Do not be afraid of chikuwa! It’s actually quite delicious, nutritious and affordable. Chikuwa is a tube-shaped fish cake (its name means “bamboo sphere”) that is featured in all manner of Japanese dishes. When fried, the batter is often flavored with a more robust seasoning, sometimes curry or dried shiso (perilla), and from time to time, the fishcake is stuffed with cheese or cucumber for a savory surprise. In this variation, they are stuffed with cheese and fresh green beans, providing a contrast between creamy and crunchy. Visually, the chikuwa tubes are brightened as well, reminiscent of bamboo forests awakening after a long sleep. (Serves 2)
2 to 3 tablespoons minced green onions
4 tablespoons all-purpose white flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 ½ tablespoon water (or more as needed)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
3 ice cubes
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
4-6 chikuwa (usually 4 to 6 per packet)
¼ cup cheese thinly sliced into matchsticks (a creamy white cheese works well)
5 to 6 fresh green beans (straight, if possible)
Vegetable oil for frying
Bowl, plates, frying pan
1. Combine the green onions, flour, cornstarch, water, mayonnaise, ice cubes, baking powder and salt into a large bowl, and mix. Set aside.
2. Cut chikuwa through on one side, cutting to but not through the opposite side, so that the chikuwa can be opened up and flattened into a rectangle.
3. Lay 1 slice of cheese and 1 green bean side-by-side lengthwise on chikuwa. From the cheese side, roll the chikuwa back into a cylinder.
4. Once rolled, secure at opposite ends with a toothpick, if needed.
5. Cut the roll in two equal halves, and set aside on a plate. Repeat instructions 1-4 until all the chikuwa have been rolled in this manner.
6. Coat the rolls with the green onion batter, and place each piece on a plate.
7. Heat a frying pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil to medium high. Once the oil is hot, fry the chikuwa until crispy and golden brown. Be sure to let each side brown completely before flipping it to a different size. (Note: Cheese may melt out, but this makes it more delicious!)
8. Let cool slightly, and remove the toothpicks. Serve hot.
Note: This dish is best served fresh. Should you keep it in the fridge, the fishy flavor of the chikuwa will grow more pronounced and the coating soggy. For best results, reheat in a frying pan with a scant amount of oil.