The first time I made this Japanese crab meat omelette, Mr. Tess said it tasted just like egg foo young! Wikipedia notes that creative Chinese cooks in the U.S. invented egg foo young in the 1930′s. (see this note.) Eggs are beaten together with minced ham, crab, or chicken, then fried and served with a chicken stock-soy sauce gravy thickened with cornstarch. Since the 1950’s kanitama-don is a popular dish in Chinese restaurants in Japan. It’s a fine example of a well-traveled yoshoku (multi-cultural!) recipe: a recipe sort-of-from China, to the U.S. and then to Japan.
Carl Sandburg mentions egg foo yong (alternate spelling) in his 1936 poem The People, Yes.
To the Chinese we have given
kerosene, bullets, bibles
and they have given us radishes, soy beans, silk,
poems, paintings, proverbs, porcelain, egg foo yong,
gunpowder, Fourth of July firecrackers, fireworks,
and labor gangs for the first Pacific railways.
The People, Yes
After looking at a number of recipes and sites online, I am coming to believe that this recipe belongs to genre like “stew” “soup” or “salad” because there are variations of eggs fried with an assortment of meats, vegetables, and sauces from all over the world.
One interesting U.S. variation on this theme is a “Denver Sandwich” described by James Beard in his American Cookery book.
I’ll have to ask my brothers, who formerly lived in St. Louis Missouri for a number of years, why they never told me about this delicious-sounding St. Paul’s Sandwich! It’s a egg fu young sandwich on white bread (reminds me of the sandwiches we ate as kids): an egg foo yong patty with shrimp, chicken, beef, pork or all of the above topped with lettuce and mayo. I’d like it with added tomato, pickles and even cheese.
At any rate, I’ll leave you with a recipe for the Japanese version:
Rice Topped with Crab-Meat Omelette
かに玉 or 蟹玉
adapted from: The Japanese Kitchen
•250 Recipes in a Traditional Spirit•
by Hiroko Shimbo
- cook 6 cups of Japanese rice
Make the omelette:
- small handful of dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in cold water for 20 minutes, drained (reserve liquid for sauce)
- 3 ounces water chestnuts—about ½ cup
- ½ cup negi (or green onions) julienned
- ½ cup crab meat (surimi, fresh, or pasturized)—Ms. Shimbo notes it should be from legs
- 2 ounces ham, diced
- 6 eggs, lightly beaten in a large bowl (I only had 4)
- pinch of salt
- vegetable oil to cook the omelette (not the 4 Tablespoons Ms. Shimbo used)
Chop the mushrooms. In a large bowl beat the eggs. Add the mushrooms, water chestnuts, onions, crab, and ham. Add a pinch of salt. Mix.
Heat a skillet (use a skillet about the size of the bowls you will serve in). Add oil for pan-frying. I made 4 small omelettes. Keep the eggs warm.
Make the sauce:
- 2 Tablespoons sake
- ¾ cup chicken stock
- ¼ cup reserved mushroom water
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 ½ Tablespoons shoyu
- 2 Tablespoons potato starch mixed with 2 Tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
Wipe the skillet with a paper towel, and add the sauce ingredients: first the sake (to cook off the alcohol), then the stock, sugar, and shoyu. Mix the potato starch and water and add; stir to prevent lumps, and cook to thicken. Finally stir in the sesame oil.
Put half the rice in each dish. Cover it with the omelettes. Serve with the sauce poured over the rice/omelette bowl.
Chinese cooks for logging camps and railroad gangs during the 19th and early 20th centuries were likely responsible for introducing egg foo yung to America. It makes sense that by necessity they would have to substitute and change traditional Chinese recipes because ingredients would not be easily available in the American wild west. The cooks were trying to quickly feed the hungry workers.
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