Why It Works
- Adding cornstarch or rice flour to egg mixture makes the edges crisp.
- Pouring egg mixture into hot oil from a distance creates puffy, inner layers.
- Fish sauce adds a dose of umami, and vinegar or lime juice balances the flavors.
My best friend back in college sought solace in philosophy and literature during a broken heart. Instead of getting wasted like most of our peers would have done, he numbed the pain with Gilgamesh and Kierkergaard. That part was fine; what worried me was him making a self-imposed prison out of my couch for days, refusing to eat let alone or get back into society and move on.
As it turned out, getting him out of that state didn't take much. Presented one day with a plate of rice topped with Khai Jiao, a Thai-style omelet, my friend put down his copy of Siddhartha, picked probingly at the soft cloud of eggs with crispy edges as if he'd never seen it. He took one bite after another until all was gone, and concluded that the same universe that made it possible for such exquisite food to be created out of the simplest ingredients surely had greater things in store for his life that didn't include a non-committal girl.
I wasn't trying to make a statement with that omelet. Broke out of my mind, I had nothing in the fridge that day but some eggs. And if I'd known an omelet was all it took to get my friend and my couch back, I would've busted out those eggs a lot sooner.
But you don't need that kind of drama to enjoy a Thai-style omelet. The Thai people eat Khai Jiao because it's a comfort food; it's what macaroni and cheese is to many Americans.
What is Khai Jiao?
Often mistaken as a breakfast item due to the English designation "omelet," Khai Jiao is generally regarded by the Thai people as a rice topper to create a complete meal or a member of an all-out Sam Rap (family-style multi-dish feast) to complement a sour dish or take the edge off a chili relish.
Here's what you need to make one serving: a couple of eggs, fish sauce to taste, a few droplets of acid (vinegar, lime juice, or lemon juice), and some vegetable oil. The only extra ingredient is optional but recommended: some rice flour (cornstarch works, too). You don't need much, a tablespoon will do. This helps the omelet form crisp edges. For those with rendered lard on hand, you can fry the omelet in that to get similar results. But if you're using plain vegetable oil, you may want to add a bit of flour to the beaten eggs.
Making a good Thai-style omelet requires some technique, but it's nothing complicated.
Technique for crispy, fluffy Thai omelets
First, you need quite a bit of oil—more than you think necessary for a two-egg omelet. But a Thai omelet is very different from its French counterpart, and you can't make a good one with a flat pan lightly coated with butter. You need oil—smoking hot oil.
How much oil? The answer is tied to my second point, which is about using the right kind of cooking vessel. The best pan to use is one that allows the oil to form a pool that's at least one inch deep. It's pointless to specify the size, because pans are usually measured by diameter when the factor that matters the most is the depth.
My beat up well-seasoned pan is approximately 18 inches in diameter but because its bottom is round, it allows 3⁄4 cup of oil to form a one-inch pool, which is sufficient for a one-serving omelet. Had a pan this wide been flat, I would've needed so much more oil that a smaller (eight inches or so) pan would make more sense.
You know what else works well? A smallish pot or a 1-quart saucier.
Lastly, you want to pour the egg mixture into the oil from a height of approximately one foot. If I hadn't slept through high school physics, I could say something that makes sense about how the different heights from which an object is dropped affect the impact velocity.
According to my observation, to create Khai Jiao with multiple inner layers and jagged crispy edges, without splashing oil all over yourself, one foot is an ideal height from which the egg mixture is poured.
That's it. If I was to add anything else at this point, it would be a plate of rice ready before frying the eggs. It's the perfect place for your golden, soft, crispy Thai omelet to land on. Oh, and a few squirts of sriracha sauce on the side isn't a bad idea.
This recipe originally appeared as part of Leela Punyaratabandhu’s “My Thai” series.
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon of lime juice or plain vinegar
1 teaspoon of Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon rice flour or cornstarch
¾-1 cup of plain vegetable oil
Combine eggs, lime juice or vinegar, fish sauce, water, and rice flour or cornstarch in a medium bowl. Beat with a fork until frothy. If the flour forms a few lumps, break up as many as possible with your fingers.
Heat the vegetable oil in a small pot or a round-bottom wok set over medium-high heat until lightly smoking. Hold the egg bowl about one foot above the pan and pour the egg mixture into the oil in one go.
The egg mixture will immediately puff up. Do not disturb it. After 20 seconds, flip the omelet. There’s no need to keep it nice and round; we want asymmetrical edges. Let the other side cook for another 20 seconds. Remove the omelet from the pan and serve immediately.