Usuyaki Tamago literally means "thin grilled egg," and as the name would suggest, it's a thin Japanese omelette prepared similarly to crepes. It's not a dish that's eaten on its own, but the thin golden sheets are used as a decorative wrapper for everything from onigiri to sushi to omurice. It can also be used like a tortilla, to make a colorful roll-up stuffed with meat, cheese, and vegetables.
Usuyaki Tamago can also be sliced into thin golden threads called Kinshi Tamago. These are used to garnish everything from Chirashizushi to Somen Noodles to Hiyashi Chūka.
For Usuyaki Tamago, I like to keep things simple, and I don't use any ingredients other than eggs with a pinch of salt. Some recipes call for adding potato starch to the eggs, which makes the thin sheets less likely to tear, but I find this makes the eggs unpleasantly tough. I've also seen recipes that add water or dashi, which thins out the egg making it possible to make the egg into paper thinner sheets, but I'm also not a fan of this technique as the egg tends to get overcooked, which also makes them tough.
Sugar is another commonly added ingredients that I don't recommend adding. Although it's traditionally added to other Japanese egg dishes such as tamagoyaki, the sugar makes the eggs brown easily, which will give your Usuyaki Tamago a mottled appearance.
The process for making these thin omelettes is pretty straightforward, but it does require some practice to get a perfect sheet of egg. The first thing you want to do is beat the eggs with the salt until they're uniform in color. The tricky part is to do this without incorporating any air, as air bubbles will cause your omelette to puff up. Using chopsticks with a side-to-side motion (as opposed to a circular motion) does a good job at this. You could also do this with a fork; however, I don't recommend using a whisk.
The next thing you want to do is to strain the mixture through a tea strainer. This helps remove any large air bubbles, and it also removes any bits of egg white that haven't been wholly incorporated into the mixture.
The key to frying the omelette is to use a non-stick pan that has been lightly oiled and hot, but not so hot that it will brown the egg. I usually oil the pan by wiping it with a folded up piece of paper towel that has been dipped in vegetable oil. For the temperature, it's going to depend a lot on the stove you're using, but I usually start the pan off at medium heat to warm it up, and then I turn the heat down to low before adding the egg.
The next trick is to add the egg into a thin layer that evenly coats the bottom of the pan. With practice, you should be able to get four thin omelettes from three large eggs, but you may want to start by adding more egg into the pan and making two or three sheets. The more egg you add, the thicker the omelettes will be, but it will be easier to coat the bottom of the pan without ending up with holes in your sheets.
The timing for flipping the egg over is also important. You need to wait long enough for the egg to set and dry out a bit on one side, or it will tear when you go to flip it, but if you wait too long, it will brown. I usually test this at the edge of the sheet where the egg meets the pan. If the egg is dry and easily separates from the pan, you should be good to go. I usually use chopsticks and my fingers to do the flipping, but this requires a relatively advanced degree of chopstick skills (as well as calloused fingertips). You can also use a thin spatula with a flexible tip by inserting a corner under the egg and then lifting and scooting the spatula under the egg until it's far enough under the sheet that you can lift it without tearing it.
Once you've flipped the omelette over, smooth out any folds or wrinkles and then give it a few seconds for the egg to cook through before removing it from the pan. I usually stack my Usuyaki Tamago as they come out of the pan, and I keep them covered in plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out.
- 3 large eggs
- 1 pinch salt
- Vegetable oil
- Add the eggs and salt to a bowl and use chopsticks to beat the egg using a side-to-side motion. Try to avoid whisking air into the mixture.
- Strain the mixture through a tea strainer into a container with a spout.
- Heat a 10-inch non-stick frying pan over medium heat until moderately hot.
- Fold a ½ sheet of paper towel over several times to make a thick pad. Dip this in some vegetable oil and use it to wipe a thin layer of oil onto the pan (there shouldn't be any large visible beads of oil).
- Turn down the heat to low and pour in enough egg mixture to swirl around and evenly coat the bottom of the pan.
- Let this cook until the edges of the egg start to dry out and are easily separated from the pan.
- Use chopsticks or a spatula to flip the sheet of egg over and smooth out any wrinkles or folds.
- Cook for a few seconds until the egg is fully set and transfer to a plate. Cover with plastic wrap to keep the Usuyaki Tamago from drying out and repeat steps 5-7 until you run out of egg.
- If you want to make Kinshi Tamago, stack the sheets of egg and roll them up. Use a sharp knife to cut the egg into thin threads.
I've had a version of this recipe in a Thai restaurant in Hong Kong. There they made cutouts in the egg when it was done and covered the rice. Wonder how they do that.
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Charlie, they probably used either vegetable cutters or small cookie cutters.