Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

meatfritter4inbento.jpg

This is the kind of bento item that you see quite often in homemade Japanese bentos - a simple deep fried fritter or nugget. I haven't featured a lot of these on these pages, because I know that many JustBento readers are leery of deep frying in general. However, they are quite easy to make, especially if you make them for dinner and reserve one or two for next day's bento - or even freeze a few. The general theory behind including a bit of fried food in a bento is to make it just a bit more filling and substantial. And remember, for a bento you only need one or two.

Pork or beef roll-ups (nikumaki) with mushrooms

These little roll-ups are stuffed with mushrooms, but you can use other vegetables too. See the Notes below the recipe. Since only a little meat is used with the addition of mushrooms, they're not that high in calories, even if they are deep fried. If you want to make a big batch for freezing, allow for about 1 beaten egg per 6 to 8 rolls.

Prep time: 15 min :: Cook time: 5 min :: Total time: 25 min

Yield: 6 rolls

Serving size: 1 roll

Calories per serving: 80

Ingredients:

  • 6 slices very thinly cut pork or beef, not too lean
  • a handful finely sliced mushrooms of your choice, such as fresh shittake, enoki, shimeji, or plain button mushrooms
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 beaten egg
  • flour or cornstarch or potato starch, to coat the rolls
  • 1/2 cup (about 120ml) panko breadcrumbs, use other dried breadcrumbs if you prefer
  • oil, for frying

Directions:

  1. The cut of meat's the thing Long, thinly sliced (paper-thin) beef or pork is a common cut in Japan, but not as common in Western supermarkets. Thinly sliced meat is used in everything from sukiyaki and shabu shabu to gyuudon (beef bowl) and more. For bento makers, thinly sliced meat is a great thing, since it cooks instantly.
  2. In the U.S., you can find thinly sliced meat at Asian grocery stores such as H-Mart, or any Japanese grocery store. Trader Joe's has a thinly sliced beef offcut package which can be used for this. Try Philly cheesesteak cuts too. In Europe, I have not really seen thin cuts like this though the closest may be the 'steak a la minute' sold in Swiss supermarkets - but that's still a bit too thick, so you may want to pound it very thin with the side of a heavy kitchen knife or a meat basher. Basically you want a cut that's as thin as bacon. (You could use bacon, though the results may be a bit on the fatty side. You could also experiment with something like proscuitto or similar thinly sliced ham.)
  3. So, assuming you can get a hold of appropriately thin meat, let's make these rolls! First, as with any deep-frying, have everything ready to go: the container that has flour for dipping, the container that has the beaten egg; the container that has the bread crumbs. Fill your fryer (whether you use a dedicated fryer, a wok, or even a frying pan) with your cooking oil.
  4. The mushrooms used as filling are used raw and thinly sliced. Sprinkle a tiny bit of salt on them and masssage them vigorously - that makes the mushrooms 'wilt' and cook through faster. Squeeze out the excess moisture well.
  5. Spread out the thin meat slice on your work surface. Take a small bit of the mushrooms and place it at one and of the meat slice. Roll up the meat into a tight little bundle. Season very lightly with a bit of salt and pepper. (It's easier to roll up all your bundles and then season them all at once, before proceeding to the next step.)

    meatfritter1.jpg
  6. Heat up the oil at this point, so it's ready to start frying. The temperature should be about medium-hot (170°C / 335°F).
  7. Here's one, freshly fried and cut in half. It's served with a _kaposu_ (a type of citrus fruit); you could use lemon too.

    meatfritter3.jpg
  8. And here's one in a bento box (the same photos as the one at the top of the page), with some grilled pepper and a tamagoyaki. (This is just one half of the bento by the way; the other half held the rice and some cucumber salad.) When it cools, the breadcrumb coating does lose its crispiness (though using panko can help), but it will still taste good. It tastes even better if you pack some brown "Bulldog" or steak sauce, or even soy sauce, in a little sauce bottle and pour that over it.

    meatfritter4inbento.jpg
  9. As I mentioned above, you can freeze them after breading them to cook later, or freeze them after they are cooked and cooled. Cooked roll-ups can be defrosted in the microwave.

