There's a video on YouTube that I've watched several times over the past couple of years. In it, a chef in Kyoto makes a plate of omurice with a deftness and perfection of technique that may be unrivaled.
He starts by frying rice in a carbon steel skillet, tossing it every which way until each grain is coated in a sheen of demi-glace and oil. Then he packs it into an oval mold and turns it out in a tight mound on a plate.
He then proceeds to make what is perhaps the greatest French omelette ever executed, cooking it in that same perfectly seasoned carbon steel skillet, stirring the egg with chopsticks, rolling it up, gently tossing it, rotating it, and finally tipping it out of the pan onto that mound of rice.
Finally, he grabs a knife and slices through the top of the omelette from end to end, unfurling it in a custardy cascade of soft-cooked egg curds. It's an act of such prowess, such beauty, such tantalizing food-porniness that it's easy to conclude there's no hope of ever making such a dish at home.
And that's where I want to step in. Because you absolutely can and should make this at home. I realized this while watching a cook make omurice on a trip to Japan back in July (my travel and lodging were paid for by the Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau).
The cook was working with a flat griddle, not a carbon steel skillet. He fried the rice on that griddle, and, after mounding it on a plate, made the omelette on the griddle, too. Except that it wasn't a true rolled omelette. Instead, he poured the beaten eggs into a round on the griddle...and that was it. As soon as the eggs were set on the bottom and just slightly runny on top, he lifted the round with a couple of spatulas and set it down over the rice.
As fun as it is to master a French omelette, in this particular case, it's an unnecessary flourish that—while it makes for great showmanship—does little to improve the final dish, since you end up unrolling the omelette anyway. By not bothering to roll the omelette in the first place, you sidestep the entire technical challenge.
For those unfamiliar with omurice, it's a Japanese invention that combines an omelette with fried rice. You'll often hear it referred to as omuraisu (a contraction of the words omuretsu and raisu, the Japanese pronunciations of "omelette" and "rice"), or omumeshi, which fully translates "rice" into Japanese. Some versions have the rice rolled up in the omelette; you can watch the very same Kyoto chef do that here.
In one common rendition, the rice is fried with ketchup, and extra ketchup is squeezed on top as a garnish. In another popular one, seen in the Kyoto video, the chef uses demi-glace (a rich, veal stock–based sauce) to both fry the rice and top the omelette. Japanese mayo is often also squeezed on top.
Of the two recipes I'm sharing here, one uses the traditional ketchup, since it's easy and tasty, while the other calls for okonomiyaki sauce—the sweet-and-savory sauce typically served on top of okonomiyaki, Japanese cabbage pancakes—instead of demi-glace. Demi-glace is a huge undertaking for home cooks, and a preparation that I'd argue is really best left to restaurants. Made from a combination of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce, okonomiyaki sauce makes a good stand-in for demi-glace, at least in this preparation, since it delivers a similar dark-and-savory depth.
Here's a breakdown of how to make each one.
Ketchup Omurice With Chicken
To make the fried rice for both this recipe and the one below, I followed Kenji's fried-rice techniques, using a carbon steel skillet in place of a wok. You can also use a nonstick skillet if you don't have carbon steel; cast iron will be difficult, unfortunately, since a cast iron skillet typically has straight sides, making it hard to toss its contents.
Because this is a Japanese dish, I opted for Japanese-style short-grain rice (the kind commonly used for sushi), which, as Kenji found in his fried-rice testing, delivers an awesome chewy bite, but can also be a little more prone to clumping due to its high amylopectin content. This isn't too hard to deal with, though: The key is to fry the rice in batches in a very hot pan, breaking it up as it cooks.
The reason for working in batches is twofold. First, it's easier to break up any clumps of rice when there isn't too much rice in the pan. Second, and even more important, it keeps that pan as hot as possible. Add too much cold or room-temperature rice to the hot pan, and its temperature will drop, making it more difficult to brown the rice properly (an issue home cooks tend to have, since our burners are generally much weaker than a restaurant's).
As each batch of rice finishes, just transfer it to a bowl and fry the next one.
Next, I sauté diced carrots and onion until they're just tender and browned, then toss in some diced boneless, skinless chicken thigh until it's lightly browned and just cooked through.
Then the rice goes back into the pan, and I toss it with the vegetables. At this point, it's finally time for the sauce, which, in this case, is just ketchup loosened slightly with water. I toss and stir it all together again until the rice is coated in a lightly saucy, oily sheen. I scrape it out into a bowl, packing it down and eventually turning it out onto a plate as soon as the omelette is done.
As for the omelette, it couldn't be easier. Simply beat four eggs with a pinch of salt, then pour them into a preheated 10-inch nonstick skillet with a little bit of oil. Rapidly stir and shake the pan to quickly form small curds, stopping before the eggs begin to scramble.
Use a rubber spatula to push them around and form an even circle in the skillet. It should have soft-cooked curds on top, and be set on the bottom after a few seconds.
Just slide it out of the pan onto the mound of rice. Top it off with a squeeze of ketchup and maybe some Kewpie mayo, and you're all set.
Omurice With Pork and Okonomiyaki Sauce
I got the idea for this version, using okonomiyaki sauce and pork, at the very same restaurant in Japan where I watched the chef make the omurice on a griddle. The restaurant in question was in Ozu, Ehime Prefecture; my guide told me that this type of omurice is made at just a couple of restaurants there, although I can't say firsthand whether it's more common elsewhere in Japan.
The process starts out exactly the same: I fry cooked rice in batches and transfer it to a bowl as I go. In place of the carrots, I use some chopped cabbage, searing it in smoking-hot oil to brown it and give it a sweet nuttiness before adding chunks of pork belly or bacon.
The rice goes back in, and the whole thing gets tossed with okonomiyaki sauce. You can buy the sauce at a Japanese grocery or online, or make your own by combining equal parts ketchup and Worcestershire, then seasoning with soy sauce.
I sprinkle in some scallions and a pinch of cayenne pepper at the very end, then remove the rice from the skillet and make the omelette.
To serve it, I use the exact same process as for the ketchup variation: molding the rice with a bowl, sliding the soft omelette on top, then drizzling it with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise, along with a little sprinkle of ao-nori, a green seaweed that's commonly served with okonomiyaki.
Once you've got the cooked rice on hand (and, by the way, this dish works equally well with fresh-cooked or day-old rice), it's just about as fast and easy as a meal can get...so long as you don't try to go for the theatrical version.