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Putting trotters in a pancake batter was not my idea, though I'm kicking myself for not thinking of it. I got the idea from Hakata Tonton, a trotter-centric restaurant here in New York. You can get trotter salad, trotter dumplings, trotter hot pot, grilled trotters, and more, all with that signature Japanese service, an impenetrable screen of polite and sometimes painfully awkward formality. (When we asked our waitress if we could have our ramen noodles while our gelatinous porky broth was still full of trotters and pork belly, we were rebuffed with a firm and hard smile, nothing more.)
The concept of pig parts in pancakes not as crazy as you might think. It's not like I'm suggesting that you put say, pig's snouts in your scones.
And this is not your typical breakfast pancake, but okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake made with shredded naga-imo (a type of mountain root), shredded cabbage, flour, eggs, and dashi. Additions to the pancake vary by region. Pork belly, various kinds of seafood and vegetables, mochi, and even cheese can go into the batter. If pork belly, why not trotters? And if trotters, why not snouts or ears? You see where I'm going with this.
Step One: Panfry the pork parts (simmered and tender) until they're brown and crisp.
Step Two: Assemble the ingredients for okonomiyaki (batter, shredded cabbage, and pork).
Step Three: Make the pancake in the biggest skillet you own. As the pancake cooks in the griddle or the pan, you add the pig parts to the batter and let the pancakes set before flipping.
Step Four: Invert the pancake onto your plate.
Step Five: Garnish.
Trotters may enrich the dish, but the crux of the dish lies in the interplay between the fluffy pancake and the garnish, a Jackson-Pollack-like drizzling of Japanese mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce, the latter a savory-sweet sauce reminiscent of Worcestershire mixed with ketchup mixed with soy sauce. To top it all off, a generous sprinkling of bonito flakes. Some may say that okonomiyaki belongs to the pantheon of hangover food, but I happen to think that the restorative powers of menudo far exceed that of okonomiyaki, which seems too delightfully outlandish to be curative.
Part of the reason I like making okonomaki is that it's just so much fun to drizzle a boatload of mayonnaise and savory brown sauce on top of a pancake already bursting at the seams with add-ins. You may think the ingredients are too disparate, but the dish comes together in the end. The shredded cabbage cook downs and shrivels and sweetens; the trotters meld into the batter so that with each bite you get a hit of juicy pork. And for the final touch, you must take pleasure in sprinkling the wisps of bonito flakes from high above so that they fall, like a light snow flurry, onto the egg-y landscape.
Note: Though the pancake batter has a more interesting texture when you can find naga-imo, the mountain root that dissolves into a starchy and slime-y mess when grated, the batter can also be make with okonomiyaki mix (found at your local Japanese grocer's), or even with all-purpose flour and eggs. It seems a shame to let a little thing like an obscure mountain root get in the way.
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