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One of our favorite restaurants in Dallas was Tei Tei’s Robata, a Japanese sushi and Robata grill restaurant. Since moving to Austin, we have not found a comparable restaurant. Robata, translated as “around the fire place”, is a style of grilling where food is cooked on a charcoal hearth available in the traditional Japanese home. Today, the hearth is replaced by small hibachi grills. In the US, “hibachi style” is often confused with what is actually teppanyaki cooking, where 1 chef cooks on a large hot plate with lots of theatrical flair.

For Sunday dinner, I wanted to make Udon noodle soup, and I thought that some grilled baby octopus and shrimp would be a good addition to the meal. After purchasing my Webber charcoal grill, I also bought charcoal tray inserts so I can easily create heating zones. I thought that using 1 tray would be a good substitute for a smaller hibachi. In effect, only 1/3 of the grill surface will be utilized.

To prepare the baby octopus, you need cleaned, whole, patted dry baby octopuses, which should be available at Asian supermarkets, and water soaked bamboo skewers. When cleaning the octopus, make sure you check for the beak like mouth of the octopus, which is located in the center of the octopus where all the tentacles meet. The beak is a little brown, fish scale like thing that comes apart in two pieces, so be sure to get both pieces. It’s probably edible, but who likes eating fish scales?

The octopus is carefully threaded on the skewers, so that the tentacles won’t fall through the grill grates.

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I think I will invest in some metal grilling skewers after this experience because it took some effort to get the octopus on the bamboo skewers.

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To prep the shrimp, I made a yukukosho pesto. Yuzukosho literally means ” yuzu pepper” in Japanese. It’s made from pounding together yuzu zest, salt, and hot chile peppers. Since I didn’t have access to yuzu citrus, I substituted limes and lime zest.

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To make the Yuzukosho pesto, I added lemongrass, cilantro, garlic, and ginger to the Yuzukosho and pounded them together in a mortar.

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I used head on shrimp because the head and shell are great at retaining moisture and adding flavor. To marinate the shrimp, I butterflied the shrimp from the leg side, leaving the shell and head on, then rubbed the Yuzukosho pesto on the inside and outside of the shell.

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The shrimp should be marinated for 10 minutes before grilling.

I prepped the fire using a chimney starter, and used real wood charcoals. After about 20 minutes of burning, the coals where ashed over and ready to be used in the grill. Since the shrimp and octopus will cook quickly, the heat should be high, and direct.

The shrimp is added to the grill, directly over the coals, with the lid on, turning after 2 minutes.

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The shrimp will be ready in 4 minutes total, to avoid over cooking. The shrimp should be slightly charred on the outside and juicy in the middle.

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The baby octopus also takes about 2 minutes per side, but I decided to cook it after the shrimp because of the Tare glaze I used at the end of the cooking process. Tare is a Japanese dipping sauce used on grilled dishes made out of sake, sugar, and light soy sauce. The Tare is usually used as a finishing sauce , and brushed on the grilled food when it has almost completed cooking, then grilled over high heat for the sauce to caramelize.

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This process may sometimes leave a sugary residue on the grill grates, and since the shrimp had a different marinade, I didn’t want to mix the favors, so I grilled the octopus second.

Overall it was a great learning experience. Next time I think I will use both charcoal trays to increase the heat.

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Grilled shrimp with Yuzukosho pesto

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