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
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
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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