Tamagoyaki is a sweet and savory Japanese omelette that's subtly seasoned and cooked in thin layers that are rolled together before being sliced. It's a quintessential part of Japanese cuisine, and it's one of those dishes that reminds most people in Japan about their mom's home cooking. And the best part? It's surprisingly easy to make, requiring just four ingredients and a touch of patience.
Why This Recipe Works?
- It's important not to overbeat the egg. This ensures it stays tender while preventing the Tamagoyaki from puffing up too much.
- Using a small amount of usukuchi soy sauce (light-colored soy sauce) and salt to season the Tamagoyaki preserves its golden yellow color while ensuring it's properly seasoned.
- Cooking the Japanese omelette over medium-low heat prevents the egg from overcooking, ensuring it stays moist and tender.
Types of Tamagoyaki
If you've ever wondered why Tamagoyaki recipes vary so much, it's because "tamagoyaki" is an umbrella term that includes several different egg dishes.
- Tamagoyaki (卵焼き or 玉子焼き) - Literally translating to "grilled egg," Tamagoyaki is the cornerstone of Japanese omelettes, which is why it's become the umbrella term for this class of dishes. Homemade Tamagoyaki is made by layering and rolling thinly poured sheets of seasoned egg into a log, which is then sliced to reveal its luscious, layered interior. The term tamagoyaki is often used interchangeably with Atsuyaki Tamago (厚焼き玉子,) which means "thick grilled egg."
- Dashimaki Tamago (出汁巻き卵) - This variation means "dashi rolled egg," setting it apart from the standard Tamagoyaki through its inclusion of dashi stock. The terms Dashimaki Tamago and Tamagoyaki can be used interchangeably in Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto region. However, venture down to the Kansai region, and the distinction is keenly observed. A high ratio of dashi to egg gives Dashimaki Tamago a velvety texture that's intensely juicy and brimming with umami. Though incredibly tasty, its higher moisture and lower salt content make it less suitable for bento boxes due to spoilage concerns.
- High-End Sushi Restaurant Variant - At upscale sushi establishments, Tamagoyaki is enriched with pureed seafood, like fish and shrimp, and generous amounts of sugar. This luxurious version isn't cooked layer by layer. Instead, the entire mixture is poured into a square pan and cooked at a low temperature. The resulting omelette has a dense cake-like consistency, which is served as the grand finale of a traditional sushi meal.
Owning a specialized pan makes perfect sense in Japan, where Tamagoyaki is a staple of home cooking. But if you're not planning on making this dish multiple times a week, there's no reason to pick one up. Here are your pan options for making Tamagoyaki:
- Traditional Tamagoyaki Pan - If you're a purist, nothing beats a shallow, rectangular pan crafted from cast iron or copper. These materials are not just traditional; they offer superior heat conductivity, ensuring your Tamagoyaki cooks evenly without developing those dreaded brown spots. The downside is that they are not non-stick, so they can be difficult to work with if you don't have a lot of experience. You can pick one of these up on my online store.
- Non-Stick Tamagoyaki Pan - Most Japanese home cooks use budget-friendly non-stick aluminum pans. They're easier to handle, especially for Tamagoyaki novices, but you might compromise a tad on even heating. These pans offer a good balance of convenience and functionality.
- Round Frying Pan - If you're just venturing into the world of Tamagoyaki or don't see yourself making it frequently enough to justify a specialized pan, fret not! A good old round frying pan has got you covered. I've included instructions—and even a segment in the video—to show you how to accomplish beautiful Tamagoyaki using a regular round pan and some plastic wrap.
- Egg - Egg, or Tamago in Japanese, is the star of this Tamagoyaki recipe. I like using fresh eggs with large yolks, which contribute richness and color. If you want to make this recipe even more special, consider using eggs laid by hens fed a diet high in beta-carotene. This produces eggs with deep orange yolks, yielding a visually stunning Japanese omelette.
- Sugar - While Tamagoyaki isn't a dessert, sugar is used extensively in Japanese cuisine to soften salt's sharp taste and accentuate the umami in a dish. If you don't have evaporated cane sugar, regular granulated sugar or even a touch of honey will work. Some people like to use mirin to add the sweetness, but the egg doesn't get hot enough to evaporate all of the alcohol, so I don't recommend using mirin.
- Soy Sauce - Adding soy sauce to Tamagoyaki tends to discolor it, so many people only use salt to season it. I like the boost in umami that soy sauce provides, so my solution is to use Usukuchi soy sauce. This light-colored soy sauce seasons the Tamagoyaki without darkening its vibrant yellow hue. If usukuchi isn't available, you can use regular soy sauce, but just know that your rolled omelette will be a shade darker. For a gluten-free alternative, Tamari works well too.
- Salt - Unlike Western omelettes, which are eaten immediately, Tamagoyaki is often packed into bento boxes and taken to lunch. This is why ensuring your tamago is well-seasoned is important. This helps preserve the egg and turns it into Okazu (a savory side dish) that goes well with plain rice.