Notes - variations on the meat roll-up fillings

So what else can you roll up in a bit of meat and deep fry? A lot! Some suggestions:

  • Precooked asparagus - use the middle part of the stalk
  • Precooked (boiled or steamed) strips of carrot
  • Very thinly sliced green onion (slice lengthwise) or white onion
  • Thin strips of precooked pepper
  • Precooked thin green beans, tops and tails removed
  • Bean sprouts, tops and tails removed
  • Finely chopped mixed vegetables from a stir-fry (great way to use up leftovers!)
  • Thin strips of cheese (the cheese may ooze out a little)
  • Some boiled and shelled edamame
  • More meat! Seasoned ground meat
  • A little bit of umeboshi paste (the contrast of the meat with the sour-saltiness of the umeboshi is very nice

Pondering cuts of meat

One of the big obstacles I run into when trying to make a Japanese bento recipe is the differences in cuts of meat. Frugal Japanese home cooks rely heavily on thinly sliced meat strips (usugiri), roughly chopped meat offcuts, especially of pork (komagire) and ground meat. Of these, only the last one is widely available in the countries where most of the readers of JustBento hail from (though in Japan ground pork is used much more than ground beef).

In any case, I do hope you'll give this a try, perhaps using one of the meat-substitutions I've mentioned above if usugiri meat is not available where you are.

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By Makiko Itoh

Published: September 30, 2011

Type: Japanese, bento, washoku, meat, fried, pork, mushrooms

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15 comments

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Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

I was wondering if you could post a tutorial on how to slice the meat this thin? I don't live near any Traders or fancy Asian grocery stores, etc....just my butcher! And although he will freezer wrap things for me, I think he would get rather annoyed at me if I asked him to slice a bunch of meat like this! :)

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

You might be surprised at what your butcher is willing to do for you, if he's a full service butcher...try asking him if he can slice the meat very thinly. When I lived in NY I used to go to two full-service , not-Asian butchers (when I could afford it!) and if I asked them to slice the meat 'for sukiyaki' or 'for shabushabu' they knew how to do it.

Failing that though, the easiest thing to do is to get the thinnest cut you can normally get, then put it between two sheets of fairly sturdy plastic (e.g. in a zip bag, or between two sheets of good quality plastic wrap) and to bash it thin with the side of a cleaver or heavy kitchen knife, or a tenderizer. Another possibility, if you have a lump of meat, is to partially freeze it so it's semi-frozen (not hard as a rock), then to slice it as thinly as possible.

Or as I wrote, try a not-too-fatty bacon, or thinly sliced ham instead - just watch out for the overall salt content though.

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

I have found thinly sliced meat at local supermarkets (in the US) occasionally labeled as "carne asada-style," even though traditional carne asada is somewhere between usugiri and a steak in terms of thickness… And while it's almost always beef, I'll take my thinly sliced meats however I can get 'em! ;]

I was wondering, would this be possible with lunch meats (like turkey/bologna/ham/etc.), or are those too lean? I've had croquette (kuroke) here in Japan with what seems like regular old sandwich ham in them before, so it seems distinctly possible, but…

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

The version with the mushrooms looks delicious - I'll definitely try it soon (most rollups I've made so far were stuffed with asparagus, or green onions or yam).

People really shouldn't be afraid to ask their western butcher (that's what most Japanese expats do here, or so I was told at the ever helpful local japanese grocery that stocks only frozen and pricey wagyu in that cut, and in family-sized packs, so it's not really a good option for me). Most butchers I've asked (not always in the city) were happy to oblige. People eat more and more "ethnic" dishes, and full-service butchers are quite used to being asked for unusual cuts nowadays.

