Chef's Day Off

Recipe: Taichi Kitamura’s Okonomiyaki

Japan’s savory pancake is easy to make, easy to freeze—and easy to garnish with abandon.

By Allecia Vermillion Photography by Brooke Fitts May 26, 2022 Published in the Summer 2022 issue of Seattle Met

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.” 

Sushi Kappo Tamura chef Taichi Kitamura tops his okonomiyaki with thin slices of pork.

Image: Brooke Fitts

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.”


Image: Brooke Fitts

Ingredients

  • Garlic or other alliums
  • Ramen noodles, fresh or dried
  • Hearty greens, like kale, chicories, chard, or cabbage
  • Other vegetables, whatever’s in the fridge
  • Your choice of umami or spice, like fish sauce, coconut aminos, curry, or chili paste
  • Eggs, one per person or per serving of noodles
  • Fresh herbs like basil or cilantro, maybe a few crunchy vegetables (carrots, radishes, etc.) cut into matchsticks
  • Chili crisp, to finish
  • 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)

Steps

  1. 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. 
  2. Slice the green onions. Toss them in a bowl with the cabbage and your seafood.
  3. 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.)\
  4. Combine the batter with the seafood and vegetables and toss it all together thoroughly.

    Image: Brooke Fitts

  5. Add the eggs and mix. Kitamura likes to keep the eggs a little uneven; overmixing will make the pancakes tough.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

    Image: Brooke Fitts

  8. 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. 
  9. 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.
  10. Flip the pancake over one more time so the other side can soak up a little pork fat and get crisp.
  11. 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.

    Image: Brooke Fitts

  12. 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.
  13. Transfer the pancakes to a plate or cutting board. Cut them into bite-size pieces to serve

Kitamura’s wife, Kay, appreciates the abundance of cabbage; pup Cookie likely prefers the bacon. 

Image: Brooke Fitts

Garnishes

 
Tonkatsu Sauce

Kitamura admits, everybody in Japan buys tonkatsu sauce from the store. “It’s like how nobody makes Tabasco sauce here.”

Mayonnaise

Any American mayo works, but it’s best with Japanese kewpie mayo. Squeeze it onto the pancake straight out of the tube.

Aonori

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.”


Reheating

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.” 

Share
Show Comments