Recipe: Taichi Kitamura’s Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki’s global reputation runs more toward a drinking snack—a great way to offset a night of beer and highballs. But when Taichi Kitamura was growing up in Kyoto, the savory pancake centered many a family meal. These days, the chef and owner of Sushi Kappo Tamura in Eastlake preps a batch at home maybe once a month: “I cook a few for my family and freeze the rest to eat for lunch.”
His okonomiyaki run heavy on vegetables (namely cabbage) and on visual drama, courtesy of all the classic garnishes. In the final moments of cooking, Kitamura adds sauce, seaweed, mayo drizzles, and gently waving bonito flakes. A pan works just fine, but “if you do this on a flat top grill, it’s kind of entertaining” for others to watch. Adults appreciate the abundance of cabbage and green onion; Kitamura’s daughter less so. Now she’s up to eating half of a pancake, he says, “with a lot of mayonnaise.”
- Cabbage, 1 large head
- Green onions, 2 bunches
- Seafood, roughly 1/2 cup (squid is typical, but cooked shrimp meat works great)
- All-purpose flour, 1 cup
- Eggs, 4
- Dashi (water’s fine, too), roughly 3/4 cup
- Neutral oil
- Bacon or thinly sliced pork belly, 1/4 pound uncooked, sliced or chopped
- Garnishes (see below)
- Cut the cabbage lengthwise and trim out the core. Chop the remainder until it’s about as fine as coleslaw. It doesn’t have to be uniform.
- Slice the green onions. Toss them in a bowl with the cabbage and your seafood.
- In a separate bowl, mix the flour and water until it reaches the consistency of a crepe or pancake batter. (Make it too thick and pancakes get doughy.)\
- Combine the batter with the seafood and vegetables and toss it all together thoroughly.
- Add the eggs and mix. Kitamura likes to keep the eggs a little uneven; overmixing will make the pancakes tough.
- Scoop roughly one cup of batter onto an oiled pan or flat top. Try to keep it somewhat thick, since the cabbage will cook down; aim for a five-inch cake, something you can easily turn with a spatula. At Kitamura’s house, he usually cooks two pancakes at a time.
- If you’re using pork belly or bacon, place some on top of the pancake. Let it cook over medium heat for about five minutes.
- Use a spatula to check the bottom. Turn the pancake when the underside is golden brown. If you turn the pancake prematurely, it will break.
- When it’s ready, flip it over. Now that the meat side is face down in the pan, the fat will render and cook the batter until crispy. Let it cook until the pancake is golden brown and the pork is almost crunchy.
- Flip the pancake over one more time so the other side can soak up a little pork fat and get crisp.
- In these final minutes of cooking, lightly baste tonkatsu sauce on top of the pancake. If some splashes down the sides and onto the pan, that’s okay. If it burns a bit, it creates a nice, smoky, caramelly flavor.
- Turn the heat off. Now it’s time to garnish. Drizzle mayonnaise on top, followed by aonori and bonito flakes, if you are using these.
- Transfer the pancakes to a plate or cutting board. Cut them into bite-size pieces to serve
Kitamura admits, everybody in Japan buys tonkatsu sauce from the store. “It’s like how nobody makes Tabasco sauce here.”
Any American mayo works, but it’s best with Japanese kewpie mayo. Squeeze it onto the pancake straight out of the tube.
Okonomiyaki calls for a sprinkle of powdered or finely flaked seaweed, rather than the more familiar sheets of nori.
Bonito Flakes (aka Katsuobushi)
Delicate flakes of dried, smoked fish add a savory note. “You put that on top and it kind of dances on top,” says Kitamura. “Kids love that. It’s mesmerizing.”
Wrap okonomiyaki individually to freeze. When you need a quick lunch, pull one out, put it on a plate, and microwave for four minutes until the center is hot. Kitamura likes to add his sauce and mayonnaise, then microwave it again briefly. “I like my sauce warm.”