Friday, March 22, 2013

Okonomiyaki - Japanese Cabbage and Shrimp Pancake

Okonomiyaki - references to it kept popping up all over the place this month. I skimmed the new Food52 cookbook at my local library and immediately stopped at their photo of this dish. (Note: If you haven't found Food52 online before, you should go there, right now, or at least soon!) Their okonomiyaki recipe was voted the "Best Street Food" by their readers in 2012. Washington Post columnist David Hagedorn featured these Japanese pancakes in his recent article, scads of Yelpers 
from coast to coast sought advice on the best place to eat okonomiyaki, and a Google search yielded a gazillion recipes for differing versions. I had to try it... couldn't get it our of my mind. Hopefully this pancake would turn out better than my first attempt at a Korean green onion pancakes.

What is okonomiyaki? Sources agree it is a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients. That's where the agreement stops. Toppings and batters tend to vary according to region, and the preferred size and thickness also vary. The pancake is variously referred to as a thick Japanese pizza and described as a crisped crepe; it can look more like a flat omelet or frittata. Its appearance reminds me of an Asian-flavored spaghetti pie minus the pasta. Even its origins are hotly debated, as noted in this February article in RocketNews

My version of this cabbage and shrimp pancake produced a strongly-flavored flat frittata with a zippy sauce. It worked both as finger food or more neatly consumed in smaller pieces with fork or chopsticks.  I sampled a saucer-sized round and found it too unevenly cooked with a soggy center and crunchy edges. Mmmm, those crisp bits on the edges were pretty tasty, I might work on smaller/thinner/crispier. Smaller, flatter pancakes were an improvement, but the eggy batter still masked the cabbage and shrimp. Next time I might thin the batter, use less flour or adjust the filling-to-batter ratio. 

Okonomiyaki may not top the list as my favorite finger food, but I did enjoy them as something different for lunch. There will be a next time with these savory pancakes, as I search for a lighter, more crepe-like pancake or wrap.

Photo: ingredients for a Japanese Cabbage and Shrimp Pancake

Photo: side one of an okinomiyaki sizzles in the pan

Asian Cabbage and Shrimp Pancakes
inspired by a recipe found online at

Yield: 6-8 medium pancakes

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon lime Ponzu (or soy sauce and a splash of lime juice)
1 teaspoon hot sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (optional, I find the Ponzu salty enough)
1/4 cup AP flour
1 cup thinly sliced cabbage shreds
2 green onions, sliced thin
1/2 cup salad shrimp, or chop larger shrimp (or substitute crab or sausage, or use mushrooms and go meatless.)
Minced pickled red ginger, to taste (optional, but it adds a nice bite)

Canola oil for the skillet
Furikake or toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
Dipping sauce*

Preheat your oven to 200 F, to hold the pancakes as you make several batches.

Use a medium bowl and whisk together the eggs, Ponzu, spicy sesame oil and salt if you are using any. Add the flour in several batches, whisking to blend completely after each addition. Use a large spoon (or chopsticks) to fold in the cabbage, green onions, shrimp and pickled ginger if you are using some.
Drop a few tablespoons of canola oil into a medium, nonstick skillet and heat over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Give the batter another stir or two to mix in any egg mixture that might have settled out; add a heaping serving spoon of batter to the pan. Smooth out the batter to an even thickness, tidy up the edges if you care, and cook for several minutes until golden brown. Flip carefully and cook a few more minutes until the second side is golden brown. Keep warm, covered, in the oven as you work with the remaining batter.

Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup lite Best Foods (or homemade) mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lime Ponzu sauce
1 tablespoon Sriracha, adjust more or less to your own taste or substitute a bit of prepared wasabi
Note: use as a dipping sauce or add to a squirt bottle and squeeze over the pancakes.

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