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Posted on Jun 29, 2007 | 16 comments

Ham croquette lunches

Ham croquette lunches

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Contents of Bug’s lunch: Tarako spaghetti with onions and aonori (cooking notes below), Latin American ham croquette and chipotle cream dipping sauce, cheese triangle, steamed zucchini (courgette) with ponzu, and a strawberry.

Mini potMorning prep time: 10 minutes. The spaghetti was leftover from the previous night’s dinner, so I packed that up directly into the lunch container after dinner. I cooked two things in the morning: teamed the zucchini quickly in my microwave steamer (then tossed with my favorite ponzu sauce), and fried the frozen Goya-brand croquettes in a tiny pot. In Japan many bento-packers have tiny little pot for boiling or frying small amounts of food. The pot on the left (US$1.50 at Daiso) is only about 4 inches in diameter, so it was a good size to deep fry just three croquettes without using much cooking oil. Any small pot would work as well — it saves on oil use and cleanup to work in miniature when frying.

Packing: I used an egg slicer to partially slice the strawberry for easy preschooler eating, packed the fried croquette in a lined food cup to absorb remaining oil, and drained the sauced zucchini on paper towels to reduce the possibility of leakage. The frozen fruit cocktail pack in my lunch kept the cream dipping sauce cool and safe inside an insulated lunch bag. Packed in the two middle tiers of a 4-tier nesting Thomas the Tank Engine box.

Cooking: Here’s a tarako spaghetti recipe with good notes. I start by sauteing an onion (and maybe some bell pepper), and garnish with kaiware daikon sprouts if I happen to have any on hand (aonori today, though). In Osaka I often had it with a little Kewpie mayo stirred into it as well. Other variations omit the cream in favor of sauteing in butter and tossing in mirin/tarako/mayo. However you make it, it’s bound to be good — just get the sauce loose enough to lightly coat the noodles.

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Contents: Ham croquettes with chipotle cream dipping sauce, zucchini with ponzu, cherry tomato, and rice mixed with yellow Thai curry sauce. A small container of frozen Thai fruit cocktail (pineapple, papaya, guava and nata de coco) acts as a delicious ice pack to keep both bentos cool (see directions and cautions when freezing little containers of canned fruit).

Morning prep time: 10 minutes. In the morning I fried the frozen croquettes and microwave-steamed the zucchini. I also had leftover cold white rice and a couple tablespoons of yellow Thai curry sauce from dinner a few nights back, so I combined these in a microwave-safe dish and heated for less than a minute until the rice regained a nice texture. I now find myself saving even tiny amounts of food (like the curry) because there’s usually some way it can be used to jazz up an otherwise boring bento lunch.

Packing: I packed the fried croquettes in an oil-absorbent food cup from Daiso (branches internationally) to cut the grease, and allowed both croquette and curry rice to cool before closing the lid on the lunch. This cuts down on condensation in the box, improving packed lunch food safety and making it easier to open the box (a vacuum can form inside otherwise). The frozen fruit cocktail pack kept the cream dipping sauce cool and safe inside an insulated lunch bag. Packed in a 500ml Leaflet box.

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    1. Ah! This reminds me of that crazy Kewpie tarako sauce commercial with the singing kids. I really want to try that some time.

    2. Kopiikat> Try being a singing kid asking for tarako sauce? ;-)

    3. Well, since you posted this, I’ve been singing that song non-stop. So, really, it’s not that much of a stretch…

    4. I’ve heard that so many Japanese have a strong passion for tarako spaghetti, it looks delicious and I have to try it soon :)

    5. Cute banner biggie! I went to Ichiban yesturday and picked up some stuff. I should have known that if I went to our local ‘ebay seller’s’ store on ebay, I’d see everything waiting for me at the store! Regardless, they still had pretty good supply of it all. Have a good weekend and stay dry! Looks like its going to rain again!

    6. @4 from amvn:
      Yeah, “tarako spaa” is really popular in Japan, not only with Japanese but also the gaijin. Bug devours it — a kid favorite!

    7. @5 from Vanillacupcake:
      Thanks, vanilla, but reader sff_corgi is the one who did all the work making the fun new banner. I’m so jazzed!!!

      Did you find the fun new character bento section at Ichiban Kan? They’re becoming very responsive to the bento folks there… I’m happy it’s so reasonable.

    8. Biggie,I love your new banner, too!!! It’s really you!

    9. I love the banner! It really pulls your whole site together.
      I want one of those teeny pots. great tip!

      Have you seen this on youtube?

    10. @8 from Kian:
      Thank you for the kind words, Kian! As you’re going through old posts, please feel free to comment if you have any questions — I try to stay on top of comments on old entries too. I’m happy you’re inspired — bentos can be as simple or elaborate as you feel like!

    11. @10 from Julie:
      Thanks on the banner — I think Corgi did an outstanding, outstanding job. A while back, one of the moms in Bug’s Japanese playgroup had actually mentioned the tiny pots people have just for bento use, so when I saw it in Daiso I actually had context for it. While it seemed silly at the time, it does make sense for deep frying. (BTW, I don’t think your youtube link came through correctly. Seen what?)

    12. @11 from Corgi:
      Many of the newer onigiri molds now have a textured inner surface designed to keep rice from sticking. You can improve any mold’s nonstick properties by dipping it in water, or there’s always the trick of lining it with plastic wrap and using the excess plastic wrap to lift it out of the mold intact (this is also great for turning a regular cookie cutter into an onigiri mold).

      BTW, I hope you know that you ROCK for the banner!

    13. @12 from Jenny:
      Oh, and BTW you can also make it with the jarred refrigerated tarama that’s sold in Mediterranean markets (alongside the taramosalata). It’s already out of the casing — just spoon some out into a bowl, loosen it up with your liquid (I use mirin and mayo), and toss it with the hot pasta (I add butter and sauteed onions). When you do it this way so that it’s got kind of a creamy sauce coating (but without cream itself), the texture doesn’t seem to suffer as much in the refrigerator for some reason. You might want to pack a small amount of mirin (or mayo or cream?) to dress it right before eating. Also, in general I find that when packing leftover pasta for bento lunches, the texture is much improved if I microwave it briefly before packing, and pack some extra sauce on the side to re-sauce right before eating.

    14. I love them tiny pots! I’ve been using some even before I started bento, and I agree, they’re perfect for frying and cooking / reheating small amounts of food.

      I have 2 small pots, 1 deep and 1 shallow, and a small fry pan and they all see the most action in our kitchen.

      Congrats on the new banner :D Adds a lot of character to the site.

    15. Hi Biggie, Love the new banner – it’s really cool! This post is packed with great info. I just want to second what a lot of people have already said. You’re inspirational. I’d not really heard of bento before I saw your blog and now I’m becoming bento obsessed. When Little goes back to school in September he’s getting ‘made with love’ lunches every day! I’ve even said I’ll start making my husband’s packed lunch – now that’s really sad and not sure I’ll still be thanking you a couple of months down the line…!