Asia’s Answer to the Frittata

I just returned from a culinary cruise to Southeast Asia. On my first day in Bangkok, I rediscovered what I rediscovered 20 years ago – that I like egg fu yung.

I never thought I would admit it opening, particularly in writing.

One sultry morning over two decades ago in the coffee shop at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, I ordered Thai Chile Pork and Tomato Omelet for breakfast. As I took my first bite, I had a nostalgic moment. I had forgotten how tasty Asian omelets are. When I returned home from that trip, I immediately scoured my files for all my egg fu yung recipes and cooked them up.

Should I be embarrassed by my ‘tacky’ taste? Well, yes – if I revere the egg fu yung of the ‘50s when America was still discovering Chinese food. Somewhere in the translation, egg fu yung became Americanized, acquired a bad reputation and eventually became synonymous with tourist fare.

I remembered the dreadful soggy omelets drowned in tasteless, gummy “gravy.” For some reason, around the same time, for whatever reason my mother stopped making those delicious crispy-edged egg omelets, too. Eventually I avoided the dish in restaurants all together and never thought about it again until I was in Thailand two decades ago.

Asians do not treat eggs just as breakfast fare. Eggs are enjoyed throughout the day as a main course entrée in the traditional multi-course Asian menu, as a snack dish or light supper with rice. Nonetheless, it does make perfect breakfast fare in the East as it does in the West.

Egg fu yung comes in a variety of interpretations. The classic Chinese style is a light, airy soufflé made with beaten egg whites (no yolks) folded around finely minced chicken breast (or shrimp or crab meat) and cooked in a hot wok into white puffy snowy clouds – quite sophisticated and very refined.

My favorite style of egg fu yung is down home and a comfort food, a popular dish featured on old-fashioned mimeographed Chinese menus of the 50s. The beaten eggs are mixed with chopped meat or seafood, and vegetables, then poured into a hot wok or skillet and pan-fried or deep-fried without stirring. When the mixture is set, it is flipped over to brown the second side. The middle is moist while the outside surface is marvelously browned with crispy tinged edges. This characteristic browning accentuates the flavor and texture, the most significant distinction between the Eastern omelet and the Western.

The finished dish is more similar to a frittata than an omelet. Frittatas weren’t in in the 50s or even known in America, so the word omelet was the best description at that time and continues to this day.

Last month I was reliving a culinary experience I had on my first trip to Bangkok – savoring a Thai omelet, this time topped with slices of stir-fried pork over the eggs. It was slightly different but even so, it was mouth-wateringly delicious – and now, déjà vu, I’m back home recovering my egg fu yung recipes from the archives of my files and cooking them up.

Thai Chile Chopped Pork and Tomato Omelet

This recipe was inspired by the chile-pork omelet served at the coffee shop in the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. Thai-style omelet is always served with a dipping sauce of Thai fish sauce mixed with chopped Thai bird’s eye chiles, and steamed white rice.

INGREDIENTS

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 green Serrano chile, coarsely chopped
4 large eggs
½ pound chopped pork butt
1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
freshly ground black pepper
hot steamed rice
Dipping Sauce (nam pla prik):
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 Thai bird’s eye chiles, chopped

Preheat a wok over medium heat until hot. Pour in 1 tablespoon of oil. When hot, add the shallots, garlic and chile; stir until soft and translucent, about 1 minutes. Set aside.

Beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Add stir-fried shallot mixture, pork, tomato, cilantro, fish sauce and pepper; mix well breaking up the clumps of pork.

Reheat the wok over medium-high heat. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. When hot, add ¼ cup of the egg mixture; fry until the bottom is golden brown and the edges look crisp, about 1 minute. Shake the wok occasional. Turn the omelet over and brown the other side for about 30 to 45 seconds longer. Remove from the wok and keep warm. Repeat and make 7 more omelets.

Combine the fish sauce and chiles in a small dipping bowl.

Serve the omelets over rice and spoon some of the dipping sauce on top.

By Joyce Jue
May 7, 2006

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