The cut itself is really nothing fancy, nor even truly exotic - it's just unusual for us to ask for raw beef or pork to be sliced that way, especially with the "and not too lean" bit. I've never seen a japanese butcher work (though I'd love to one day), but here most butchers have done it with their bacon/cold cuts slicer, simply enough - even the Chinese butchers. From experience, the trickier parts are that most north american butchers are not used to their clientele wanting fattier parts, and many won't have in stock not already prepared pieces to do this cut from (eg: I was told once that he could have done this with pork shoulder, but he had cubed or grounded all he had already). Then there are those who aren't too sure which part of the beef or pork you want (when I don't buy it on impulse at the last minute, I usually bring a photograph - usually a cookbook, but a print out of your picture above would be perfect for this) - you usually end up with too lean/too small pieces from those if they haven't seen what you want. Finally, one butcher was not too keen on doing this unless I bought the the whole piece, all sliced that way or not.

In Montréal, I got the best results from Italian butchers, but when I did a similar dish at my mom's, her small town butcher did well too. I usually buy it in Chinatown when I'm in that area, though - they're better stocked when it comes to the fattier parts. I had just one bad experience there, years ago before I had asked my japanese grocer where he bought his meat for sukiyaki when he made it. I had made the mistake of trying to explain to the chinese butcher it was a japanese cut, for shabu shabu - only to be told a bit curtly he didn't know japanese cuts. I found out at a later visit they had pork cut pretty much that way in their counter all the time. Oh well.

Another viable alternative is to arrange slices of fondue pork (or beef) on parchment paper to get the proper size and thickness, and to add a source of fat to compensate for the fact it's too lean and will end up dry. Spreading a bit of duck fat before stuffing and rolling is my favorite way, but not too much small bit of bacon fat , or unsalted pork fat, woud work too I guess - or to twist a thin strip of bacon or pork fat around the roll before breading.)

And you're right - in a pinch it's also fairly easy to make that cut at home using the semi-frozen method and a good knife. I've sliced beef for sukiyaki with a deba a lot of times.

The bacon alternative I tried once and it's a no-go for me. It's way more salty and greasy than your recipe. It's great for dishes like barbecued asparagus or enoki wrapped in bacon, but with the panko breading it's really too much, at least to my taste.

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

Thanks for posting this! I was on here looking for a potato korokke recipe (I don't trust other websites' recipes!) to use all the potatoes I've just found in my bf's kitchen, but I like the look of this! I ask him what it would be called in Japanese and he said roll fry (kana?). Thankfully I'm lucky enough to be in Tokyo so I'll give it a try later in the week.

My copy of Just Bento here beside me might be the most-used book I've ever owned!

I hope you're feeling well!!!!! :)

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

Maki, ever since I found your site I've been excited to cook my lunch. I get up early before class so I usually just make it the night before. Though I've been experimenting more with my own recipes so I can learn the basics before attempting some of the stuff on your website, I've been really excited to try some of this stuff. I'm especially excited for this new meat recipe with ham and peppers. You make me really glad I bought my obento box on a whim
I've change my diet in the last three months since I've got it and already lost 3lbs! That is without exerize I don't have time for during the week. I owe at least part of that to you, because whenever I have a question, I come to your site. Thank you so much! As soon as I find it, I'm buying your book. Until then, though, you'll see me around a lot!

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

I'm curious, do you have a way of rolling them really tightly or do you secure them with a toothpick or something similar for frying? Also, the citrus fruit in your picture looks a lot like a lime which I know goes well on fried foods to cut the taste of the fattiness a bit... I can't wait to try this, my mouth is watering! Thanks for sharing this! :3

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

With very thin raw meat, there's enough 'stickiness' that you don't need a toothpick. But if it looks like your roll-up is going to fall apart, by all means secure it with a toothpick. (One clever trick to secure things like that is to use a broken off piece of spaghetti. The pasta gets cooked by the frying, but in the meantime does its job keeping the food in place.)

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

How about using meat for fondues? Are they too small or "breakable", or just right? The advantage with the fondue meat is that you could do some other flavors like chicken and deer and orignal...(i live in quebec and those are kinda frequent in all groceries)

Those look delicious. I will try to make some at home, even if i dont have a deep frier.

