It's showy and fun, a kind of kabuki make-a-pizza, and I loved it. The pancake itself is substantial, the vegetables give it a complex texture, and the glazing of soy sauce and bonito is both savory and sweet. I thought Heather might like it, and eating JP style gave me an excuse to make a version of okonomiyaki for her. Granted, the dish I made for her is nothing like a real okonomiyaki, but that's why I made it.
I started by slicing a fennel bulb and half a sweet onion really thin and caramelizing them in olive oil. Fennel cooked this way gets marvelously sweet and has an almost brittle texture. Onions get similarly changed by caramelization, but the transformation doesn't seem as magical. Caramelized onions still taste like onions, but fennel tastes like candy.
While the fennel was cooking, I made the batter. I started with a couple of eggs, some olive oil and a ladle of vegetable stock, then whisked-in rice flour until the consistency was smooth and slightly heavier than a crepe batter. I mixed the flour in first so the starch granules would have time to hydrate before I had to pour the pancake. I grated a carrot and chopped the fennel fronds finely and added them to the batter along with some finely sliced scallion and celery, sea salt and black pepper.
By the time all the vegetables were incorporated, the fennel and onions were nicely caramelized, so I poured the batter over them. I couldn't cook the pancake entirely on top of the stove without flipping it, but I wanted a nice surface for presentation, so I decided to finish it under the broiler. The residual heat in the pan was sufficient to set the pancake, so it didn't need too much time under the broiler. I didn't want a browned top, just a firm surface to spread the dressing on.
I needed a dressing to substitute for the soy sauce glaze, so I used the microplane to make a puree of a garlic clove, then made it into an emulsion with sesame oil and rice vinegar, and added some grated ginger, chopped roasted red pepper and more of the fennel fronds. Microplanes are fantastic for this kind of chore. It would take a five minutes and a bunch of mushing with a mortar and pestle to make a smooth garlic puree conventionally, but just rubbing a clove through a fine microplane gets it done in seconds. I covered the pancake with the dressing and scattered some sea salt, garnishing with a chiffonnade of alley mint.
The dressing contrasted with the candy-like bottom** of the pancake, making each forkful nicely complex and mimicking the effect of the soy and bonito in the original item. Heather was pleased, and I got to keep all my fingers. I told her about the custom I observed during my stay in Japan, of the over-served salaryman pissing in a doorway, performing the traditional drunken-outside-pee ceremony. She said it sounded beautiful and moving. (v)
**You heard me. Candy-like bottom.