15 July 2010

Tamago-Yaki and the Art of Sweetening the Savory

The Japanese add sugar to all sorts of foods that Americans consider savory. Sweet beans, for example, are part of at least half of all Japanese desserts: youkan, manju, daifuku mochi, anpan, and zenzai spring to mind, and there are many others.



Daifuku Mochi:



The sugar somehow lightens the experience of eating beans and transforms them from plain fare to a special treat. I don't think I experienced a savory bean the entire time I gobbled my way through Japan. Clearly, consensus has been reached on how to eat beans.

Similarly, I encountered as many sweet eggs as savory. While omu-raisu (omelette stuffed with rice and chicken), oyako-don (chicken and egg over rice), and chawan-mushi (a savory custard filled with hidden goodies) combine egg and meat in a savory duet—that I would never never eat—, plain eggs by themselves often receive the sugar treatment. In sushi restaurants, for example, you can buy tamago (egg) wrapped with seaweed over rice, and the tamago is sweet. So is the egg in futomaki (large vegetable rolls). In rice or noodle bowls with toppings of vegetables, meat, and egg strips, the egg tastes slightly sweet as well.

Sometimes it pays to try cooking things you considered a dark, earthy, or savory flavor with sugar or mirin. You could experiment with sweetening potatoes or mushrooms, broccoli or kale, or even brown rice. And to start you off, here is an easy way to cook sweet tamago-yaki.

A small fry pan
1 egg
1 teaspoon sugar

Heat oil in pan. Beat egg with sugar. Add egg to pan. Cook into a round or rectangular omelette. Make sure both sides are fully cooked. Remove from heat and cool. Cut into thin strips. Add to salad, chilled noodle dishes, sushi, or rice bowls.

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