Sunday, October 30, 2011

蚵仔煎 Oyster Omelette!

Might be the best thing ever.

蚵仔煎 ô-á-chian, oyster omelette, is a very Taiwanese dish, and a very popular one, at that. If you find yourself in Taiwan, look for it at the night markets! While it pretty much is an oyster omelette, there are a couple things that are somewhat specific to the dish and set it apart from Western omelettes:
  1. The gooey, sticky layer made with potato starch and/or other starches (awesome!).
  2. The spicy/savory sauce (though I bet this would be great with Western omelettes, too).
  3. The green, leafy vegetable, which is traditionally supposed to be A菜 a cai.

Huh, funny thing about a cai, I didn't realize it was literally spelled with an "A" in Taiwan, not having tried shopping for it in Taiwan before. Here's a pic of a cai being harvested. Spinach is a popular substitute in the US, but I find its limpness and lack of substance in the omelette unsatisfying. Bok choi is another possibility... I went for chard recently, and found it to do pretty well when cut into smallish pieces. The crisp texture of the cooked stem portions is a nice contrast with the gooey starch and soft oysters.

Another point: what, I said gooey, sticky "layer" but you've generally had it all mixed together, like a frittata? Well, yeah, I don't think it has to be done one way or the other. However, I think it's better when the vegetables, oyster/starch, egg layers are separate. It looks neater, but also then you have the layers distinct before merging in your mouth. And yes, it's a little more difficult if you want to keep them separate. Man, it definitely took me a number of tries before finding a good approach. I went through two other recipes and more messing around, all with meh-to-mediocre results, before finding this relatively simple recipe with the golden technique tip! Brilliant! From there, it was some more tweaking to make the flavor better. Don't forget the white pepper! I find it accentuates the oysters nicely. My recipe:

Oyster Omelette 蚵仔煎

4 oz. frozen small-sized oysters (defrosted)

3 TBS sweet potato starch
1.5 TBS tapioca starch
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 tsp salt
dash of white pepper
1 stalk green onion, diced

1.5 TBS oil
1 cup green leafy vegetables (A a cai is ideal, otherwise try chard, bok choy, spinach, or other), cut into small pieces
1 or 2 eggs

Sriracha sauce and soy paste (a thick, salty-sweet soy sauce), or other sauce(s)

1.     Add the oysters, the starches, water, salt, white pepper, and green onion to a mixing bowl. Stir gently until the starch has dispersed.
2.     Heat a wok or skillet over medium-high heat and oil until shimmering.
3.     Stir the oyster mixture so that the starch is suspended in the liquid rather than gathered at the bottom and pour the mixture into the skillet. Spread it out evenly to cover the bottom of the skillet.
4.     Add the vegetables on the top of the mixture as it cooks.
5.     Cook for 3 to 4 minutes without stirring, until the underside turns light golden brown.
6.     Fold the omelette in half, exposing half of the wok, and crack one egg over the exposed wok. Break the yolk and stir, then unfold the omelette onto the egg. Repeat for the other side if desired. Cook for another 2 minutes until egg is light brown.
7.     Flip the whole omelette over so that the egg side is facing up. Cook for another 2 minutes until the omelette is done.
8.     Serve on a plate with sriracha and soy paste.

This is with the one-egg approach found in Taiwanese Cooking blog's recipe. Neat in that it shows the insides as well.

One last note: yes, my approach with the sauces looks more like what they do with Japanese okonomiyaki (which is another fantastic dish), crossing the mayonnaise with the okonomiyaki sauce. Generally with oyster omelette they just pour a copious amount of red sauce on top.


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