How to Cook the Best Takoyaki Recipes in Your Takoyaki Pan
What is Takoyaki?
Takoyaki is straightforward when translated: tako means “octopus” and yaki means “grilled” or “fried.”
Takoyaki originated in the city of Osaka in the mid- 1930s, where, according to local lore, a street vendor was experimenting with a dough fritter that was popular at the time. He used octopus because it was plentiful in the city, and the use of wheat flour was still a novelty in a country where rice was king.
From there, Takoyaki evolved into what we know it as today: an octopus-studded ball of flavorful dough, cooked in a special pan of rounded cups. Takoyaki is typically crisp on the outside, and a little creamy on the inside, with chewy chunks of octopus. It’s often served drizzled with a thick sweet-savory sauce and Japanese mayonnaise, and sprinkled with bonito flakes.
In Osaka, the history and tradition of takoyaki is so important to the city’s culture that it’s celebrated at a “museum” called Takopa Takoyaki Park. There, visitors can taste takoyaki from a number of different takoyaki shops, play carnival games, and learn about the history of takoyaki and how it’s made.
All across Japan, you’ll find takoyaki highlighted on restaurant menus, served at food stalls, and hawked by festival vendors. Some chefs prepare and serve it the traditional way, while others take liberties with the condiments, toppings, fillings, and seasonings.
It’s fun: Mastering the technique of filling and flipping the balls in the takoyaki pan is lots of fun and lends itself to a lot of creativity. Mix up your favorite cake, muffin, pancake, or quick bread recipe and try cooking it in your takoyaki pan!
It’s interactive: In Japan, takoyaki parties are a fun way of entertaining. The host sets out all the ingredients, and everyone gathers around the pan, pouring in the batter, adding the ingredients, and flipping the balls when they’re ready. With the recipes in this book, you and your guests can have fun cooking and eating together.
It’s fast: The smaller portion size and the concentrated heat mean the food cooks quickly. Most of the recipes in this book cook in a matter of minutes, and you can make 16 to 18 balls at a time, depending on how many cups your takoyaki pan has.
It’s tasty: Traditional takoyaki is a delicious treat, full of contrasting flavors and textures. The variations on takoyaki in this book, as well as all the other recipes designed for your takoyaki pan, will delight adventurous eaters and tempt picky eaters alike.
Making Takoyaki in Your Kitchen
That’s why having your own takoyaki pan is so great! If you are a fan of the flavor and texture of takoyaki, you can re-create it at home and even get inventive with your pan to make a wide range of dishes. It’s a super-fun and collaborative way of cooking for a group of friends or your family. All you need to do is set up an electric pan or a stovetop pan on a butane burner at the table, and get cooking! The technique is easy to master, and since takoyaki and other recipes made in the pan are best eaten hot and fresh, everyone will love eating them as they come off the pan!
On the American market, there are a few different options when it comes to takoyaki pans.
Stovetop Pans: These are the most common takoyaki pans. They’re a good choice because they can fit on a typical gas burner and the temperature is easily controlled by simply turning your burner up or down. They’re also easy to clean—some are even dishwasher safe! The Japanese often use this kind of pan with a portable butane burner (similar to a camp stove) so that they can cook at the table, which is a social and interactive way of eating takoyaki.
Stovetop takoyaki pans come in cast iron or aluminum. Cast iron takoyaki pans are heavier than aluminum ones and will take longer to get hot, but they retain heat better. Aluminum takoyaki pans are less expensive, lighter in weight, and respond more quickly to changes in temperature. Some Japanese manufacturers specify that their takoyaki pans are only for use on a tabletop burner from that supplier, but I’ve used my pan on my conventional gas stove with no issues. Some stovetop pans will also work on electric coils or induction cooktops, but if you plan to use one of these heat sources, be sure to check with the manufacturer first to make sure your pan is compatible.
Electric Pans: These are similar to countertop griddles that plug into an electrical socket and don’t require an outside heat source. They have their own heating element below the metal plate with the round cups where you pour the batter. One issue with these is that most models only have an on-off switch, so the heat can’t be adjusted.
If you choose an electric pan, be mindful that, just like a pancake griddle, different areas of the pan will get hotter and cooler—the cups that are farthest from the heating coil will not get as hot as those in the center. Once you get a sense of this, you can avoid using those parts of the pan, or you can simply cook those takoyaki a bit longer. The electric pan is a fun option if you want to cook right at the dinner table but don’t have a portable butane burner. When shopping for an electric model, be sure to get one with a removable cooking surface to make clean-up easier.
Tools for the Takoyaki Chef
Your Takoyaki Kitchen
A few tools, many of which you might already have on hand, will help you get the best results when cooking with any style of takoyaki pan.
Wooden Picks: Never use forks or other metal utensils on the cooking surface of your takoyaki pan, as they’ll scratch the nonstick surface. Instead, use wooden picks to turn the takoyaki or remove them from the pan. Although you can buy special takoyaki picks, I simply use the disposable bamboo skewers sold for kebabs. They can be washed and used many times.
Chopsticks: A pair of bamboo chopsticks are good for removing cooked takoyaki from the pan. They can also be used for carefully placing pieces of the filling into the takoyaki as they cook, or to arrange the toppings from some of the recipes in this book, such as the vegetable mixture that goes on the Polenta Cups on page 56 or the seaweed that tops the Rice Cups on page 26.
Tiny Ladle: The cups in a takoyaki pan hold about 11⁄2 tablespoons. A small ladle that holds about half an ounce is perfect for scooping and pouring thin batters, such as the traditional takoyaki batter, into the pan. You can find these ladles at restaurant supply stores or kitchen specialty stores.
Cookie Scoops: I like to use cookie scoops—the kind that look like mini ice-cream scoops and have a little spring-loaded trigger to eject the food—for scooping thicker batters, like the muffin and cake batters in The Little Book of Takoyaki. I recommend having two: one with a 11⁄2-tablespoon capacity and another with a 1-tablespoon capacity.
Silicone Gripper: Many takoyaki pans don’t have heatproof handles. A pair of silicone gripper mitts, just big enough to fit your fingers and thumbs, are just the right size to grip the handles of the pan.
Pastry Brush: Takoyaki chefs use a round, soft bristled brush that fits perfectly into the takoyaki pan to oil the cups. These special brushes are hard to come by in the United States, but a pastry brush will do the trick. I often just use a wadded-up paper towel.
Butane Burner: Some takoyaki pan manufacturers also sell little butane burners so that you can make takoyaki right at your dining room table. (Be sure to place a heatproof barrier underneath the pan to protect your table.)