He Who Will Not Be Ignored has the misfortune of having inherited his parents’ dentition, which means that he will spend his adolescence with a mouth full of gums and wires. Orthodontic appliances aren’t nearly as dire and uncomfortable as the Torquemada-esque torture rigs of my childhood, but there are still some rules about what can and cannot be eaten. Unfortunately for He Who, eating food off the bone is verboten (biting down on a bone could shear a wire holder off of a tooth), which rules out ribs and wings – the cornerstone of his protein food group.
Having recently endured both tooth extractions and new wiring, I wanted to make a few dinners that were tasty but would still give him some chewing relief. I had two recipes in mind, both versions of Japanese street food.
Tori no Kara-age
Tori no kara-age, Japanese fried chicken nuggets, is a dish I’ve made before using this recipe. Not only is it boneless and quick to prepare, but it also requires only five ingredients: four skinless boneless chicken thighs cut into chunks, a half cup of corn starch, a small chunk of ginger run over a microplane grater, three tablespoons of soy sauce, and a tablespoon of bourbon (I keep a bottle of Maker’s Mark around for medicinal purposes).
I mixed the soy, bourbon, and ginger together to make a marinade, then added the chicken and let it soak for about half an hour. While the chicken marinated, I filled my deep fryer with a half gallon of peanut oil and let it come up to 350 °F. When the chicken and oil were both ready, I dredged the chunks in the cornstarch.
I fried the chicken in batches of about a dozen chunks for four minutes per batch. I drained each batch on paper towels.
I garnished each plate of chicken with scallions and served cucumber sunomono on the side:
Hot, crispy, gingery nuggets served with a cool, acidic salad – it couldn’t get any simpler or tastier. He Who was greatly appreciative of my effort, but reminded me “when these braces come off, you’re back to making regular fried chicken.” He really has no idea how long that will take, but I’m happy to make this version whenever he wants.
My introduction to takoyaki (octopus balls), a popular street food in Osaka, came from this episode of No Reservations:
Inspired by a late-night viewing of the show, I searched online for a takoyaki cooking appliance, and settled on this:
This solid hunk of divoted cast iron came with an oiling brush and the metal pick required to spin the batter around as it cooked. It also came with a recipe that was so poorly translated that I had to track down a better version, which I finally located at Bento.com. Unfortunately, I had no idea of the correct cooking temperature for the pan, and wound up burning everything. I boxed up the pan, stored it in the basement, and began my quest for the elusive electric takoyaki maker. I was prepared to have one of She Who Must Be Obeyed’s clients in Tokyo ship one to me when I finally located this model (a similar version is available at J-List):
I knew I had the right gizmo, the blue boxes read (left to right) ta – ko – ya – ki. The extra confirmation came from this hapy little fellow at the bottom:
The happy tako (octopus) seems to be a de rigeur motif for this snack, just like the robotic verson in Bourdain’s store window.
I plugged in the griddle and gathered my ingredients, using the same recipe as my first attempt: 450 ml of water, a four-inch square of konbu, 15 grams of katsuobushi (bonito flakes), 200 grams of flour, about twenty cooked shrimp, and a half cup of chopped scallions.
I made a dashi from the water, konbu, and katsuobushi, then whisked in the flour to make a smooth batter.
After oiling each of the wells, I added chunks of shrimp to the griddle. The shrimp, standing in for the boiled octopus I had failed to procure, meant I was making ebiyaki.
After dropping in a pinch of scallions, I filled each well with the batter.
This is when everything went (literally) pear-shaped: The batter was too thick, so it didn’t flow around the shrimp when added to the griddle, and it didn’t flow out of the cooked shell completely when flipped over.
The second batch was better, but still not as round as they should have been.
Eaten piping hot, these were fluffy, savory, sweet from the sauce, and had a chewy shrimp nugget buried inside. Even when they’re badly made, they’re good.
While gathering information for this post, I found this instructional video:
Everything I did wrong is addressed in that video: I need a thinner, colder batter. I should pour the batter in first, before adding the filling. I can be a lot less neat about filling the griddle, and the balls should only be rotated a quarter turn at a time. I plan on trying again soon, and also hope to improve my flipping technique. Maybe with practice I’ll get as good as this street vendor:
I’ve been told that the cast iron pan I have in storage is also sold as an ebelskiver pan, a utensil for making Danish filled pancakes. I’ll stick with the electric version, but I am considering trying a sweet batter with a sweet filling. You may call the results ebelskivers, but I know better: they’re chocoyaki.