- Dashi - Some people like to add a little dashi to their Tamagoyaki for extra umami. This blurs the line with Dashimaki Tamago, which is why I don't add it to this type of Japanese omelette. If you do choose to add dashi, I recommend using dashi granules or a concentrate such as mentsuyu or shirodashi in place of the soy sauce.
- Mix Ins - Tamagoyaki can also be made with other ingredients sprinkled in between the layers such as green onions, nori, cheese, ham, carrot, etc.
How to Make Tamagoyaki
I think one of the reasons why Tamagoyaki has become such a staple of Japanese cuisine is because of how easy it is to make. Once you've made it a few times, you should be able to put one together in under five minutes. That being said, there are a few tricks, and the rolling can take a bit of practice to get right.
First, crack your large eggs into a bowl or a large cup with a spout. Using a spouted cup makes pouring the egg into the pan much easier, ensuring a smooth, even layer every time. Add your evaporated cane sugar, usukuchi soy sauce, and a pinch of salt to the eggs.
Beat the eggs together while minimizing the amount of air you incorporate. Overbeating injects excess air into the egg mixture, causing your Tamagoyaki to puff up, changing its texture.
Next, it's time to turn our attention to the pan. Preheat it over medium-low heat until it's warm enough to quickly set the egg, but not so hot that it will brown the egg before you have a chance to roll it. Pour the oil into the preheated pan and use a folded paper towel to spread it evenly, coating all surfaces, including the sides. This will keep the egg from sticking.
Pour a thin layer of the egg mixture into the pan, just enough to cover the bottom evenly. Let it cook until it's not runny on the surface but still slightly wet—this is the ideal stage to start rolling. Using chopsticks or a spatula, carefully roll the sheet of egg from one end to the other as tightly as possible. Rolling it tightly and pressing out any air with a spatula ensures the layers adhere well, eliminating any air pockets that could cause it to unravel once sliced. If you're using a round pan, fold the sides of the egg towards the center before rolling it. This will give your tamagoyaki a better shape. Repeat these steps until you've used up all the egg mixture.
You can serve the finished Tamagoyaki immediately by slicing it into 4-8 pieces, or if you plan to use it in a bento box lunch, I recommend letting it cool before you slice it.
If the shape of your tamagoyaki isn't perfect, you can wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then press it into a rectangular mold as it cools to give it a nice shape.
Serve it With
The beauty of this Japanese omelette is its incredible versatility—it's equally at home in an elegant kaiseki spread as it is in a homemade bento box. To serve this as part of a traditional Japanese breakfast, I'd serve the Tamagoyaki with a bowl of Japanese short-grain rice, Miso Soup, and Japanese pickles. A side of Japanese Breakfast Salmon (shiozake) is a great way to add additional protein to your meal. To pack as a bento, Tamagoyaki goes great with Karaage, Chicken Teriyaki, or Miso Salmon, and you can pack it alongside a few Onigiri.
Other Tamago Recipes
- Tamago Kake Gohan (Egg Over Rice)
- Usuyaki Tamago (Thin Omelette)
- Onsen Tamago
- Tamago Sando
- Omurice (omelette rice)
Tamago (卵 or 玉子) is egg in Japanese. It does not refer to any particular dish.
When people in the West say "tamago" they're usually referring to Tamagoyaki (卵焼き), which is a Japanese rolled omelette that's usually made by seasoning beaten eggs with salt (or soy sauce) and sugar before cooking it into thin sheets that are then rolled up into a log.
Tamagoyaki is a 5-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
ta like tonic
ma like mall
go like ghost
ya like yacht
ki like key
Technically, it wouldn't be tamagoyaki without eggs; however, I've devised a method of making a vegan tamagoyaki here.
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons evaporated cane sugar
- ½ teaspoon usukuchi soy sauce
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- Break 4 large eggs into a bowl or large cup with a spout.
- Add 2 teaspoons evaporated cane sugar, ½ teaspoon usukuchi soy sauce, and ⅛ teaspoon salt to the eggs and beat them together while trying to minimize the air you incorporate into them.
- Preheat your pan over medium-low heat until it's hot.
- Add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil to the pan and use a folded up paper towel to spread it around the pan, ensuring every surface of the pan (including the sides) are well oiled. You can use the oil-soaked paper towel to re-oil the pan if you find the eggs are starting to stick.
- Pour enough egg into the pan to evenly cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of egg, and swirl around to make an even layer. Let this cook until it's not runny on top anymore, but the egg is still wet.
- Carefully roll the egg from one end using chopsticks or a spatula. You want to roll it as tight as possible so that you don't have air pockets inside. Once you get the egg rolled, you can use a spatula to press the air out of the roll and help the layers adhere to each other.
- If you are using a round pan, fold the sides of the egg towards the center so that when you roll it, the egg ends up a consistent thickness.
- Repeat steps 5 and 6 until you run out of egg.
- If you used a round pan, or if the shape of your tamagoyaki didn't turn out well, you can turn the warm tamagoyaki out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and then wrap it tightly. As it cools, the egg will set into the desired shape.
- If you are serving your tamagoyaki immediately, you can cut it into 4-8 slices immediately. If you plan to include your tamagoyaki in a bento box, let it cool completely before slicing it.