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Bento Recipes: Takoyaki


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So long, suckers!
Storebought takoyaki
Takoyaki is octopus dumplings. Yep, little balls of dough with bits of octopus inside. They're tricky to cook, so if you're a beginner you might want to follow the most common recipe: Go to an Asian grocery store and buy a bag of takoyaki. (They can be found in the frozen foods section.) Open the bag. Put a few on a plate or in the bento box. Microwave for a minute or so before eating. Serve with takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, or whatever. The first time I packed these in my lunch, people in my office didn't believe that I had actually brought octopus balls. I had to cut open one of the dumplings and show them the little curl of tentacle inside. That'll teach 'em to doubt me!

outside and in If you're feeling hardcore enough to make these yourself, good for you! First off, you need a takoyaki pan. If you have a hardcore Asian market, the kind with a decent cookware section, you might find one there. If not, Amazon has them. It should come with a brushlike implement and a tool like an icepick. Then, you need the following ingredients:

    3/4 cup of flour
    1 egg
    1 1/3 cup of water
    several baby octopus or one small octopus, boiled
    1 scallion
    pickled ginger
    1/2 cabbage leaf (not including the "rib")
    1/2 cup of Rice Krispies or off-brand version of same
    bonito flakes
    vegetable oil for the pan

Start off by heating up the pan. As it's a heavy, solid chunk of metal, this will take a little while. Simply put it on the burner set to the low end of high (I turn the dial to 7.5, if that's any help) and let it heat while you prepare the other elements.

Get out your cutting board. Cut the boiled octopus into little bits the right size to put in a ball. The first picture above should give you an idea of how large that is. Second, mince the pickled ginger and the onion and cut the cabbage leaf into small, confetti-like pieces. As you finish cutting each item, put it in a separate pile on a plate you can get to quickly and easily. Put 1/2 cup of the puffed rice cereal stuff in a cup or something similar. Beat an egg in a measuring cup, add the water, and add hon-dashi. (I just slosh some in, but I'd estimate I use about a teaspoon.) Add the flour and mix to make batter.

By the time you've got everything sliced and mixed, the plate should be good and hot. Oil it well, the top surface as well as the cups. (This is what the string brush that should have come with your takoyaki pan is for.) Then pour about a tablespoon of batter in each cup, enough to fill it 3/4 of the way. Quickly drop a bit of octopus into each cup, then some cabbage, scallion, ginger, and bonito flakes. Finally, scatter the puffed rice over the top, and then slosh more of the batter to fill each cup and then slosh over the edges and between cups. That slosh will end up in the balls!

ugly ping-pong balls Now this is where it gets tricky. By "tricky" I don't mean difficult so much as I mean that you really need to practice and develop a feel for the process, as a simple set of instructions can't get all the techniques across, and in fact may be hard to follow until your first trial run. When the batter around the first cups you filled starts looking a little cooked, draw the icepick-like tool around between the cups to separate the batter. Tuck the batter into the nearest cups, down into the liquid center. Stick the icepick-like implement that should have come with your takoyaki pan between the batter and the pan and twirl it around the edges as if to separate the two, then rotate the batter-ball in the cup so the uncooked side is now downward and the batter runs down into the bottom of the cup, completing the sphere shape. Repeat for all of the balls,. (If any of them break up and don't want to turn, as did the bottom right ball in the picture to the right, you may not have oiled the pan well enough, or they may just need to cook a little longer before rotating them.) Continue cooking, rotating them all every few minutes to put the least-cooked side downwards, until they're a decent golden brown. At that point, take 'em out and let 'em cool.

The finished takoyaki will have a crust on the outside and be soft and creamy on the inside. Serve them with takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, or Worcestershire sauce. Show them to your friends to impress them with how hardcore you are!

I've tried a few variations on this recipe, including adding the cabbage, ginger, and scallion to the batter in the mixing stage as opposed to dropping it into each cup after filling the pan. That worked fine. And you can use shrimp or something else if the prospect of eating octopus is a little much for you.