Making an egg roll may be tricky, but perfecting it brings such satisfaction
If you do a lot of cooking, you'll soon realise that the simplest dishes are often the hardest to make. How to get perfectly smooth congee? How to make wontons that stay true to their name, which is to say, eating them should be like swallowing clouds?
Egg dishes, I find, are among some of the hardest to master.
I once went through about 100 eggs trying to find the best way to make ajitsuke tamago, the ones with the melty yolks we take for granted in a bowl of ramen.
How much boiling time? Should I boil them low and slow or fast and furious? What is the best proportion of shoyu, mirin and sake for the soaking liquid? How do I keep the eggs submerged?
Even something as simple as scrambled eggs can be impossible. Should I add water or cream? Should I salt the eggs before cooking? When do I turn off the fire and let the residual heat cook the eggs to creamy perfection? Small curds or large?
Recently, I have been elbow deep in eggs again, trying to perfect tamagoyaki or Japanese rolled omelette. The Koreans call it gyeran-mari.
It all came about because I wanted to eat more protein, and eggs are the most fuss-free way to do this.
Sure, I could have made a lot of ajitsuke tamago, or simply boiled my eggs, but I relished the challenge of nailing something new.
My first attempts were pathetic. The layers of egg broke mid-roll. The seasoning was way off. I tried to cook too many eggs in the pan. But eventually, I figured out how to make the basic omelette with no filling.
The trick is to cook the omelette at medium low heat, without rushing. I also realised that I make better tamagoyaki with the pan handle facing left.
If you decide to start on this quest, you will find your favourite pan position eventually.
Another thing I found was that every time I got too ambitious, the omelette came out wrong.
Two eggs make a good-sized and manageable tamagoyaki. Three eggs in my pan, which measures 18cm by 13cm, are too many, and the resulting omelette looks ugly and is too thick.
Then I started putting fillings in them and faced new conundrums.
Naturally, I added too much in my first few attempts. The hulking omelettes broke and were ragged at the edges. They were still edible, so nothing was wasted.
After tamping down my expectations, I settled on two 60g eggs and 25g of filling. I usually use a combination of finely diced carrot and red mini sweet peppers, available in supermarkets and wet markets; and finely sliced scallions.
I have also used finely diced large red chillies and coriander leaves; dill and finely flaked cooked salmon; and scallions and ham.
I just need to stick to the 25g rule.
For tamagoyaki stuffed with seaweed, I started with sheets of nori and then got tired of trimming them to fit the pan. Now, I use ready-shredded nori and simply scatter them on top of each layer of egg. Sometimes when I feel like fancy eggs, I sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on top of the seaweed too.
My recipe does not call for straining the eggs to get rid of the chalaza, the thickish strands that bind the yolk to the whites. It just adds an unnecessary step, I feel.
Just beat the eggs well. I do not add water or dashi to the eggs either, and season simply with mirin and shoyu.
Sometimes, I use usukuchi, a light-coloured shoyu Japanese cooks use when they don't want the final dish to be too dark. It is saltier than shoyu so I use a little less than the one teaspoon the recipe calls for.
Unlike some cooks, I don't have a fit if the eggs brown in the pan. I think the omelette tastes better this way.
I usually eat the eggs as is, without sauces or dips. But I will admit that ketchup, Sriracha chilli sauce, grated daikon and shoyu, Kewpie mayonnaise and ponzu are great with the omelette.
I particularly like a combination of ketchup and Sriracha.
Recently, I bought a larger tamagoyaki pan, measuring 20cm by 20cm. I can cook four eggs at a time. If you eat a two-egg tamagoyaki every day, well, the larger pan saves time. I just halve the omelette for two servings.
I still turn out ugly tamagoyaki, especially when I'm in a rush. But I have set myself a new challenge: how to make perfectly smooth steamed egg.
How many eggs? Stock or not? Minced meat or not? How long should I steam the mixture for? Fierce heat or low?
Like I said, the simplest dishes are always the hardest to master.
- 25g vegetables - mini sweet peppers (above), scallions, thinly sliced carrots
- Two 60g eggs
- 2 tsp mirin
- 1 tsp shoyu
- 1/4 tsp cooking oil
- Slice and finely dice the sweet peppers and carrot and slice the scallions thinly.
- Crack the eggs into the bowl. Add the mirin, shoyu and vegetables. Beat with a fork until combined.
- Place a tamagoyaki pan over medium low heat. Brush the pan with cooking oil. Hold your palm over the pan and when it is heated evenly, pour in one-third of the egg mixture. Tilt the pan to distribute the egg evenly. When the egg is about 80 per cent set, start rolling, using a thin silicone spatula, from the curved end of the pan to the end with the handle.
- Brush oil on the pan near the curved side of the pan. Slide the first layer of the omelette to that end of the pan. Brush the rest of the pan with oil. Pour in another one-third of the egg mixture. Tilt the pan to distribute the egg evenly. Lift the first layer of eggs and let the egg mixture run down beneath it. Roll the omelette from the curved end of the pan.
- Repeat step four with the remaining egg mixture, and come in for the final roll.
- Let the omelette cool on a plate for about 5 minutes. Slice with a serrated knife into six pieces and serve with Japanese mayonnaise, grated daikon and shoyu, or ponzu sauce.
- The rolled omelette can also be filled with shredded nori. Sprinkle the seaweed on top of each layer of egg before rolling.
Serves one as a snack
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.