce and mayonnaise onto the pancake as he or she wants and then tops it with nori and finally with the katsuobushi. If the okonomiyaki is properly hot, the katsuobushi will seem to dance. When the first pancakes have been eaten, serve the remaining 2 pancakes.
Note: Katsuobushi, the same dried bonito flakes used for making dashi from scratch, are also a popular topping for yudofu (simmered tofu). They are most commonly sold in small individual packets (or several individual packets in a box), which should be stored in a cool, dry cupboard. The flavor and aroma of the flakes dissipate fairly quickly once a packet is opened.
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