Restaurant-style hibachi cooking is entirely different from anything you’d do on the tiny charcoal barbecues that share the same name. Restaurant-style hibachi — also known as “teppanyaki” cooking — takes place on a large, flat steel grill. They are often mounted in the dining area, where skilled chefs wield knives and spatulas with great panache to entertain diners. You might not have the skills to replicate that showmanship, but the actual cooking style is easily duplicated at home.
A Quick Hibachi Primer
Hibachi cooking is defined by a few basic characteristics. First, the big grill offers lots of room to maneuver. You can prepare a full meal on the grill, with rice or noodles, plenty of veggies and your choice of meats, fish or poultry. Second, the grill is intensely hot in the front and center position, closest to the chef, then cooler in the outer areas. Skilled cooks shift foods from hotter to cooler areas as they work, much as Chinese chefs do when moving foods from the hot bottom of the wok to the cooler sides. Portable and built-in teppanyaki grills are available for serious enthusiasts, but you can fake it with lower-cost and more readily available options.
The Two-Burner Grill
Most kitchenware outlets carry heavy-duty cast iron griddles that are intended to fit across two burners of your gas or electric range at home. These make a fine substitute for the larger teppanyaki grill, providing hot areas directly over the two burners and a cooler section in between. Although the cast iron griddle is smaller, it’s still large enough to cook several items at once and whisk them from hotter to cooler areas in the classic manner. In a pinch, you can transfer cooked vegetables or other components of a large meal to a warm oven or a nearby skillet, freeing up cooking space until the rest of the meal is finished.
The Oversized Skillet
If you don’t have a two-burner griddle and wouldn’t use one often enough to justify the expenditure, you can simulate restaurant-style hibachi reasonably well by placing an oversized skillet on one of your stove’s small burners. Use a 12- or 14-inch skillet, ideally of lightweight aluminum rather than cast iron. These thin pans become quite hot in the area directly over your burner, while remaining relatively cool at the edges. If you have an electric stove, your pan will overlap the small 6-inch burner quite handily. With gas, you might need to adjust it a few times to find a setting that heats the middle adequately without making the edges hot as well.
The Cooking Process
Hibachi-style meal preparation is all about managing cooking times and temperatures. Whisking onions, garlic or ginger around your cooking surface passes their flavors to your other ingredients; then they can caramelize gently in a lower-heat area where they won’t burn. Dense, long-cooking vegetables such as julienned daikon or carrot should be started soonest, followed by zucchini or others that benefit from gentle caramelization. Brown them at high temperatures; then slide them to the cooler areas to finish cooking. Finally, sear your thinly sliced meats, poultry, fish or shellfish on the hot area of your grill. The subtle melding of flavors that takes place naturally on your hot cooking surface helps bring unity to the finished meal.
References and ResourcesThe Food Timeline: Japanese-USA Restaurants
Tepandine: The History and Evolution of Teppanyaki