Tamagoyaki vs Atsuyaki Tamago vs Dashimaki Tamago
Tamagoyaki (卵焼き), literally means “grilled egg,” and is a Japanese omelette made by rolling thin sheets of seasoned egg into a layered log, which is then sliced. Atsuyaki Tamago (厚焼き玉子), which literally means “thick grilled egg” is usually used interchangeably with Tamagoyaki.
Dashimaki Tamago (出汁巻き卵) on the other hand, means “dashi rolled egg,” and it differs from Tamagoyaki in that it includes dashi stock. In the Kanto region of Japan, it’s sometimes used interchangeably with Tamagoyaki, however, in Kansai, the two dishes are considered completely separate due to the high ratio of dashi relative to the egg. This gives the roll a silky soft texture that’s both juicy and flavorful. You can check out my Dashimaki Tamago Recipe for more details. While it is delicious, Dashimaki Tamago is not suitable for bento due to its high moisture content and low salt content, which makes it prone to spoiling.
There is one final variation of Tamagoyaki which is often served in high-end sushi restaurants in Japan, that is made by mixing seafood such as ground fish and shrimp into the egg, along with a lot of sugar. Unlike most Tamagoyaki, this version is then cooked by pouring all of the egg mixture into a square pan, and then heating it from both above and below with charcoal. This results in an almost cake-like consistency, and it is usually served as the last item in a sushi course.
Like most home cooking, there are no hard and fast rules for making this Japanese omelette, which presents a lot of opportunities to get creative. The Tamagoyaki recipe below is very basic, and after much experimenting I think it has the perfect ratio of sugar to salt, giving it a good balance between savory and sweet. That being said, everyone has their own preferences, and you may want to adjust the ratios after making it once, to suit your tastes.
It’s also fairly common to mix in other ingredients such as veggies, cheese, and meat to bulk up tamagoyaki, so here are some ideas:
- Sugar – While Tamagoyaki isn’t a dessert, sugar is used extensively in Japanese cuisine to soften the sharp taste of salt, and to accentuate the umami in a dish. I typically like to use evaporated cane juice in my cooking as it’s less processed than white sugar, but it does lend a brown tint food. That’s why I opt for white sugar for this dish.
- Soy Sauce – Adding soy sauce to tamagoyaki tends to discolor it, which is why many people only use salt; however, I like the boost in umami that soy sauce provides, which is why I use a small amount of Usukuchi (light color) soy sauce. It’s not enough to change the color significantly, and it tastes much better than relying on salt alone.
- Salt – Unlike Western omelettes which are eaten immediately, Tamagoyaki is often packed into bento boxes and taken to lunch, which is why it’s important to ensure that it is well seasoned. This not only helps to preserve the egg, but it also makes it an Okazu (savory side dish) that goes well with plain rice.
- Dashi – some people like to add a little dashi to their tamagoyaki. This blurs the lines a little with Dashimaki Tamago, but for Tamagoyaki the dashi is usually added as granules, or as a concentrate such as mentsuyu or shirodashi. I don’t usually add dashi to my Tamagoyaki, as I find these concentrates tend to overwhelm the flavor of the egg. If I feel like having dashi flavored egg, I usually just make my Dashimaki Tamago using homemade dashi.
- Vegetables – There are a ton of options here, and you can add everything from hard vegetables like carrots and potatoes to leafy greens such as spinach and scallions. There are a couple of things that you should consider, however. If you’re using a hard vegetable like carrots, potatoes, or green beans, you want to pre-cook them. You’ll also want to pre-cook vegetables that release a lot of water, such as spinach. I usually just use leftovers from dinner the night before. Otherwise, you can saute them in the pan before making the tamagoyaki. You’ll also want to mince the vegetables up quite small, or you may find it difficult to roll the layers of egg.
- Cheese – Some people like to add cheese into their tamagoyaki. If you’re going to do this, I recommend adding it into each layer just before rolling it up. This way you have layers of cheese in between the layers of egg and you don’t run the risk of having the cheese stick to the pan.
- Meat & Fish – If want to make this a one-dish meal, you can add some cooked and chopped up meat or fish. Cured meats like ham, sausage or bacon work well, but you can also use things like leftover chicken, steak, or fish.
Tamagoyaki is traditionally prepared in a shallow rectangular pan made of cast iron or copper. These days, most people use cheaper non-stick aluminum pans; however, the old-school pans work best, as they deliver even heating to the egg, which helps the tamagoyaki cook without brown spots.
In Japan where Tamagoyaki is such a staple of home cooking, it makes sense to have a dedicated pan for making these, but unless you plan on making the omelettes a few times a week, I can’t recommend you go out and buy one. That’s why I’m including directions (and a section in the video) showing you how you can make Tamagoyaki in a regular round frying pan along with some plastic wrap.
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.
The first thing is when mixing the egg and seasonings together, it’s important to beat the egg well, so the yolks and whites are more or less homogenized. It may be tempting to use a whisk or egg beater, but avoid the temptation as both of these methods will introduce a bunch of air into your eggs. Bubbles cause the tamagoyaki to be pockmarked due to the air turning to steam in the pan.
To make the tamagoyaki, you just need to cook thin sheets of egg in the pan and roll it up before it’s fully cooked. The carryover cooking will continue to cook the egg once it’s rolled, adhering the layers together. Repeating this will make the roll progressively larger, a bit like making a snowball.
If you’re planning on using a traditional uncoated tamagoyaki pan, it’s essential that the pan is well oiled and hot to prevent the egg from sticking. Once your egg sticks to the pan, it will get progressively worse, so if this happens, be sure to scrape out any stuck bits and re-oil your pan before proceeding.
If you’re using a round frying pan, you can fold the sides over towards the center before rolling the egg. This produces an omelette that’s roughly the same thickness throughout, but it will be a little lumpy. You can fix this once your tamagoyaki is done, by tightly wrapping it in plastic wrap while it is still hot. As the egg cools, it will set into the shape that you give it, allowing you to make a beautiful tamagoyaki without a special pan.
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon usukuchi soy sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- Break the eggs into a bowl or large cup with a spout.
- Add the sugar, soy sauce, and 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 the 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 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.