Recipe: Okonomiyaki

Here are some true facts about okonomiyaki:

  1. It is nearly as much fun to write, and to say, as it is to eat;
  2. It is super quick and easy to make and you can do it with ingredients you already have in the house;
  3. The name comes from “okonomi”, which means “as you like” and “yaki” meaning “cooked”, which means you can put WHATEVER YOU WANT on it and it’s still correct.

Last night I learned how to make it in a free Zoom cookery class with the Sozai Cooking School and honestly, if I’d known fifteen years ago how easy it is, I’d have been eating okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake, if you’ve never had the pleasure and OH EM GEE you have a treat coming) at least once a week since then, and so I am sharing it with you now so that you don’t lose any more time either.

There are a few ingredients which you can include if you can find them and which will make it more delicious, but if you don’t have them you can manage without (or order them online, but I don’t advise that for your first attempt because you will want to give it a go immediately and not wait for a stupid parcel to arrive).

This recipe makes one pancake, and as with any other type of pancake I would stick with making one at a time and eating it while it’s hot, if you can. This is snack food or (I’m so sorry) street food, you’re not serving it up as part of a fancy dinner party. (Also I think those are illegal now?)

For the pancake:

  • 50g flour (I used plain but self-raising or gluten-free would be fine too)
  • Half a teaspoonful of dashi powder (or salt, or anything to add some flavour to the batter mix; I used powdered Chinese chicken soup)
  • 60ml water
  • One egg
  • A large handful of diced white cabbage
  • A small handful of finely chopped spring onions

You can stick with this, or you can add toppings, in which case you’ll want a scattering of fish, meat, veg or whatever you feel like eating. Okonomi, see. (The one in the photo just has sliced white onions, because that was all I had.)

For the garnish:

  • Mayonnaise (there is a Japanese shelf in Tian Tian, the Chinese supermarket close to Heron Quay on the Isle of Dogs so I picked up Japanese mayonnaise which is allegedly sweeter and richer, being made with less acid and only the yolks of the eggs but the usual stuff would be fine, or if you are a person who makes your own mayonnaise you can make it to the Japanese recipe instead)
  • Okonomiyaki sauce (as above, but it’s ridiculously easy to make your own, either by mixing ketchup with dark soy, runny honey and Worcestershire sauce to taste, or if you can’t even be bothered with that, by making a 50:50 mix of ketchup and brown sauce)
  • Katsobushi (fish flakes) and aonori (seaweed powder – both optional; I used seaweed flakes instead of either and you can also use dried shitaake mushroom shavings, or nothing at all)

Method

Gently mix the flour, dashi or other seasoning, water and egg together in a bowl. You don’t want to bash it about too much but you do want to try to fold some air into it. Then add the cabbage and the spring onions and keep mixing until both are coated in the batter.

Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil (or any, I used sesame because vegetable oil is something I consistently fail to remember to buy, but traditionally that is what is used) in a large flat low-sided pan over a high heat. To test the temperature of the oil, drop a lick of batter into the pan. If it sizzles, it’s ready.

Turn the heat down, tip all the batter into the pan and gently shape it into something resembling a circle, patting the top and sides down just enough to give it some structure but making sure the air stays inside – you want to end up with a souffle-ish consistency, so don’t smother it to death. Then add your toppings, if you’re using them.

You can pretty much guess when it’s ready to be turned over, but as a guideline if you can pick the whole thing up with a fish slice without it falling apart then you’re ready to flip it. I think mine cooked for about five minutes on each side, but you’ll know when yours is ready because it will take about as long to do the second side as it did the first.

When it’s done, leave it in the pan while you drizzle the okonomiyaki sauce over it, then lift it out onto a warmed plate and add the mayo, katsobushi and aonori, if you have them, or shitaake, or anything else you feel like trying (I haven’t tried it but I think toasted sesame seeds would be good too), or nothing at all. Eat, then immediately make another and eat that too. You’re welcome.

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