Culinary educator and Japanese food expert Elizabeth Andoh spent last week with us at our cooking school teaching us how to prepare many different Japanese culinary techniques and dishes. One of the most popular lessons was the one on how to use a Japanese rectangular omelette pan.
When Elizabeth sent an email and asked that we have a Japanese omelette pan on hand (called a tamago yaki nabé) we looked in several Asian and other ethnic markets in Anchorage. Having no luck, we finally ordered our pans online and they arrived in just a few days.
The pans we bought are smallish rectangle nonstick pans with wooden handles. They cost about $20 each. Japanese omelette pans come in a variety of sizes and surface finishes but ours are about 4-inch by 7-inch and we’re pretty happy with that. We learned that next purchase, if we find a pan that has a slight sloped edge on the far side, it might facilitate turning the omelette over. If we wanted to graduate to a restaurant-style pan, we might select a heftier 6-inch by 10-inch size.
Elizabeth first showed us how to wipe the pan with a small piece of paper towel saturated in high-heat cooking oil. Too much oil in the pan will ruin the omelette and not enough oil will allow the egg to stick. We were cooking over small Japanese-style butane stoves (which I find incredibly useful for everything — from culinary demos to appetizers on the deck).
Elizabeth instructed us to pick out the chalaza (the rope-like strand that anchors the yolk to the whites) from the egg so it doesn’t create a streak or any unevenness in the egg. We picked out these tiny white blobs with chopsticks — good practice for what was to come.
We thinned the eggs with a little sea stock we had made earlier in class. Sea stock is made with a big chunk of kombu, or kelp, about a quart of water, and a handful of bonito flakes. We put our sea stock into quart sized canning jars, which seems pretty handy to store. Sea stock (or dashi) can be used to season almost anything. Elizabeth explained that our egg mixture could be thinned with a little sake also. We added a bit of salt and sugar (We learned that Tokyo-style omelettes have more sugar added than Osaka-style omelettes). Elizabeth strains her egg mixture and mixes it well but she is careful to not add in too much air, which will create unwanted bubbles.
We tested our omelette pan to make sure it was hot enough by drizzling in a few drops of egg from the end of a chopstick. The pan needs to be nice and hot or the egg will stick.
Next, we poured in the egg mixture. For my sized pan, it was about ¼-cup of egg. We tilted the pan back and forth to spread the egg over the pan surface. Then, we set the pan over the flame until the egg shrunk away from the sides of the pan slightly. Off-heat, Elizabeth showed us how to use a chopstick to release the edges of the egg around the pan. She twirled and twisted the chopstick underneath the omelette to lift up the egg completely out of the pan. The omelette was placed gently back into the pan on the other side. Flipping a Japanese thin omelette with a single chopstick will take me a little time to master but I am determined to keep trying. The omelette cooks on its flipped side just briefly to dry out, about 30 seconds, and then it is flipped out onto a clean, dry surface.
The paper-thin omelettes can be sliced into thin shreds and sprinkled over sushi rice, or used as wrappers around delicious fillings such as smoked fish and seaweed.
We made a thicker-rolled omelette that was prepared the same way but the egg was pushed to the back of the pan and another 1/4-cup of egg mixture was poured in, with that process repeated about four times. We added a sheet of seaweed to make a layered effect in our rolled omelette.
Omelettes in Japan are usually served room temperature. The thin omelettes will last for about five days in the refrigerator.
To learn more about the cuisine and teachings of Elizabeth Andoh, visit her website at www.washokucooking.com.
- 3 eggs
- 3 tablespoons sea stock (recipe follows)
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Vegetable oil for seasoning the pan
- Mix the three eggs (with any chalaza removed) with the sea stock, sugar, and salt.
- Heat the omelette pan over medium heat. Brush the pan with paper toweling soaked in vegetable oil (or use a pastry brush) to lightly coat. Test the pan with a drop of egg mixture. The drop should “jump” from the pan.
- Add in ¼-cup of the egg mixture to the pan and tilt to coat all corners of the pan evenly. Let the egg cook briefly over the medium heat until the egg pulls away from the side of the pan slightly. Some bubbles may form on the surface of the omelette.
- Remove the pan from the heat by tilting upwards. Release any egg from the sides of the pan and slide a chopstick underneath the egg, twirling until you are all the way across the omelette and about two-thirds down towards the end of the pan. Lift the chopstick up to hold the omelette away from the pan. Tilting the pan away from you, gently lower the omelette back into the pan on its opposite side. (If this sounds at all complicated, it’s not -- just try it and it will make sense).
- Let the omelette cook only about 30 seconds and then flip it out of the pan.