Takoyaki

Recently, I posted a pic on my Facebook page of one of my latest cooking appliance acquisitions: a Takoyaki pan. Folks were perplexed.

"What the heck is it?" they asked.

"Oh, nothing much," I replied, nonchalantly ... "Just the coolest pan ever designed specifically for the making and enjoyment of Takoyaki!"

"Nice. What the heck is Takoyaki?"

Takoyaki is simply a casual Japanese street food. It's not really eaten as a meal, it's more of a snack. That's perfect for me, because I love snacks :). First popularized in Osaka, Japan by a street vendor named Tomekichi Endo in 1935, Takoyaki are little dumplings made of wheat flour and eggs filled with grilled or boiled octopus (tako), green onions, pickled ginger and tempura scraps. The little dumplings are cooked in a cast-iron Takoyaki pan (which are easily obtainable), then drizzled with Takoyaki sauce (similar to Worchestershire sauce) and mayonnaise and a sprinkling of bonito (katsuobushi shavings) and aonori (edible green seaweed).

Yes, some of the ingredients in this squid-filled snack (I used squid because it's more easily accessible to me than octopus) aren't hanging out at your local market, but if you live in a large city, you can find them pretty easily, and there are many reliable online sources as well.

I followed a recipe I found on one of my go-to Japanese cuisine food blogs, Japanese Cooking 101, and they provide a great video on how to cook the Takoyaki, which involves turning and rotating the balls with a special Takoyaki pick. You could use a chopstick or a small fork, but the pick works magnificently and you can find them where you source your Takoyaki pan. I got mine on Amazon. The directions for cooking the balls may look intimidating and your first go-round will look messy - but relax. You're doing it right. It looks like a nightmare at first, but the end result will amaze you.

This is a very empowering recipe. You'll feel like you can take over the world!

Before we get into the nuts and bolts part of the recipe, I want to share a quick video that will inspire you. I love these squid balls, but for me, it's also about the magical bonito flakes. If you've ever experienced them, they literally come alive when draped over anything hot, dancing about and basically high-fiving each other. Don't believe me? Just watch them here ...

I adjusted some of the ingredients from Japanese Cooking 101's recipe, so I've rewritten it in accordance to what I used to make me happy. I've never been a big fan of pickled ginger. It's just too much for my palate, I guess. So I replaced that with freshly grated ginger which I like more. The dumpling batter traditionally uses a basic dashi broth, which is perfectly acceptable, but I'd made a pot of David Chang's Bacon Dashi the week before and found the bacony-flavor paired wonderfully with the squid. You can simply boil your squid or octopus in water until it is tender (about an hour or so), or you can boil it with some additional aromatics like soy sauce and sake, which I did, thanks again to David Chang.

So come on. Let's do this. It'll be fun! I'm including a link to the handy cooking video below in the instructions.

Takoyaki

Inspired by recipe from Japanese Cooking 101

Makes about 30 balls

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Bacon Dashi (recipe below)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2-3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp freshly grated ginger (or pickled ginger if you prefer)
  • 5-6 oz cooked octopus or squid cut into 1/2" cubes (recipe below)
  • oil
  • Takoyaki sauce, Okonomiyaki sauce or Eel sauce
  • Japanese Kewpie mayo (or regular mayo)
  • Aonori (green dried seaweed)
  • Katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)

Bacon Dashi

Recipe from David Chang's Momofuku cookbook

*You can use this anywhere you'd use regular dashi. Pour it over shaved raw or blanched or pickled vegetables and shaved raw mushrooms in a bowl. Or how about using it to steam clams and/or mussles?

Makes 2 quarts

Ingredients:

Two 3-by-6-inch pieces konbu (kelp)

8 cups water

1/2 pound smoky bacon

Rinse the konbu under running water, then combine it with the water in a medium saucepan. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat and turn off the stove. Allow to steep for 10 minutes.

Remove the konbu from the pot and add the bacon. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down so the water simmers gently. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain the bacon from the dashi and chill the broth until the fat separates and hardens into a solid cap on the top of it. Remove and discard the fat and use the dashi or store it. Bacon dashi will keep, covered, for a few days in the refrigerator.

Boiled Octopus/Squid

Recipe from David Chang's Momofuku cookbook (originally Grilled Octopus Salad)

Ingredients

1 pound baby octopus or squid, fresh or frozen

1 cup water

3/4 cups usukuchi (light soy sauce)

1/2 cup mirin

1/2 cup sake

1/8 cup + 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1/2 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil

If frozen, that the octopus or squid in a bowl of cold water in the sink. Rinse octopus/squid and check to see if any cartilage needs to be removed. (I buy my squid already cleaned).

Stir together the water, soy, mirin, sake, and vinegar in a saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat so it bubbles at a steady strong simmer.

Add the octopus/squid to the pot. Cover the pan and braise on the stovetop for two hours. When the octopus/squid is ready, drain and discard the liquid. When cool, chop the octopus/squid up into 1/2" chunks and reserve for the Takoyaki. Can be refrigerated for up to a couple of days.

Instructions

In a large bowl, mix the Dashi, eggs, soy sauce, salt, grated ginger and flour with a whisk until well combined. If you're using pieces of pickled ginger, you can add them to the batter now, or you can drop them into the Takoyaki holes in the pan with the green onions and squid later. It's your call.

Heat a Takoyaki pan with oil to medium high, just until the oil begins to smoke. Use enough oil to coat the pan using a paper towel to keep the batter from sticking, then pour batter to fill the holes of the pan. It's okay to fill the holes all the way to the top. Adding the ingredients will cause them to spill over a little, and things will look a mess, but forge ahead!

Drop octopus pieces in the batter in each hole, then sprinkle each hole with the chopped green onions.

Turn the heat down to medium and cook at for 1-2 minutes. Using your Takoyaki pick, test a ball to see if it comes away from the side of it's hole and is starting to turn golden brown. You'll know it's time to start turning them when they want to come away from the pan for you. It can be a little tricky at first, so

watch the video

to see the technique. Notice how on the first turn, you're really just kind of tipping the ball over on it's side? This allows the uncooked batter to drain to the bottom of the hole. At this point you're going to keep turning and rotating the balls over on themselves, tucking in the little scraggly pieces of dumpling and they'll start to become perfectly round for you. Amaze-balls! This is so much fun!

When the balls are browned and crisped nicely, remove them from the pan and place the cooked Takoyaki on a plate. I like to "paint" the place first with the Takoyaki sauce and nestle the balls on top of that. Then drizzle on the Kewpie mayonnaise and a bit more Takoyaki sauce and (to taste). Finish the dish by sprinkling the Takoyaki with Aonori (green dried seaweed) and Katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). Stand in amazement and watch the little bonito flakes dancing and swaying seductively in front of you, the cheeky little bastards. Enjoy!