September 30, 2013
omelette japonaise
(Japanese omelet)
I was mesmerized. I must have watched the woman simultaneously handle eight makiyakinabes for at least an hour. Gazing through an opening in the shutters, I was glued to my spot outside her shop. It was on one of Kyoto’s well‑traveled food alleys. I didn’t know if she was aware of me. Her back was towards the window the whole time. Over and over again she’d go through the same complex series of movements, barely straying from her script. Sometimes she slightly changed the order she addressed the pans as some egg cooked too fast or too slow. In between the cooking, she’d grab a quick sip of tea or readjust her headscarf. She was a human, tamagoyaki‑making robot.
Although sometimes simply called tamago, the true name is tamagoyaki, where tamago means egg and yaki means grilled or fried. Sometimes, it’s referred to as dashimaki tamago. Dashi being a broth and maki meaning rolled. The tamagoyaki is cooked in a special rectangular pan called a makiyakinabe. There are fancy tin‑lined copper versions that the shops use and less expensive versions for the home. When I came home from that trip in the early 1990s, I headed to one of my local Japanese shops and bought a makiyakinabe for myself.
Tamagoyaki is a Japanese rolled omelet. Unlike a French omelet, tamagoyaki may have ten or more layers, each very thin, but together building up to a dense mass of cooked egg. The actual recipe varies from shop to shop and home to home, but plain tomagoyaki is usually slightly sweet from sugar or mirin or both. Additionally, the beaten egg may have been diluted with a little dashi, which also lightens the end result.
I tried making an omelet shortly after I bought my makiyakinabe, but it was a total failure. I put the pan on a top shelf in my kitchen. In the two decades that followed, I’d eat tamagoyaki as part of some other dish or a plate of sushi, but I never had a desire to try to make it again. Since I started making amuse‑bouches, the idea to try again has popped up more than once. Until recently, I was able to push the idea back down into my subconscious.
Years ago, I would buy dried red onions from a stand at my local farmers market. I’ve looked for the onions the last few years but haven’t seen any. So I decided to make my own. I bought three nice specimens, and using a Japanese mandolin, sliced them into 3‑mm (18‑in) thick, crosswise slices. I arranged the slices in my dehydrator, and left them to dry.
Now that I had a pint of dried red onions, I had to find something to do with them. This time I decided to embrace, rather than squash, the idea of tamagoyaki. After consulting a couple of my Japanese cookbooks for ideas, I decided to check out the offerings on YouTube. For most things I do in the kitchen, YouTube leaves me unimpressed. Not so with tamagoyaki. I found a decent video from a home cook and a few from professionals, including a cook in Kyoto working six pans at once.
Now it was time to get into the kitchen. I had decided that I wanted to fill my tamagoyaki with the dried red onions and fresh green onions. I also wanted to simplify the basic egg recipe from many that I had found. I definitely knew that I didn’t want my results to be as sweet as I’ve often encountered. The ingredient list I developed made 6 amuse‑bouche portions. I pulled my butane‑gas‑powered burner out of the closet for this task because my makiyakinabe doesn’t sit well on an electric hob.
165 g (3 extra‑large)
lightly beaten eggs
30 ml (2 T)
10 g (about 2 T)
minced, dried red onions
green onion, finely minced
6 slices
dried red onion
1 top
from a green onion, very thinly diagonally sliced
1. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl with a pour spout, such as a liquid measuring cup.
2. Wedge a folded piece of paper towel between a couple of chopsticks and hold in place with a rubber band, or if you have a pair, grab the folded paper towel with hemostats. Put some vegetable oil in a bowl, and use the paper‑towel swab to apply the oil to the makiyakinabe.
3. Place the makiyakinabe over medium‑high heat. Oil it on both the base and the sides. Pour in just enough egg mixture to fill the bottom of the pan in a thin layer. Tilt the pan to get the eggs all the way into the corners. Pop any bubbles with chopsticks.
4. When the egg layer is cooked on the bottom and starting to cook on the top, start folding the eggs from the handle end using chopsticks or a wide spatula. Try to fold the eggs three times so the resulting piece extents about a quarter of the way across the pan.
5. Oil the exposed surface of the makiyakinabe. Slide the cooked egg slab back to the handle end, and oil the newly exposed area. Add some more egg mixture. Lift the cooked egg slab so the liquid flows underneath. When the new egg layer is cooked on the bottom and starting to cook on the top, fold the previously cooked egg over the new layer. Push it gently into the far edge to square it off.
6. Repeat the above step until all the egg mixture is used.
7. Place the cooked egg slab on the round side of a sushi mat. Place 3 onion slices on each flat side of the egg slab. Wrap the sushi mat tightly around the eggs and onions. Place a weight on top of the flat side of the mat, and set the arrangement aside until cool.
8. Remove the cooled tamagoyaki from the sushi mat and separate the now softened onion slices from the egg.
9. Cut the tamagoyaki crosswise into 6 pieces. Cut each piece crosswise in half.
10. Arrange some red onions on each serving dish. Arrange a pair of tamagoyaki pieces on each plate. Top with a sprinkling of the green onion tops.

© 2013 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.