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As a wee child, my family's only knowledge of Chinese cuisine was from local Chinese-American restaurants—eating in at the white clothed tables with huge ceramic pots of tea and bowls of sliced oranges for dessert, or ordering massive paper bags of take-out that leaked out onto the car floor on the way home. My mom's order never strayed: pork fried rice, chop suey, shrimp with lobster sauce, chicken with broccoli, wonton soup, and egg foo yung, an omelette with roots in a Shanghainese dish called Fu Yung Egg Slices.
I love egg foo yung—yes, brown sauce and all. Why? Because I'm an egg fanatic, and because no matter how greasy and MSG-laden it might be, I can't resist the moist combo of meat/veggie omelette smothered in gravy. Though to be honest, I feel evermore guilty about ingesting the industrial brown gunk, and I get tired of pulling bits of fluorescent pink unrendered pork fat from the egg. Because I'm sure I'm not the only one who's mostly had egg foo yung out of a take-out container, I challenged myself to see if I could replicate this Chinese-American restaurant dish at home, and make it even better to boot.
So how about a chicken version? Sure, I would miss flavorful pork, but I decided that since this omelette is fried, I'd go with lean meat (plus, this is a chicken column). I went with tender chunks of Shaoxing rice wine-marinated chicken. Because the omelettes cook quickly, the chicken is cooked first, then tossed into the eggs. Coming up with the other omelette ingredients was easy. You can basically fill this with anything you want, as long as the ingredients only demand a bare minimum of cooking. So into the beaten eggs I tossed in bean sprouts, chopped scallions, onion, and slices of crunchy wood ear mushroom.
I will not beat around the bush when it comes to cooking these omelettes. You're going to need oil—and lots of it—to get the golden brown, light, and fluffy texture that is characteristic of this restaurant-style egg foo yung. You will also probably want to use a wok. The curved bottom of a wok helps to contain the egg mixture and prevents it from spreading out. The downside? You can only cook one at a time. While you can fry up two or three omelettes in a large skillet, the omelettes tend to spread and flatten. And because the omelette isn't really deep frying in a wide, flat, skillet, the texture is not as delicate. All in all, these are easy to fry up in a wok, taking under a minute for each. It took me a few times to get the hang of flipping the omelette, but a rumpled, imperfect look is totally fine, and what you end up with anyway.
I made my own simple but flavorful brown sauce by whisking up a mixture of chicken broth, oyster sauce (for complexity and a hint of sweetness), soy sauce, rice wine, and just enough cornstarch to thicken. Serve up with a steaming bowl of rice and a side of garlic bok choy.
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