okonomiyaki

St Patrick’s Day Okonomiyaki

okonomiyakiI have no idea what the adjective for Irish-Japanese fusion food is, but we need one. Both Ireland and Japan love a bit of cabbage and seaweed (and whiskey). Their cuisines have more in common than you’d think.

This idea came from Mister North who having seen the design for Recipes from Brixton Village on mentions the recipes he is most excited by as he reads. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake made primarily from cabbage, but the number of spring onions (or more accurately scallions) in it made him think it overlapped with the Northern Irish delicacy of champ.

Since okonomiyaki means ‘as you like it’ I wondered if I could make a champ based version for St Patrick’s Day. I have grown to love okonomiyaki after Motoko Priestman opened Okan in Brixton Village, dishing up a variety of okonomiyaki in the Osaka style. My favourite is the mochi and cheese, but this is a little like choosing your favourite pet or child as they are all fabulous in their own way.

There are few more filling and healthy lunches than an okonomiyaki making it perfect for fortifying one’s self if you’ve had a few swallies the night before. I’ve gone stereotypically Irish here with bacon, cabbage and scallions. Annoyingly I was seaweed-less but some nori or dulse on top would have been perfect. I also varied from the usual topping of mayonnaise to use a creamy buttermilk dressing and omitted the typical okonomiyaki or ‘burnt sauce’ that tastes like ketchup combined with HP sauce.

St Patrick’s Day Okonomiyaki (adapted from Recipes from Brixton Village)

Serves 1

  • 50g pancetta or bacon cubes
  • 150g sweetheart cabbage, shredded finely
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 50g potato, grated
  • 50g plain flour
  • pinch sea salt
  • pinch brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 50-75ml water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 tablespoon buttermilk or yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper
  • seaweed flakes to serve

Okonomiyaki usually has toppings like thinly sliced squid, belly pork, prawns or cheese which are cooked as the pancake itself cooks, but because I only had thick cubes of bacon, I’ve cooked them first as they might still have been raw otherwise. Pan fry until crisp round the edges.

Shred the cabbage in very thin slices and then break it up into individual shreds with your hands into a large bowl. Add the cooked bacon and any fat from the pan. Thinly slice the scallions and add in. Beat the egg into it all. Set aside.

Take a skillet or heavy pan and heat on a high heat for about 3-4 minutes while you make the batter. Don’t add the oil at this point.

Prepare your batter by grating the potato in a bowl and adding the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Crack the egg into it and beat it in. Add enough of the water to make the whole thing a soft and pourable batter. Stir quickly but without overmixing. Pour 3/4s of the batter into the cabbage and bacon and mix lightly. Set the rest of the batter aside.

Add the oil in the pan and turn it down to a medium-low heat. Put the cabbage batter into the pan, smoothing it out from a heap to a thick pancake. Don’t push it right down to knock the air out. Cook the okonomiyaki for about 3 minutes.

Pour the remaining batter on top of it all. This would usually help seal the toppings into the okonomiyaki. Carefully flip the okonomiyaki over and cook on the other side for about 2-3 minutes. The base of the okonomiyaki will be quite dark from the hot pan but you want the top a bit paler.

Serve on a plate, paler side up and drizzle with the buttermilk dressing. Sprinkle with the seaweed flakes and a few spare scallion slices if you have them. Eat immediately and experience the perfect cross between a pancake, boxty and a potato farl. You may fancy a wee stout on the side. I had good strong tea instead.

Recipes from Brixton Village - front cover

Recipes from Brixton Village will be published on May 22nd 2014 from independent bookshops and the Kitchen Press website. It can be pre-ordered now for delivery as soon as it’s published.

Saltfish and Parsnip Croquettes

When I was wee, you saw croquettes on the menu quite often, usually involved leftover potato and tinned fish in luridly orange breadcrumbs and often oddly accompanied by chips for triple carbing. This rather British concoction has fallen out of favour, replaced by the rich bechamel filled croqueta of tapas bars as we become more cosmopolitan. I rather miss the old version and when I was picking up some saltfish in the market the other week, my mind went toward reinventing, and hopefully reviving them.

I love the firm texture of saltfish or salt cod and since discovering that it freezes well after soaking, often have some to hand since it is eternally versatile. I also often have leftover mash as I find it a kitchen staple. I just needed something else to lift the croquettes from their bland reputation and when rummaging in the fridge on a damp Bank Holiday and sincerely hoping I wouldn’t have to go outside, I stumbled across a parsnip and thought its spicy sweet flavour would go brilliantly with the fish. I suddenly had the perfect leftovers brunch!

Saltfish and Parsnip Croquettes (best as leftovers, slower to make from scratch)

  • 150g saltfish, soaked according to instructions. (I do a big batch and then freeze it for quick dishes)
  • 250g mashed potato (I use a ricer for super smooth mash)
  • 100g grated raw parsnip
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 100g panko breadcrumbs
  • oil for frying

These are super simple and should take about 30 minutes to make including chilling. Peel and grate a large parsnip. Mix it into the mashed potato with your hands until well combined and then flake in the soaked saltfish, checking for any bones as you go. Season to taste (most of the salt will have soaked off the fish, but be cautious in case it hasn’t) and mix up well with your hands. Then take about a handful and roll into a ball, then out into a sausage shape. This amount should make six. Place on a slightly oiled plate and chill for minimum 20 minutes or until needed.

When you are ready for the croquettes, either heat a frying pan with olive oil for shallow frying. Crack the egg into a bowl and beat. Tip the panko breadcrumbs onto a plate. Then roll the croquette in egg and dip in the breadcrumbs and then into the hot pan. The panko crumbs which are made without a crust will become golden and crispy while the inside is hot and fluffy. Turn regularly giving each side about a minute. Drain onto kitchen paper. You could use a deep fat fryer if you prefer as this will do all sides at once. Serve with salad as a starter or with a poached egg on top as a main course. Chilli sauce is essential either way.

I like all the constituent parts of these so I expected to enjoy them. I was pleasantly surprised to adore them.  The breadcrumb coating was light and crispy and not at all greasy, giving way to a smooth filling crammed with firm flaky fish and peppered with still slightly crunchy parnsip that really came into its own, leaving behind its bland reputation completely. This was the best brunch I’ve had in a long time and I look forward to making them again and trying oven baking them as fishcakes. If you’ve ever wondered what to do with either saltfish or a parsnip, I can’t recommend these enough. If the croquettes of my childhood had been this flavoursome, they would never have fallen out of fashion!

*This post originally appeared over at Brixton Blog where those lovely Brixtonians let me have free run of their kitchen.