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OKONOMIYAKI: the japanese hashbrown mashup, and shrimp

Simple, cheap and full of possibilities. The name Okonomiyaki derives from the words okonomi which means “what you like” or “what you want” and yaki which means “grilled” or “cooked”. It’s a diner-style food popular in the Osaka and Hiroshima areas of Japan and is often cooked in restaurants by the customers themselves, think Korean BBQ but with pancakes. I’m a sucker for dishes that beg you to participate and celebrate individual tastes. Read how to make your own version.

Sometimes I wonder if some higher power is playing the soundtrack to my life. Wouldn’t it be spectacular if we were all assigned DJ-ing deities at birth that peppered life’s little moments with the perfect song?

Yesterday a friend of mine sent a mixtape straight to my dropbox (todos atentos: a handmade surprise playlist sent straight to your computer is maybe the most awesome way to start your day). I turned it on while I hurriedly got ready for a poorly planned morning meeting (8:30am subway rides, bleh) and lamely paid attention to the mix. When I came home to make a late lunch I put it on for a second spin.

And as I stood over the stove frying up potatoes and shrimp a song I had never heard before came on: John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery”. The whole mixtape was a sort of ode to old school Southern country and rock, but this song in particular made my ears perk up, and the very Southern-ness made the physical act of frying potatoes and shrimp feel completely appropriate, almost ordained. So there you go, some deity is following me around with a boom box and he’s awesome, preach!

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I stumbled onto this recipe because one day while walking around downtown I came across a Japanese lunch restaurant and because I love window shopping for things I can’t afford, I stopped to glance at the menu. In addition to the normal sushi, sashimi and teriyaki there was a small section dedicated to Okonomiyaki. Korean and Japanese foods are limitless sources of inspiration in my kitchen and so I pulled out a notebook and jotted it down. The name derives from the words okonomi which means “what you like” or “what you want” and yaki which means “grilled” or “cooked”. It’s a diner-style food popular in the Osaka and Hiroshima areas of Japan and is often cooked in restaurants by the customers themselves, think Korean BBQ but with pancakes. The base is flour, water, eggs and shredded cabbage and your choice of fish, vegetables and salsas. I’m a sucker for dishes that beg you to participate and celebrate individual tastes.

My okonamiyaki draws inspiration from the hash brown, because you can never fill your life with too many potatoes. I also added some shredded carrot, minced mushroom and shredded cabbage. As far as I understand, the fish is also added directly to the batter. With a lesser ingredient I would’ve chopped up some fish and thrown it in, but when we’re talking shrimp I like to be in the driver’s seat. I prefer to exercise supreme self-control and save a few shrimp for the second half of the food-to-mouth shoveling. But it’s up to you, when grilling up some Japanese pancakes do what you want.

To make 6 medium sized pancakes you will need the following:

  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 1 large potato, washed, shredded, washed again (to get rid of starch), strained and patted dry
  • ½ medium sized yellow cabbage, thinly shredded
  • About 4 or 5 large mushrooms, minced
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¾ cups of flour
  • Salt to taste
  • Shrimp, as many as you want

First prepare your vegetables. Go ahead and shred the potato first, wash and dry. You want the potato to be as dry as possible. Mix all the veggies together. Add flour, mix. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs, add to bowl and mix. The whole batter should be nice and thick. If you can still see bits of flour add an additional egg.

Shell, devein and clean your shrimp. I boiled my shrimp and then lightly fried them. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, turn off heat, throw in shrimp and cover for 5-7 minutes until firm. Throw into the pan cooking the pancakes and toss around for about a minute. If I have extra time I’ll make a broth by adding the shrimp shells and beer to the water. Brew for 20 minutes strain shells and use to cook shrimp.

Heat oil in a pan. With a spoon or pair of tongs scoop some batter onto the pan. Flatten out with a spatula. Cook on each side for about 5 minutes. When getting ready to flip the cooked side should be hard enough to support the weight of the pancake, meaning that it shouldn’t be flopping over the side of your spatula but rather be a flat, crispy mass. Top with your favorite salsa, some sesame seeds and if you did what I want, SHRIMP and AVOCADO.

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