Several years ago, a friend of mine traveled to Hong Kong to visit with a friend of his who was temporarily working and living there. Since my friend is such a strict vegetarian that he wouldn’t even consume miso soup because it contains bonito fish flavor, I was a bit concerned that he would not be able to find anything to eat in Hong Kong. (I tend to worry quite a bit about whether people will be able to eat enough.) When he came back, he reported that he enjoyed Hong Kong and its food and ate a prodigious amount of fried fishcake products. Apparently, when my hungry friend asked whether it was “vegetarian” and servers nodded assent, he decided that ignorance was bliss.
Well, I have a package of “fishcake” in front of me right now. In addition to modified food starch, potato starch, and other sundry fillers, key ingredients for fishcake include Alaska Pollock and bonito flavoring. In other words, the Hong Kong servers also wanted to make sure that my friend did not starve. Despite the fillers, I myself love fishcake, especially the “tempura odeng” variety which taste vaguely fish-like—and most definitely fried. You can get packaged frozen fishcake, but I personally like getting sheets and pieces of different tempura odeng in bulk food areas in Asian grocery stores. They are fresher, and you can get different selections.
Tempura odeng are a godsend for quick weeknight meals. You can take a portion you need out of the freezer before you start your other food prep, and they are usually defrosted enough to slice up by the time you actually need to cook them. You can add them to stir fries and soups and noodle dishes, and they add a nice dimension of flavor if you enjoy a mild fish flavor—with tasting notes of onions, carrots, potatoes, and the aroma of a deep fryer.
Here are 3 quick uses for tempura odeng:
Spicy Stir-Fried Odeng
Stir fry onion in some canola oil, then add red and green pepper pieces and fry another few minutes and remove all from heat while veggies are still crisp. To some more canola oil and some chopped garlic, add sliced odeng pieces and dried hot peppers to taste. When odeng pieces are cooked, return veggies to the pan (and add more oil if necessary). At this point, add soy sauce and some sugar and salt and pepper to taste. If desired, finish off with a few drops of sesame oil. (Always taste again for seasoning and adjust as necessary.)
Stir-Fried Udon Noodles with Odeng (and Vegetables)
In a medium bowl, combine some chicken broth, soy sauce, and some salt and pepper and set aside. In heated canola oil, stir fry chopped garlic, onion, and an assortment of vegetables that you have around. Aim for a good mix of color and texture (julienned carrots or snow peas, squash, zucchini, peppers, cabbage). Then remove veggies from heat; fry up odeng slices and set aside with the veggies. Loosen a package of fresh udon noodles in a medium heat pan with a little oil and water to soften them. Add broth-soy sauce mixture and have noodles cook while absorbing some of the liquid. And then add veggies and odeng to noodles and heat together. Again, it’s a nice touch to add a few drops of good sesame oil at the end. Serve with hot chile sauce (like sriracha).
Odeng Guk (Soup)
Boil about 4 cups of water and add a large halved peeled onion and carrot (halved or quartered). Add eggs to hard-boil (about 15 minutes), then remove eggs and dunk them in cold water to stop the cooking. Add bonito flavoring flakes to the simmering soup along with soy sauce and salt to taste. Add sliced odeng pieces to the broth and bring to a boil before peeling and adding hard-boiled eggs. Adjust seasoning, but make the soup a little less salty than you might like. Once everything is heated through, serve in deep bowls with steamed rice and a dish of wasabi and soy sauce for dipping odeng pieces.