RAY: Spengler! I’m with Venkman! He got slimed!
EGON: That’s great, Ray! Save some for me!”
Following in the slippery footsteps of these famous, epic-marshmallow-toasting scientists, we1 at Food Nerd LabsTM have decided in this first post to study the use of slime in cuisine.
Now you’re thinking, “Dr. Food Nerd, slime is not cuisine. Slime is what I peel off before digging into that bowl of day old oatmeal. Slime is something I cough up and hawk onto the sidewalk, to the distress of passersby.” This may be so, but in some cultures this texture is sought out and considered desirable.
In West Africa, for example, “mucilaginous foods are commonly used to impart a desired slimy consistency to local soups and stews.” Okra came to North America via the slave trade, and it thickens and adds mucilage to the cuisine of the Caribbean and the American South to this day. And my Japanese grandpa thought that there was nothing better than mixing a raw egg into his bowl of steamed rice and slurping it down his throat.
It’s snot what you think!
(egg separator courtesy of Hungry Passport)
Because we at Food Nerd Labs are professionals, we have taken it upon ourselves to bravely consume slimy cuisine FOR SCIENCE.2
Thanks to my Japanese heritage, I grew up
scarred by exposed to experiences with two sources of edible mucilage: natto, and the Japanese mountain yam.
Natto is the pungent result of fermenting soybeans. It’s an acquired taste, and another of my grandpa’s comfort foods. It’s the sort of thing that Japanese men say puts hair on your chest (I know this from experience).4 The texture, to me, is not unlike chewing on peanut-sized boogers. The mucilaginous, lumpy mass typically comes in little styrofoam boxes, with little packages of soy sauce and hot Chinese mustard. The latter is supposed to be stirred in with the beans, but I suspect it can also be applied directly to your taste buds before eating, in an act of burning mercy. This concoction is typically served on top of a bowl of steamed rice.5 If you are
insane curious, you can find your very own natto in any Japanese market and in many Asian food stores, usually next to the tofu.
This is natto for you.
The mountain yam is another source of slimy goodness and one I’ve had a better experience with. It’s a key ingredient in okonomiyaki, literally “what you like” (okonomi) + “grilled” (yaki), which is basically a savory pancake. When I was a poor young man living in Tokyo, I ate a lot of okonomiyaki, since the two main ingredients were inexpensive flour and chopped cabbage. It actually tastes pretty good,6 especially when the ingredients are expanded to include shrimp, bacon, squid, green onion, strips of pork, cheese, spam8, and/or kimchi.9 Finally, when its height is tripled by pouring okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, aonori seaweed flakes, bonito flakes, and red pickled ginger on top, you may find yourself in a happy, bloated, “what you like” heaven.
By the way, here’s what the yam looks like on the grater:
What exactly does this look like?10
Because I’ve made okonomiyaki many times without the yam, I tried cooking two pancakes FOR SCIENCE, one with grated yam and one without. The one with yam had a little extra savor and depth to it, and maybe a mild hint of texture similar to slightly underdone pancake dough (in spite of cooking them pretty thoroughly). The slime-factor seemed to have cooked out of it (but I can’t say the same for the rice, cheese and yam gratin I baked later.) The other pancake was still delectable in spite of its yamlessness, especially when piled high with toppings. It is the informed opinion of the scientist at Food Nerd Labs that purists will want add the mucilage, but yam-free okonomiyaki can still pretty damn tasty.
“SCIENCE IS DELICIOUS”
And because I know you all want to level up your cooking skill, here’s how to make your own yam-free okonomiyaki (the recipe is about the same level as Scorpid Surprise):
To make two big okonomiyaki-style pancakes, you need:
- 1 cup flour
- 2/3 cup water or soup stock (preferably dashi, but chicken and vegetable stock also work)
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup chopped cabbage
- Vegetable oil
- Optional: kimchi
- Optional: eight strips of bacon.
Toppings (all optional):
- Pickled red ginger
- Okonomiyaki or tonkatsu sauce. This really is key, and is available in most Asian markets (my American chain supermarket in SoCal carries it). If you have trouble tracking one down, you can search online for “okonomiyaki sauce recipe” to find substitutes.
- Mix flour and water/stock to make batter. Put in fridge.
- Drink a beer or two and/or watch an episode of Full Metal Alchemist.
- Mix cabbage (and kimchi, if using) and eggs into batter.
- Pour batter into hot, oiled skillet on medium-high heat and scoop half of the batter in.
- Fry four strips of bacon on the side.
- When the down side of the pancake is cooked (after about 4-8 minutes), put the bacon on the raw side and flip the pancake.
- Cook for about five more minutes (until the pancake is done).
- Enjoy while hot! (Seriously, this is the most important step. In Japan, there are places where the cook will all but scrape it off the grill and straight into your mouth.)
Okonomiyaki are perfect FOR THE HORDE, er, FOR SCIENCE because they’re all about experimentation. They’re cheap and easy11 to make, and you can really play with the ingredients. Plus, you level about one point per pancake, so you can work up to that level 50 Gruyere Souffle recipe pretty quickly.
If you do try this recipe, let me know in the comments how it goes!
1 Let us consider this the royal “We.”
2 FER BLEARRRGHGAH3 is our motto after we’ve had one too many of Booze Nerd’s cocktails.
3 Google Drunk Translate result: “FOR SCIENCE BITCHES!!! BUT WE MEAN THAT IN A NON-DEMEANING NON-SEXIST WAY”
4 That is, the experience of Japanese men telling me this. My chest (and those of many Japanese men) are conclusive evidence that eating natto does not put hair on ones chests.
5 Sometimes also served with tears.
6 Trust me, I’m a scientist.7
7 I’m not really a scientist.
8 Not kidding.
9 Also try: lambs, sloths, carp, anchovies, orangutans, breakfast cereals and fruit bats.
10 Rhetorical question. Please don’t answer.
11 But I’m not, no matter what they say.