Deer and moose

would give you much too dry results, probably (especially if you eat them cold in a bento). Same for fondue chicken, which is from the breast. It will work, but it will be fairly dry. There are amazing recipes for chicken roll-ups (or spirals, which you then put on skewers) - very often with ume or ume/shiso as the accent (the mix of ume with chicken is a _amazing_ I had some among others recipes at a kind of japanese bbq this summer, and tons of people asked me to see what the bottle of ume jam looked like, and where to buy it) but they are best made with sliced "haut de cuisse", so you pretty much have to slice them yourself (and it requires more knife skills than slicing pork or beef) and not quite as thin as the pork or beef for Maki's recipe.

I think the best way to make Maki's recipe (or something much in the same vein, with the same suggestions for flavouring/stuffing), with chicken would be to make them quite thicker, using skinned "haut de cuisse", that you beat to flatten them a bit more. Stuff them as Maki does, close/roll them, hold them flat on the board and skewer them with two short bamboo skewers (as unlike Maki's rollups, those would open during frying), and then bread and cook them as per the recipe (a bit longer, maybe - as the meat is thicker). You can remove the bamboo skewers once they've rested and cooled (if you remove them immediately after frying, the juices will leak)

You could use the beef or pork fondue meat for this, though (I've done it before). They are too thin and too small, so just arrange them first on parchment paper (overlapping and alternating orientation of the slices you place to make the "sheet of meat" sturdier and easier to roll), piling them up so you have perhaps three slices thick (it depends on your slices... aim for the thickness of thick-cut bacon). If you can, add a bit of fat (like duck fat, spread a strip of it in the middle of the "slice", or chopped bits of bacon if you don't mind the added flavour) as those rolls are really best when done with not too lean meat.

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

Unrelated but...my potato korokke were okay, I need to cook them a bit longer next time. They were great out of the pan but quite soggy later. Will try this one in a day or two! Just made nikujaga from the JustHungry recipe and waiting for it to simmer down for supper :)

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

I wonder how much oil do you have in the pan to fry those? Do they have to be completely covered?

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

Usually for this type of frying, you use enough oil for for the pieces of food not to touch the bottom of the pan as they fry (in this case 2 inches, maybe?). A small-ish and deep enough cast iron pan works really great for small quantities and don't require much oil (I use a 8" cast iron tempura nabe for nearly all my deep frying - as I have one - but any deep enough cast iron pan does the trick).

It's possible to fry them in less oil. A japanese woman I know does all her tonkatsu and other small frying jobs of flat food in her copper tamagoyaki pan (which is about an inch high only) with very little oil, as it was always done in her family when she was a kid, she said. You got to be careful, but it saves a lot of oil and it's easier to dispose of the oil and to clean. As long as it's enough to cook halfway to the height of the food (so in the case of the rollups the pan would need to be deeper), that you then turn over to cook the other side, it works. I've tried her method (with pork cutlets) and found it's harder to cook the food inside to perfection without the panko breading getting overfried or burnt, but perhaps it's that I'm too used to frying in cast iron and misjudged the temperature of the oil in the copper pan). I never mastered her method, anyway - and when back to doing it all in the tempura pan, even when I do only small quantity for myself.

It takes more oil but it's much easier to cook them as Maki described (this would work well in an electrical deep frier too, two at a time - and I guess it could be convenient to use one such for a small job of morning deep frying. Safe, no odour and it can be just unplugged and cleaned up later).

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

My husband and I have just started to Bento for lunch and are loving it. We have not made this recipe, but did make the Ginger Pork out of the Just Bento cook book. We had great success by butterflying a center cut pork chop before pounding it thin between two pieces of plastic wrap. You can then just cut the meat to size for your roll-ups.

Thanks for all the recipes, Maki. We've been addicted since I discovered your website a few months ago!

Re: Pork (or beef) and mushroom roll-ups

I'm curious, do you have a way of rolling them really tightly or do you secure them with a toothpick or something similar for frying? Also, the citrus fruit in your picture looks a lot like a lime which I know goes well on fried foods to cut the taste of the fattiness a bit... I can't wait to try this, my mouth is watering! Thanks for sharing this! :3

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