Okonomiyaki (Japanese Pancakes)

Okonomiyaki means grill what you like. Okonami translates to what you like or how you like and yaki means grill. The cabbage pancake is very simple to make and makes a great vehicle for so many combination of ingredients. I like to make these when I have extra cabbage lying around and my wife doesn’t mind the smell of cooking oil or I can open the windows when the weather is nice. My exhaust fan in the kitchen only works so well and whenever I fry anything she turns her nose up and, a lot of the time, won’t even try it.

It took me a while to get the texture right on these. You want them to be relatively thin and very crispy. They should have some chew to them in the middle, but ultimately it should crunch when you bite into it. My first foray ended horribly and I made a goopy mess of cabbage, eggs, and flour. It was very quickly thrown out. But I did not give up. I tried again and again until I got it right, maybe not perfect, but good enough for my family and my guests.

The pancake itself can be very simple. Some recipes call for sesame oil, or dashi flakes, or even bullion, but I stick with Napa cabbage (I think it holds up best and is still tender enough to get the desired texture), flour (I use All Purpose, but there is an Okonomiyaki flour that you can search out if you so desire), large eggs, and water. I add a bit of salt and pepper because I add S&P to everything I cook that is not a super sweet dish and even then I still reach for my pinch bowl. Some people also add bacon or dried shrimp or another protein to enrich the flavor, but I prefer to have my pancake to be the vehicle for the flavor that I am going to top it with.

A basic recipe for Okonomiyaki is as follows. Feel free to alter it to fit your tastes as this is very basic. This should make 4 decent sized pancakes.

  • about 1/2 a large cabbage (I find Napa works best), finely shredded and slightly bruised by crumpling together with hands gently
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 2/3 cups water
  • 4 eggs
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  1. Mix flour, water, eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Add cabbage and combine well. 
  2. Heat 1-2 inches of oil in a high wall 12 – 14 inch pan.  Spoon Cabbage into the pan, to make a circle about 7-9 inches across and 1/2 – 3/4 inch thick. It is important to not get anythicker than this or the pancake will not cook through.
  3. Cook over med-low heat about 5 min.  Flip, then cook another 3-5 min.  When cooked through, turn onto a plate lined with paper towels as to drain the oil.

The toppings for an okonomiyaki are limitless. One of my favorites is super simple and is shredded, grilled chicken thighs, kimchi, drizled with sriracha mayonnaise and okonomi sauce. You can buy the sauce at most major grocers in the Asia food section, but if you choose to make it, it is quite easy. I then topped it with chopped cilantro.

3 tablespoons of ketchup, with 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and one tablespoon of Soy Sauce. Whisk together and viola. Another great sauce to put on your pancake is Japanese Mayo. It is thinner that American mayo and has a slightly acidic taste. I always keep a bottle in the fridge.

My kids wanted to try to the interesting pancakes that I had made and my wife was not all about the sauces, so I made a very Americanized version by doing a southwest pulled pork okonomiyaki.

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I had smoked a pork shoulder a few days prior and had a little bit left over, so I heated it up and drizzled the barbecue sauce over it. I laid a thin layer of black bean puree under the pork and then topped the sauce with diced red onion, corn, and cilantro. A squeeze of lime made this quite delicious.

There is a fusion restaurant not far form my home that has a daily Oki and I have had some wonderful combinations from them. My favorite was braised short ribs, Sambal Oelek and a sunny side up egg. It was garnished with green onion and Thai basil. The eggs ran into everything and was glorious.

Basically, make the pancakes and then empty out your fridge. Try as many flavor combinations as you can. Add small items to the batter to see how it comes out. This is a great and easy dinner or it could turn into a fun party idea with everyone bringing their own ingredients to make and try variety of flavors.

Enjoy.

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