Why It Works
- The hot rice helps thicken the egg slightly, giving the whole dish a lighter, fluffier texture.
- Beating the eggs and rice thoroughly with chopsticks introduces air into the egg whites, making them fluffier.
- Soy sauce, MSG, and furikake are all umami-rich ingredients that give the dish a nice savory flavor.
Tamago gohan (literally "egg rice")—rice mixed with a raw egg—is Japanese comfort food at its simplest. It's one of my favorite recipes of all time, and something that can be made in minutes.
Other than maybe pouring milk over cereal, tamago gohan was the very first recipe I learned, and it's Japanese comfort food at its simplest. When I was growing up in New York, my Japanese grandparents lived in the apartment one floor below us. On weekends, my mom would occasionally shoo us off to spend the night downstairs. My sisters and I would sleep on a thick futon rolled out on the floor, drinking barley tea and the Japanese soft drink Calpis. In the morning, we'd head into my grandmother's sitting room for more tea and tamago gohan.
We'd each get a bowl of hot rice (or, in my older sister's case, room-temperature rice) and an egg to break into it. Then we'd season it with a little bit of soy sauce, a pinch of salt, and a shake of Aji-no-moto, a Japanese brand of pure powdered MSG. (Like most Japanese people, I had no hang-ups about eating MSG then, and still don't now.) We'd whip up the rice with a pair of chopsticks, the egg turning pale yellow and foamy, holding the rice in a light, frothy suspension somewhere between a custard and a meringue. The Japanese have a thing for this kind of slippery, tender texture. If you've ever had natto, you know what tamago gohan should be like. If we were feeling extra bold, we'd top it up with a bit of shredded dried nori or a shake of furikake, the mixed seasoning that's typically eaten on plain rice but works particularly well here.
It's been a staple meal for me my entire life. It's something hearty and delicious to throw together in minutes for breakfast or a late-night snack—I'll microwave leftover rice to get it hot again for tamago gohan. It's such a simple, common food for me that it wasn't until I posted a picture of it on Instagram that I realized that tamago gohan is now a thing. Going by its alternate names of tamago kake gohan, tamago bukkake meshi (both mean "egg-covered rice"), or—as the kids are calling it these days—"TKG," it's been primped and primed and is ready for the spotlight. I would frankly not be surprised if food trucks selling eggy rice already exist in Austin, or if fancy chefs in Brooklyn are serving bowls of seasoned rice topped with sous vide eggs.
Tamago gohan, your time has come.
The good news is, you don't really need to go anywhere to get it. It's a two-minute recipe (three, tops, if you're real slow), and you probably already have most of the ingredients you need to make it. Start with a bowl of rice—about a cup of cooked rice per egg is right. So long as it's not stale, it can be cold, lukewarm, hot, or anywhere in between. If you've got leftover rice in the fridge, put some in a bowl, cover it with a saucer, and microwave it for a minute, and it'll be good to go.
Next, you need an egg. You do want to use a good, clean egg and break it cleanly, as you're going to be eating it raw. If you are squeamish about such things, buy pasteurized eggs (or pasteurize them yourself, using a sous vide circulator at 135°F (57°C) for two hours), or gently coddle your eggs in simmering water for a couple of minutes before adding them. Coddled eggs won't have quite the same lightness after they're added to the rice, but you'll get the general effect.
Some people like to be fussy, perhaps separating the egg and mixing the white into the rice first before folding in the yolk. Others will whip together the soy sauce and the egg before stirring it into the rice. I've tried all these techniques, and honestly, I can find absolutely no reason to use them when the easiest method works just as well: Dump the egg into the rice, season it, and stir. Making a little well in the rice helps a bit, and it looks cute and all, but it's also not necessary by any means.
My grandmother always used extremely simple seasonings. A drizzle of soy sauce, a little pinch of salt, a little pinch of MSG, and some finely torn or shredded nori. Some people like to add a dash of dashi (or, more frequently, some granules of Hondashi), which can give it an appealingly savory and smoky flavor. Some people will drizzle in mirin for sweetness. I generally don't bother, although, when I've got some on hand, I've been known to use bottled, concentrated soba noodle tsuyu, which contains all of those ingredients in a conveniently premixed form.
The real trick is in the beating. You need to beat thoroughly, and you need to beat vigorously. It'll take a little effort to get all the clumps out of the rice, but you want to continue beating even after that's happened. Just like creaming butter and sugar for a cookie dough, as you beat the rice and egg mixture, it will incorporate more and more air. Meanwhile, egg proteins will also stretch and tangle, giving the dish more cohesion. By the time you're done, the mixture should flow and settle very, very slowly in the bowl—just slightly thicker than an Italian-style risotto, but far lighter.
It's ready to eat as is, but if you want to get extra fancy with it, do what I like to do:
First, top it with furikake. Then...
...go ahead and add an extra egg yolk. Go on, just do it. Your grandmother isn't here to stop you right now.
- 1 cup cooked hot white rice (about 12 ounces cooked rice; 340g)
- 1 egg (plus 1 optional egg yolk)
- 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon mirin (optional)
- Pinch kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Pinch MSG powder, such as Aji-no-moto or Accent (optional)
- Pinch Hondashi (optional; see note)
- Furikake to taste (optional; see note)
- Thinly sliced or torn nori to taste (optional)
Place rice in a bowl and make a shallow indentation in the center. Break the whole egg into the center. Season with 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon mirin (if using), a pinch of salt, a pinch of MSG (if using), and a pinch of Hondashi (if using).
Stir vigorously with chopsticks to incorporate egg; it should become pale yellow, frothy, and fluffy in texture. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
Sprinkle with furikake and nori (if using), make a small indentation in the top, and add the other egg yolk (if using). Serve immediately.
Hondashi is powdered dashi that can be found in any Japanese market and most well-stocked supermarkets. Furikake is a seasoning mixture typically made with seaweed, dried sweetened bonito, and sesame seeds, among other ingredients. It can be found in any Japanese market.