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Sourdough Okonomiyaki – Savory Japanese Pancakes

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Traditional Japanese okonomiyaki pancakes get a sourdough makeover.

Okonomiyaki is a griddle-cooked pancake made with a savory, egg-based, wheat flour and cabbage batter. Okonomiyaki can be customized with endless seafood, meat, vegetable, and traditional Japanese toppings. 

 

Photo collage of sourdough okonomiyaki with toppings and title text overlay.

 

Here’s a little-known fact about me — I have a Japanese stepmom who has been teaching me about traditional Japanese cuisine since I was a child. When she came to America she actually owned a Japanese restaurant where she executed her incredible cooking talent.

I’ve also visited the tradition-rich Kansai region of Japan and eaten real okonomiyaki from a Japanese street vendor in Osaka. The Kansai region encompasses the southern part of Japan’s main island. It starts at the city of Tokyo, moves southeast to Kyoto, and further south to Hiroshima. This region is the epicenter of the okonomiyaki pancake tradition.

This doesn’t make me an expert by any means, just an appreciative observer who likes to modify traditional recipes. So this is my interpretation of a simple Japanese street food: a sourdough version of the classic okonomiyaki.

 

Perfectly cooked okonomiyaki pancake with toppings and sauce.

 

Okonomiyaki Tradition

According to my stepmom, Chizuko, okonomiyaki became popular in Hiroshima after the devastation of World War II. The region was newly impoverished and rice was extremely expensive, cooking fuel was scarce, and the recovering Japanese who were living in this war-torn region had to make do with what food items were available. 

Wheat flour had been introduced as a war ration and the Japanese made use of it, creating a thick pancake batter that was stretched even further with chopped cabbage and green onions. To this batter they added whatever food they had — cooked noodles, vegetables, seafood, or meat. The batter was then cooked quickly on a griddle to save fuel.

This is the sad yet innovative history of okonomiyaki. 

In Hiroshima, they still serve okonomiyaki with fried yakisoba noodles inside. 

 

Sourdough okonomiyaki pancake with special sauce.

 

Okonomiyaki — “What You Like Cooked”

This beautiful and poetic Japanese name literally translates to “what you like cooked.” The descriptive title is due to the fact that the easy batter is completely customizable with a wide variety of seafood, meats, vegetables, seaweed, sauces, and spices. It’s the perfect way to get creative in the kitchen with endless options — even for the less adventurous American palette.

Adding Seafood to Okonomiyaki

The traditional seafood toppings include shrimp, scallops, and squid, but there is plenty of room here to bring extra creativity with other seafood like clams, crab, and fish cake. When adding seafood to okonomiyaki, a pancake is formed on a hot pre-oiled griddle and the raw seafood is added to the top of the batter before the cake is flipped. 

 

Sourdough okonomiyaki with shrimp.

 

Adding Meats to Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki lovers indulge in toppings like pork belly, ground meat, thin slices of beef or bacon, and spicy sausages. When adding these meat toppings, they get par-cooked on the pre-oiled griddle for a few minutes before adding the batter over the top. 

 

Golden brown sourdough okonomiyaki topped with sauce and seaweed.

 

Adding Vegetables to Okonomiyaki

Vegetables can bring a wide variety of flavors and textures to okonomiyaki.

Slow-cooking vegetables do require par-cooking before being added to the pancakes. Potatoes, broccoli, hard squash, asparagus, and carrots are a few that are best added partially cooked. These harder veggies are best prepared diced and then steamed or blanched (par-cooked in boiling water) before adding them to the batter or individual pancake.

You can also use leftover steamed or roasted veggies for a less authentic but very delicious version! 

Soft quick-cooking vegetables like thinly sliced mushrooms, peppers, onions, and summer squash can all be added to the pre-oiled griddle and topped with batter. 

Pickled ginger is also often added to the top of the pancake before flipping. 

Raw vegetables like green onion or cooked vegetables like broccoli can be chopped and added directly to the entire batter if desired.

Okonomiyaki Sauces and Toppings

We always serve our okonomiyaki with a special sauce that is 50% ketchup and 50% Worcestershire sauce mixed together until smooth. There is also a thick Japanese-style Worcestershire that can be used alone, or ketchup can be used alone. 

The Japanese like a drizzle of mayonnaise, and often eat okonomiyaki with spicy Chinese mustard!

The pancakes can be sprinkled with all sorts of fun Japanese toppings, like bonito flakes (very thin dried fish), aonori (green dried seaweed), furikake (dried fish and sesame mix), togarashi (sesame, dried pepper, and herbs), yuzu (citrus) salt, and tempura crispies (tenkasu) — tenkasu should be cooked into the okonomiyaki by adding them to the pancake top before flipping.

Look for my product suggestions in the recipe!

 

Sourdough okonomiyaki with bacon.

 

Unconventional Okonomiyaki!

No reason to stay in the slow lane. Get funky with those toppings!

I’ve tried fermented cabbage (sauerkraut), broccoli and cheese, curry and potato, green onion and herb, cheeseburger (yes, hamburger on the bottom, cheese on the top), and an “everything pancake”— where I clean up leftover cooked meats, sausages, and veggies!

