The first experience I had with takoyaki was in Taiwan from a street vendor. Today, it's on our regular "to order" list whenever Ming and I dine at our favorite local izakaya (and probably the only izakaya). Tako does not refer to a Mexican tortilla dish, but is the Japanese word for octopus or cuttlefish. The dish originates in Osaka where it was first called radioyaki (in reference to the popular new electronic device at the time although the corelation is completely lost on me). Every household in Osaka is believed to have at least one of these devices. These days, most Americans would guess the takoyaki pan to be the recent (and thankfully recently defunct) trend home kitchen item referred to as pancake puffs.
Ming recently ordered a machine from Japan and has been diligently seeking out recipes on the internet. For some reason, these machines are always red and have the same cartoon octopus on them no matter what manufacturer designed it (ours even has little cartoon faces that can be incorporated onto the takoyaki and a ring for a headband although we haven't yet felt the need to do so yet). Instructions are conveniently placed on the back of the box. Luckily, Ming knows enough Japanese to translate (plus there are pictures for gringos).
We've done a couple of late night trials with various batters. The last results were great. Patience is definitely a must. All of the dimples are filled with batter. Chopped cooked tako is dropped into each hole. More batter is put on top. In our latest batch, Ming added scallion, chopped steak, and cheddar cheese.
Looks like a big mess, right? This is where some of the patience comes in. Using a toothpick or skewer, keep working the sides of each takoyaki until the batter firms up enough to flip it. Shove the cooked parts from around into the takoyaki. At this point, the takoyaki will have a light brown/pale crust. Do not remove them. Let them sit in the dimples and continue to brown, rotating them every few minutes (more patience). The cooking time for good takoyaki in our machine has been from 15 to 20 minutes.
Cooking for this long will allow the true takoyaki magic to happen. Your culinary mind tells you that the inside is cooked and firm and will continue to get moreso. Instead, a crispy brown outer shell forms and the insides are steamed, becoming creamy and soft. That's the magic. The texture reminds me of a good soft creamy goat cheese fritter.
But that's not the totality of the takoyaki experience... the condiments must be taken into consideration. After the takoyaki are removed, each one is brushed with a sweet/salty brown sauce. We're not sure of the exact traditional recipe for it but Ming's last creation had ketchup, worcestershire, and soy sauce... and it was pretty on point in flavor although not exactly traditional Japanese ingredients. Afterwards, kewpie mayonnaise is squirted across the top of the takoyaki. Shaved bonito flake and a seaweed furikake are added. Nothing is as alive and magestic as hot Japanese dishes topped with bonito flake. The thin slivers move back and forth from the thermal waves like an underwater scene. The rhythm is very breath-like. You've got to respect the Japanese aesthetic for such presentation. It's a bit more humane than this presentation.
Now I can I use the machine in a completely different way? methocel? iSi batter?