Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Look at the picture above. You could be forgiven for thinking you were looking at savoury choux creams, couldn't you? In fact, you're looking at a serving of Japanese takoyaki. These translate into English as octopus balls but I think you'll agree that takoyaki sounds so much better.
So, what are takoyaki? Simply put, they are bite sized balls of fried batter filled with chopped octopus, spring onion, little bit of leftover tempura batter and a Japanese pickled ginger called beni shoga. Takoyaki are usually served with some Japanese mayo, brown sauce, powdered nori seaweed and/or some katsuobushi bonito fish flakes. They are one of Japan's most popular street foods and can be found at every festival held up and down the country as well as specialist takoyaki restaurants. Unusually for a Japanese dish, we know exactly who invented takoyaki - Mr. Endo Tomikichi, an Osakan, who opened his first takoyaki outlet in 1935. Of course, the most important question is - What makes a good takoyaki? First, to the eye, the takoyaki should be a nice, golden brown colour. Too brown and it'll be burnt and possiby over cooked inside. Second, what should a good takoyaki taste like? The texture should be a contrast between a slightly crispy, thin skin of batter and a soft, slightly oozy inside. Taste-wise, you should be getting muted seafood flavours mixed with the tang of pickled ginger and spring onion.
There is a certain skill to making takoyaki but nothing you won't be able to master after a little practice. But first things first, to make your own takoyaki, there's one thing you absolutely must have - a takoyaki maker - like the one on the right. A takoyaki maker is simplicity itself - a pressed
steel plate with a number (usually 16 for a domestic maker) of spherical impressions pressed out of the steel. A good takoyaki maker should have a long life non-stick coating. The lines you can see in the photo that divide each half sphere help separate the batter mixture when you are making your takoyaki - but more of that later. (That reminds me, you will also need a couple of wooden skewers later as well. You must use wood, not steel skewers which will damage the non-stick surface of the takoyaki maker.) The takoyaki maker is used on a gas hob or on a table top portable gas one-ring cooker. There's one more thing you should check - look underneath and make sure the takoyaki maker has small notches or feet cut out to provide stability when it is placed on the gas ring - the maker gets very hot and when you are making your takoyako, it's full of hot batter, so the last thing you want is a nasty, hot spillage. (You can find takoyaki makers advertised on the internet that claim to work on electric or induction hobs. I havent tried these out though. My one concern about them is that they all appear to have a flat base which means that they could be quite unstable - not a good thing.)
So, let's assume you've taken the plunge and bought, begged or borrowed (but hopefully not stolen!) your takoyaki maker. The next thing you will need to do is assemble your ingredients. Takoyaki are made from a simple batter of egg, flour and dashi stock. For this recipe, I made the stock using stock granules but you could make your own dashi stock or use a stock bag - whatever works for you. Just whisk together a little and the batter is ready. Moving on to the fillings - a takoyaki wouldn't be a takoyaki without octopus, in this case diced into small pieces. On the other hand, I have made "fake" takoyaki using crab sticks (craboyaki, anyone?) and it works very well. As you know, crab sticks cost next to nothing (certainly a lot less tha octopus) so they are a great filling to use when you first try out a takoyaki maker.
So, Filling 1 - Either get hold of some octopus or use crabsticks / seafood sticks.
Next Filling 2 - The next "traditional" filling is tempura crumb (tenkasu in Japanese) - these are the little bits of fried tempura batter that you find bubbling away in your pan when you make tempura. (Don't throw them away - even if you don't want to make takoyaki, you can use tempura crumbs in bowls of hot soba or udon or okonomiyaki - they'll keep for a couple of weeks in your fridge). If you don't have any tempura crumb handy, then use some deep fried shallots as an alternative.
Then there's Filling 3 - Just as obligatory for "old school" tempura is sliced beni shoga. As I said above, beni shoga is a form of pickled ginger made from immersing sliced ginger into plum vinegar. Beni shoga usually comes in a rather lurid red/pink colour This was traditionally done by colouring the ginger using red perilla leaves (a close relative of shiso) but nowadays, almost all the beni shoga you find will have been coloured using an edible dye. You could use sushi ginger as a substitue for beni shoga if that's what you have available.
Finally, Filling 4 - finely sliced spring onion.
Keep your fillings separate to ensure that each takoyaki gets an equal share of each filling. Set them aside for the time being and set up your takoyaki maker atop your gas hob or table top gas ring. Turn the gas on and keep it to a low/medium setting - the end game for perfect takoyaki is a golden brown colour which should take about 10 minutes. If the heat is too high, the takayaki will be too dark or will burn and you'll overcook the inside. Once you have turned on the gas, pour a little oil into a small bowl. Roll up a square of kitchen paper, dip it in the oil and then use it to oil the takoyaki maker. You want to oil the whole surface - both the takoyaki holes and the flat surface of the plate.
