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You too can cook washoku / Meiji-era roots of a yoshoku staple

Courtesy of Mari Nameshida

Creamy crabmeat croquettes

By Mari Nameshida / Special to The Japan NewsYou might wonder how something as European-sounding as croquette found its way into the Japanese kitchen. The truth is, it’s a popular home-cooked meal in Japan.

Japanese croquette is usually made from mashed potato, onion and ground meat. However, a more luxurious kani cream croquette, made from crabmeat and bechamel sauce, is also common.

In addition to familiar washoku dishes such as sushi and tempura, Japanese cuisine also includes yoshoku, a term for dishes influenced by European cuisine and developed independently in Japan during the Meiji era (1868-1912). Tonkatsu pork cutlet, curry rice and omuraisu (rice omelet) are typical yoshoku dishes. During the Meiji era, the country rapidly modernized, leading to the introduction of various aspects of Western culture. Under such circumstances, yoshoku evolved in its own way in Japan, and spread among the public.

When I started my cooking class, I was surprised to discover that yoshoku was well-known as a kind of Japanese cuisine by people from around the world — even European countries.

Once I made creamy crab croquettes with them. They loved the dish, saying such things as, “I’ve never had something like this before.” Until then, I had thought of crab croquette as a kind of French dish because the recipe requires bechamel sauce, but I realized that it is still very much Japanese cuisine, despite being regarded as yoshoku.

Like most Japanese cooks, I always make cylinder-shaped croquette, but my students made heart-shaped ones, so you can really play with the dish.

For creamy crab croquette, I often use canned crab or boiled crabmeat, but you could also easily substitute corn or scallop for the crab.

The key is to cool down the bechamel sauce completely in the refrigerator so that you can shape it into a ball and deep-fry it. If you want to make it even creamier, you can reduce the flour amount to 60 grams, but this will make it more difficult to shape, so I still suggest you follow my recipe the first time you make the dish. You can find tonkatsu sauce at any Japanese grocery store or even online.

Don’t be afraid to make these at home. It takes time because you have to cool the filling completely, but it’s worth it. Croquettes are golden brown and crispy on the outside and the rich crab-flavored cream filling melts in your mouth. It’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Mari’s recipe for Creamy crabmeat croquettes

Ingredients: (4 servings)

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 can of crabmeat, about 150 grams

A pinch of salt

2 eggs

About 200 grams panko bread crumbs

Tonkatsu sauce

Shredded cabbage

Bechamel sauce:

70 grams butter

80 grams flour

600 ml whole milk, room temperature

Directions:

1. Shallow-fry the onion in a tablespoon of vegetable oil until soft. Add the crabmeat and cook for a few more minutes.

2. For the bechamel sauce, melt the butter in a pan. Add the flour and mix continuously until the ingredients are combined. Next, add the milk gradually. Pour small amounts into the pan and whisk until completely incorporated before adding more milk.

3. Add the onion and crabmeat mixture to the bechamel sauce. Season the mixture with salt to taste. Spread evenly on a sheet tray, cover, cool to room temperature, and chill in the refrigerator for several hours.

4. Divide the mixture into 12 pieces. Thinly coat your palms with vegetable oil and shape each piece into a cylinder.

5. Coat each with flour, then egg, and finally panko. Deep fry in 170 C oil. Drain on a wire rack.

6. Arrange the croquettes and shredded cabbage on individual plates, and serve with tonkatsu sauce.

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