KUALA LUMPUR, March 20 — It was a bewitching performance.
We paid attention as our cooking class instructor whipped up a mixture of eggs, shoyu (soy sauce) and dashi broth. He poured some of the egg mixture into a hot rectangular pan. Then, before it was completely cooked, he flipped it over to one side.
And then he flipped it again so that the omelette now resembled a pat of butter on one end of the pan. Then he added more egg and repeated until all the mixture was used up.
Flip and roll. Flip and roll.
When he was done with the demonstration, he invited us to try it too. This was the first tamagoyaki we made many years ago, but far from the last.
The name is derived from the Japanese words tamago or “egg” and yaki, which roughly translates to “cooked over direct heat” — rather than a steamed chawan mushi or egg custard, for example.
Here the layers that come from cooking stage by stage make all the difference: almost a silkier, savoury mille-feuille like mouthfeel.
We were in Kyoto, so our instructor told us the version we were making was called dashimaki tamago thanks to the addition of dashi to the eggs and soy sauce. When it is freshly made, the rolled omelette tastes like manna from heaven, soft and custardy.
This is simple fare, what the Japanese would eat for breakfast together with rice and maybe a packet of natto. Cooled down, it is a staple of bento boxes as well as a popular topping for nigiri style sushi.
Dusted with a little potato starch and rolled in panko breadcrumbs, you can even deep-fry it and sandwich it between two slices of milk bread to make a tamago katsu sando.
That’s just how you may serve tamagoyaki; there are also a myriad ways you can gussy up the basic recipe with the flavours or ingredients you desire.
For instance, adding some finely chopped spring onions will add a lovely aroma though I omit this when I don’t have any in my fridge.
Some cooks add mirin or sugar to the egg mixture to add some sweetness. Others insist on serving it with some grated daikon radish on the side, though I prefer a little bit of pickles or kimchi, if I’m being honest, for more of a kick.
However we make it, biting into a freshly cooked tamagoyaki with steam escaping between the layers of rolled omelette always reminds me of Kyoto. It’s a taste of Japan until the day when we can safely travel again.
DASHIMAKI TAMAGO (“JAPANESE ROLLED OMELETTE WITH DASHI”)
There are regional differences depending where you learned to make your tamagoyaki in Japan. In Tokyo, the rolled omelette tends to be plainer as the locals prefer to top it with stronger flavours such as a shoyu dip when serving.
In Kyoto, where I first learned to make tamagoyaki, the preference is to add dashi directly to the egg mixture before cooking so subtle umami notes permeate every bite of the omelette.
Therefore, this specific Kyoto version is called dashimaki tamago. It’s just as simple to make but packs a lot more flavour.
One tip I picked up during my cooking lesson in Kyoto is not to attempt perfectly cooked layers. For one, if each layer of the omelette is absolutely cooked through, they are more likely to separate and not stick together.
There is also a danger of overcooking the omelette if you’re aiming for cooking it through. Remember, the residual heat will continue to cook the omelette even after removing from the heat.
Where the cooking vessel is concerned, typically Japanese cooks use a rectangular pan called a makiyakinabe that is designed specifically for cooking the omelette.
For home cooking, a smaller non-stick makiyakinabe for a 2- to 3-egg tamagoyaki would be perfect; professional cooks use a larger one, often made from copper, to churn out more rolled omelettes for customers.
Now while it’s entirely possible to order a makiyakinabe online these days, a simpler and cheaper option would be to use an existing non-stick pan or cast iron pan at home.
If you decide later on that you’re making a lot of tamagoyaki at home, then feel free to purchase a proper makiyakinabe then.
The rolled omelette made with a round pan wouldn’t be rectangular, of course, but you can slice off the ends of this rolled up crêpe “cigars” so that they are roughly rectangular, then proceed to slice them into bite-sized pieces as you would a conventional tamagoyaki.
What to do with the sliced off end bits? Consider them the tamagoyaki cook’s well deserved reward — after all that rolling and flipping — and enjoy your little pre-meal snack!
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
50ml dashi broth
Some spring onions, chopped finely (optional)
A little neutral cooking oil
Crack the eggs into a medium-sized bowl. Add the light soy sauce, dashi broth and chopped spring onions, if using. Mix the eggs and the other ingredients together until well combined.
Place the pan you’re using over medium heat. Wipe the surface of the pan with a bit of paper towel soaked in a little neutral cooking oil. You will be using this throughout the cooking process; using a pair of chopsticks to hold the oil-soaked paper towel allows for greater control.
Once the pan is coated with a thin layer of oil, pour about a quarter to a third of the egg mixture into the pan. When the egg is about three-quarters cooked, roll it so that it flips on itself a third of the way to form the first fold, then flip it again to form the second fold.
It will now resemble a thin block of barely cooked omelette. Using the chopsticks, nudge it to one side of the pan. Coat the pan surface again with a thin layer of oil.
Now pour another quarter or third of the egg mixture. Lift up the rolled egg so the raw egg will flow in underneath it. Once this newly added egg mixture is about three-quarters cooked, roll the cooked egg over on top of the new egg layer.
Repeat these steps — coating the pan with oil, pouring a bit of egg mixture, flipping and rolling — until you have used up all the egg mixture.
Transfer the complete rolled omelette to a chopping board to rest. Slice into bite-sized pieces and serve immediately or chill it for use in other dishes.
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