Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Balls, balls, octopus balls: Takoyaki class at Chef's Armoury

Takoyaki classes at Chef's Armoury, Botany Road, Rosebery
Has there ever been a more perfect sighting of balls? This glorious golden orb is takoyaki, or grilled octopus balls; popular street food from Japan and most notably, Osaka.

We're familiar with takoyaki in Sydney often in its frozen form, which is widely available at sushi trains and casual Japanese restaurants. But the real-deal, freshly cooked stuff is a little harder to procure, save from the occasional markets stalls.

Necessary ingredients for takoyaki
But what if you could make your own at home? Other than a scary thought regarding how many takoyaki I could actually eat in one sitting, it was game on at a Chef’s Armoury cooking class one Saturday morning.

Chef’s Armoury sits inconspicuously on a commercial strip of Botany Road in Rosebery. Those who venture within are rewarded with a trove of Japanese knives and accessories, Japanese foodstuffs as well as a collection of goodies for those inclined towards molecular gastronomy (yes, you can buy a water bath here).

Takoyaki mise en place
They also offer classes in store: knife sharpening and knife skills, sashimi filleting and cooking classes in the stainless steel kitchen, including tofu from scratch. The classes usually run on weekends, and they’re also hosting some for Crave Sydney International Food Festival, which starts this weekend.

Sifting flour, Leigh Hudson of Chef's Armoury
I only have eyes for octopus balls so the takoyaki class, which includes a cast iron takoyaki pan to take home and tastings in the price, sees me up early on a Saturday morning and sitting diligently in front of Chef’s Armoury owner, and everything Japanese guy, Leigh Hudson.

We get straight into the batter for the takoyaki: a simple mixture of plain flour, eggs, kuzu or potato starch and soy sauce (more starch means crunchier takoyaki). Dashi stock is then added, easiest made up from a non-MSG dashi powder, and whisked till a thin cream consistency.

The fillings of diced cabbage and shallots are added for a base to the more feature fillings later, like octopus and in more modern fashion, cheese and what the Japanese call ‘wiener’ sausage. The batter then rests a while in the fridge, although this is not a completely necessary step for those super hungry for takoyaki.

Half filling the takoyaki pan with batter
The hardest part is, surprisingly, preparing the pan. Aside from the initial seasoning of the cast iron pan (involving heating the pan with oil numerous times), the pan needs to be heated and liberally oiled well before cooking so that an audible sizzle comes from the pan when the batter is poured into the hot pan.

Adding chopped octopus
The mould holes are filled half way with the batter before the addition of chopped, blanched octopus legs, or bits of cheese or sausage.

Flooding the takoyaki pan
The pan is then completely flooded with more batter, beyond the holes and up onto the flat parts of the pan; being careful not to overflow the entire pan and make a complete mess of the stove.

Separating the batter
Here the batter cooks and starts to set, at which point the really fun part starts. Using nothing more than a couple of wooden skewers, you separate the batter into its respective hole sections and try to push the excess batter ‘flaps’ into the holes.

Flipping the first couple of takoyaki
Then, if properly oiled, you should be able to easily flip or spin the ball over with the skewers so that the uncooked side faces down, and a hopefully golden browned, round bottom is staring up at you.

The beauty is that is you stuff one up and break it or something similar, you can leave it for a minute or so and then retry, as the batter fixes most errors itself.

They start to take shape...
I believe the experts in Japan spin the balls with a single skewer, but until I reach that level of proficiency through years and years of practice, I’m happy to use two skewers to almost lift the balls out of the holes and quickly flip them.

... the perfectly round takoyaki
It doesn’t take very long to cook the balls as it’s just a matter of cooking the thin batter mostly through. It’s also sometimes necessary to move the takoyaki to different holes to make sure they get cooked evenly (the corner holes will obviously be somewhat less hot than the centre ones).

Liberally applying takoyaki sauce
Getting them out is a slightly tricky matter of trying not to break the takoyaki, although ones that are wet and not quite ready will probably resist removal more so than the cooked ones.

Liberally applying Japanese mayonnaise
Plop them out onto a plate and garnish with the completely necessary sauces: a takoyaki one that’s quite similar to the fruit and vegetable sauces in okonomiyaki or even tonkatsu, plus lots of Japanese mayonnaise.

Liberally adding katsuobushi
The finishing touch and one of my most favourite things in Japanese food is the addition of kerzuribushi dried bonito shavings that do their little wave dance in the steaming heat of the freshly cooked takoyaki.

The finished product - takoyaki
They’re supposed to be eaten hot, fresh and whole, ideally with a cold beer, but it’s a bit early in the day for the latter and my tongue can’t really handle piping hot food. They get a little sloppy when eaten by halves, but all the better to mop up the sauce, I think.

Takoyaki with cheese and weiner sausage
With an entire batch of batter, the class can make about three batches of the stuff and Leigh is more than happy to let the students have a go – yours truly even had a mostly successful attempt.

Surprisingly easy to flip and turn
The cheese ones are a winner with dangerously hot, oozing cheese being the end result, while the ‘wiener’ sausage/frankfurt ones, I imagine, would be awesome at 2am after a big night out.

I would highly recommend the takoyaki class for anyone who’s a fan of the octopus balls – it’s fun and yum, completely do-able at home and hard to balls-up.

Perfect takoyaki balls (almost) every time
Check out the class schedule at Chef’s Armoury as well as the Crave Sydney International Food Festival classes. And check out how my at home takoyaki (with chopped prawns) fared here on my Facebook page.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like fun! And yummy!

rockahenry said...

so much skill! im impressed... cant go past a good ball or 2.

sugarpuffi said...

whoa making takoyaki! looks so fun :D

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Wow a weiner one, I suppose you could really put anything in them!

Richard Elliot said...

Looks great! I love cooking classes when you get shown something completely new (like Japanese food would be to me) and the fear factor is removed.

Hotly Spiced said...

Those balls look great. What a great way to cook them.

tori said...

This is brilliant- thank you for the heads up. Can't wait to get back to Sydney and give some of the classes a whirl.

Jacq said...

Omg cheese takoyaki sounds awesome! I love the ones you can get from the market stalls but I bet the home-made ones are even better.

Anonymous said...

I love Chef's Armoury, if I was given unlimited money I'd make a trip there haha! And you make them look so simple, yummm!

Tina said...

Hi lateraleating - It was both, in spades!

Hi rockahenry - It's surprisingly more easy to do than it looks ;)

Hi sugarpuffi - SO much fun. Definitely recommend if you're a takoyaki fiend like me :)

Hi Lorraine - Yep, sweet ones too (though probably without the soy sauce...)

Hi Richard - It's also good when the procedure is a lot easier than you initially expected, as this was the case!

Hi Hotly Spiced - Aren't these balls just perfect?! :)

Hi tori - No probs. Gotta love a good, simple cooking class.

Hi Jacq - Sometimes I find the market stall ones undercooked, especially when they're trying to pump them out for the masses.

Hi minibites - I usually want one of every sauce and condiment in there.... :)


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