By now your takoyaki maker should be hot enough for you to start cooking. Hold your hand over the takoyaki maker and if you can feel the heat rising off the plate, it's time to start. Using a ladle, pour half of your batter into the takoyaki molds. You don't need to be too accurate so don't worry if some of the batter doesn't go into the holes.
Next, use your fingers or chopsticks to put a little of each filling into each hole. Try to get the octopus/ crab stick pieces into the holes but again, don't worry if the other fillings go a little haywire.
Once you've used all the fillings, wait a little while - just a minute or two - to allow the batter to start to set. Now, you're ready for the next part of the process. Return to your ladle and your batter. Ladle the rest of the batter over the takoyaki plate. The plate will now be covered with batter and it should be sizzling away nicely.
Remember those grid lines on the takoyaki maker, that I spoke about earlier? They should now be completely covered in batter now but you know where to find them, don't you! Take a wooden skewer and pierce the batter. Find the grid lines with the point of the skewer and drag the point of the skewer along the line. This will cut through the batter and as you draw your skewers up and down all the lines, it will separate your takoyaki into 16 little sizzling, squares.
Now for the technical bit. Still using wood skewers (one in each hand), lift up the batter and expose the (now cooked) batter sitting in the mold. Use the skewers to partly lift and partly turn the cooked part of the takoyaki so that the raw batter sitting on top gets turned down into the mold. As you do this, use the skewers to tuck the batter sitting on the little square into the mold. Don't try to fully invert the takoyaki ball on your first attempt. A 90 degree turn is good enough. Move on to the next ball and repet the process. When you've turned and tucked every ball, return to the first ball and turn again. Repeat 2 or 3 times and, voila! You will find 16 perfectly shaped little takoyaki balls sizzling away in front of you. Now simply turn each ball a little more to ensure they are all nicely browned all over and you're done.
It only remains now to remove the takoyaki from the maker (you can use the skewers or chopsticks to do this). the final part of the process is to drizzle with a little mayo and/or brown sauce - personally I keep the sauces to a minimum - just enough to add an extra layer of taste but not so much to drown out the subtle flavours inside the takoyaki. A sprinkling of powdered nori seaweed will further enhance the seafood flavours.
Your takoyaki are now ready for you to serve and eat.
If you like the idea of some takoyaki in your life, you can find the Youtube tutorial by clicking Takoyaki or just scroll to the bottom of the page. (I advise you to watch this to get an impression of how to turn the little takoyaki balls in their maker - it's not a difficult skill to master but it is easier when you've seen it with your own eyes. The written "how to" recipe is just below.
If you decide you want to invest in your own takoyaki maker, take a look at the one in the Goods section of my site. I used that maker to cook the recipe here. It's made in Japan by Takumi and I don't think you'll find a better quality maker anywhere. I receive a commission if you choose to buy via the link in the Goods section so you'll be helping me support my site.
Happy cooking! Kurumi XXXX.
(makes 16 takoyaki)
2 spring onions
2 tbsp Japanese beni shoga red pickled ginger
2 tbsp tempura crumbs (alternative: 2 tbsp deep fried shallots)
35g / 1.25 oz cooked octopus (alterntive: 3 crab sticks / seafood sticks)
for the takoyaki batter:
90g / 3.2 oz plain flour
300ml / 10.5fl oz water
1 tsp Japanese dashi stock granules
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Japanese brown sauce
aoko (powdered seaweed)
2 bamboo skewers (do not use metal skewers as they may damage the non-stick surface of the takoyaki maker)
finely chop the spring onion
cut the octopus or your crab sticks into 16 pieces
mix the water & dashi stock granules to make your Japanese stock. put the plain flour into a bowl and pour in the dashi stock. whisk to a rough batter. add the egg and whisk again until the egg is incorporated
put your takoyaki maker on the gas ring and make sure it is stable. turn on the gas to a low/medium heat. dip either a rolled up square of kitchen paper or a small brush into the veg oil. oil both the takoyaki holes and the top plate
next, hold your hand over the plate. if you can feel the heat rising off the plate, your are ready to start cooking.
pour half of the batter into each hole, then add the octopus / crab stick pieces. next, add the chopped spring onion, tempura crumbs and ginger
now pour over the rest of the batter. the takoyaki plate should now have a thick film of batter all over it. adjust the heat if necessary and wait 1- 2 minutes until the batter start forming
next, use a wooden skewers to divide the batter into a grid (along the lines etched into the takoyaki plate.) give each takoyaki ball a quarter turn, tuckig in the batter from the top of the plate to form a ball. the takoyaki will look a bit untidy at this point, but keep turning the balls around and tucking in excess batter and soon, you'll have a neat tray of takoyaki. keep an eye on the heat.
once the takoyaki ball are fully formed, keep turning until they are a uniform, golden brown
use the wooden skewers or chopsticks to remove the takoyaki to plates
serve with Japanese brown sauce, mayonnaise & the powdered seaweed