My always hungry wife S and I are devoted Japanese food addicts. We recently realized that 8 of 10 meals we eat out at are at Japanese restaurants. One reason might be that we’re pretty proficient at cooking most other cuisines, so when heading out of the house, we tend to go somewhere where we can’t get food we could otherwise whip up for each other.
Another, much stronger reason is that we just really love going out for Japanese food. We adore all aspects of Japanese cuisine and are equally happy sitting in some small ramen joint as we are partaking in a highly formal, proper kaiseki dinner. And while I wish we could afford to hit our favourite sushi joint on a weekly basis, doing so would put us in the poor house faster than you could say “aburi toro”. Most often, we go to izakaya style restaurants. An izakaya, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, is a Japanese gastropub, a drinking establishment that also happens to serve darned good food. The dishes are often small and can be easily shared. Which makes them perfect accompaniments for the booze that is often poured (and consumed) quickly and liberally at these establishments.
One of our current favourite books is Mark Robinson’s Izakaya, the Japanese pub cookbook, which came out last year. In the book. Robinson, a long-time Tokyo resident and food authority, introduces his eight favourite izakayas, profiling the owners as well as providing recipes to several of their signature dishes. We’re planning on making a tour of Tokyo at some point in the near future during which we’ll dine at all eight of these fabulous little eateries. But until then, we’ve been happily cooking our way through the delicious and addictive recipes contained in the thin hardback.
One of the best recipes is for creamy crab croquettes. These deep-fried little crab cakes are crisp on the outside but sensationally creamy on the inside. The combination of textures and flavours in the dish make it perfect to go with anything from beer to sake, Champagne or a crisp Riesling. We love watching guests go nuts over these relatively easy to make crowd pleasers.
Try the dish out for yourself. I’ve reprinted a slightly tweaked version of the recipe below. And if you like it, you should definitely buy Robinson’s fabulous book.
Creamy Crab Croquettes
Adapted from Mark Robinson’s Izakaya, the Japanese pub cookbook
Makes 10 small croquettes
130g fresh crabmeat
110g onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Flour, one egg and panko for battering the croquettes
Vegetable oil for deep frying
30g unsalted butter
360ml whole milk, warmed
In a large frying pan, heat the oil and saute the onion until lightly browned. Set aside
In a small to medium sauce pan, melt the butter. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the flour. When the flour and butter are combined, place back over a low fire and cook, stirring constantly for 1-2 minutes. Then pour the milk in, a little at a time, stirring in order to eliminate lumps and to make a smooth, thick bechamel. Keep stirring over low heat for 5-10 minutes. You want your sauce to be the consistency of a thick mustard. Set aside.
In the large frying pan with the onion, add the crabmeat and cook over medium heat for a few minutes. The goal is to cook off as much moisture as possible. Add the boiled egg and the white sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well. Take off the heat and allow to cool.
Spread the mixture on the bottom of a flat rectangular pan. Cover with plastic wrap and pop into the fridge for an hour or so. You want the mixture quite cold when you make the croquettes.
When chilled, prepare three bowls, one with flour, one with a beaten egg, and one with panko (Japanese bread crumbs). Using a spoon, quickly divide the mixture into 10 equal portions. Then scoop each portion out one at a time, quickly pat into a small, round cake, dredge in the flour, dip into the egg and then coat with panko. Repeat this with all the croquettes, placing them in a container lined with grease-proof paper. Cover with plastic wrap and pop back into the fridge until ready to use.
To prepare, preheat the oil to approximately 180 degrees C. Slip the croquettes into the oil and deep fry, without disturbing, until golden brown. Gently transfer the croquettes onto a wire rack and then serve immediately. They go great with some tartar sauce and a bit of lettuce.