One thing I can say about adding toppings to okonomiyaki is that more is not always better. When it comes to topping your okonomiyaki don’t overdo it. Too many toppings will keep the pancakes from cooking evenly and muddy up the flavors. 

 

Sourdough okonomiyaki with ground beef, cheese, and ketchup.

Cheeseburger Okonomiyaki

 

Sourdough Okonomiyaki

This delicious batter does require a little more foresight than just mixing raw flour, water, cabbage, and eggs together. I developed the recipe to include a long slow fermentation at room temperature.

Please note that the batter should be made at least one day in advance. My recommendation is to make the preferment portion of the batter 24 hours before you plan to cook the okonomiyaki.

Note: If you have a very quick-acting starter you may be able to make the batter early in the morning for cooking that evening.

Once completed, the batter keeps extremely well in the refrigerator. Make a big batch and enjoy fresh okonomiyaki several times over the course of several days.

We even like the pancakes for breakfast, studded with bacon and served with a fried egg on top!

 

Golden brown okonomiyaki pancake with toppings and text overlay.

 

 

Sourdough Okonomiyaki with bacon.

Sourdough Okonomiyaki – Savory Japanese Pancakes

Yield: 6-8 large pancakes
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Fermentation Time: 16 hours
Total Time: 17 hours

Japanese okonomiyaki is a savory cabbage pancake that can be made with a multitude of different meat and seafood additions, vegetable toppings, and interesting sauces and spices.

Ingredients

Preferment

  • 280 grams (2 cups) organic all-purpose flour
  • 125 grams (1/2 cup) active sourdough starter, 100% hydration
  • 237 grams (1 cup) water

Batter

  • 2 eggs
  • 45 grams (1/4 cup) avocado oil
  • 20 grams (3 teaspoons) salt
  • 335 grams (4 cups) raw cabbage, chopped fine
  • 30 to 60 grams (1/8 to 1/4 cup) water

Okonomiyaki Sauce

  • 1/2 cup ketchup 
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce

Instructions

The Night Before

  1. In a large bowl mix the flour, starter, and water into a thick batter. Cover this batter and let it ferment 12 to 16 hours at room temperature.

The Next Day

  1. Uncover your batter and add the eggs, oil, and salt.
  2. Use a whisk to fully combine the ingredients. It can take a little extra elbow grease to get the ingredients incorporated into the preferment.
  3. Once the batter is smooth add the chopped cabbage and mix it in well.
  4. Slowly add the additional water until the batter is pancake consistency. Unless your cabbage had a lot of extra moisture, the batter should require the entire 60 grams.
  5. Cover the batter and continue fermentation for two hours at room temperature. The batter can then be refrigerated until you are ready to make your okonomiyaki.
  6. Mix the ketchup and Worcestershire into a sauce and keep it refrigerated until use.

Cooking Okonomiyaki

  1. Remove the batter from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare your additional ingredients and toppings.
  3. Preheat a griddle over medium heat. Maintain the griddle heat at around 375℉.
  4. Generously oil the griddle and add a large scoop of batter and spread it out into a 6-inch pancake.
  5. Cook the pancake on the first side until golden brown before flipping and cooking through.

Adding Seafood

When adding seafood to okonomiyaki, a pancake is formed on a hot griddle and the raw seafood goes on top of the batter before the cake is flipped. 

Adding Meats

When adding uncooked meat toppings, they get par-cooked on the pre-oiled griddle for a few minutes before adding the batter over the top. 

Adding Vegetables

Slow-cooking vegetables do require par-cooking before being added to the pancakes. Potatoes, broccoli, hard squash, asparagus, and carrots are a few that are best added partially cooked. These harder veggies should be diced then steamed, or blanched (par-cooked in boiling water).

Soft quick-cooking vegetables like thinly sliced mushrooms, peppers, onions, and summer squash can all be added to the pre-oiled griddle and topped with batter. 

Pickled ginger is often added to the top of the pancake before flipping. 

Raw vegetables like green onion or cooked vegetables like broccoli can be chopped and added directly to the batter if desired.

Adding Cheese

Cheese is most easily added in slices to the freshly flipped pancake. The heat will slowly melt the cheese and make a nice melty layer.

I have also successfully added cubed or grated cheese into the batter when making broccoli and cheese pancakes. Always test a small batch to make sure your cheese doesn't have the tendency to stick to the griddle!

Adding Toppings

Drizzle the cooked pancake with either okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, or spicy Chinese mustard. Add bonito flakes, aonori, and togarashi as desired.

Notes

Flour Substitution

I have also used organic sifted whole wheat flour with great success.

Make it a family or group meal!

If you have a portable griddle you can set it up in the center of your table. Have the okonomiyaki batter and toppings ready. Cook the okonomiyaki to order and serve them hot off the griddle right at the table. This is a wonderful way to bond and enjoy the cookimng process together.

Okonomiyaki with aonori topping.

 

 

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