kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
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Description follows.

[Image: A pile of heavily browned pieces of fritter-like omelette, almost blackened in places. The high proportion of starch to egg gives it a very stiff texture. Sliced spring onions are visible in the batter.]

Oyster omelette (蠔煎/háo jiān) is a Fujian dish consisting of a starch-fortified omelette studded with fresh baby oysters. Like many other Fujian dishes, it's also popular in nearby Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore, among other places; and partly due to this geographical spread, it has many variations and also many different names.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, 蠔 (háo) is only one of several names for the oyster; the others include 海蠣 (hǎi lì), 牡蠣 (mǔ lì), and 蚵 (hé). Similarly, the omelette part of the dish may be referred to as 餅 (bǐng/cake), 煎 (jiān/pan-fried), 烙 (láo/seared), or a combination of these. In addition, the oysters used to make this should really be small rather than large, and so you might also see the character 仔 (zǎi/child) used after the 蠔/海蠣/蚵 to indicate this.

New Aroma, the (Fujian) restaurant where I ate the dish pictured above, uses 海蠣煎 (hǎi lì jiān) for oyster omelette, while Leong's Legend, the (Taiwanese) restaurant where I ate the version pictured below, uses 蚵仔煎 (hé zǎi jiān). Wikipedia has a non-exhaustive list of some other possible names.

When I had a go at replicating this at home, I followed the recipe from Jacqueline M Newman's Cooking From China's Fujian Province. This uses sweet potato starch as the thickener and milk as the additional liquid. It also includes pork mince, shiitake mushrooms, and water chestnuts as well as the oysters, and flavours the mixture with spring onions, oyster sauce, and a little salt. (Dr Newman has very kindly agreed to let me reproduce this recipe here — it follows at the end of the post.)

Other versions differ; for example, CNNGo describes a version eaten in Chaoshan, Guangdong province which uses cornstarch rather than sweet potato starch. Lily Ng has a version which includes garlic, soy sauce, and Chinese wine. Finally, Chez Pei describes a Taiwanese variant which includes a green vegetable, attempts to keep the starch and eggs somewhat separate, and is served with a sweetish reddish-brown ketchup-based sauce on top; this is the type pictured below.

Description follows.

[Image: A well-browned omelette laid out flat on a white plate. A light reddish-brown sauce covers the top of it. A metal spoon is being used to turn over one edge of the omelette, showing the underside in which some leafy greens are visible. Lumps here and there betray the presence of the oysters within the omelette.]

Below is Jacqueline M Newman's oyster omelet recipe, reproduced by permission from her book, Cooking From China's Fujian Province. It appears here exactly as in the book; my notes are at the end. I do recommend this book to anyone interested in regional Chinese cooking, though note that it is definitely a cookbook rather than a discursive treatise; there are four pages of discussion at the front and the rest is all recipes.

Oyster Omelet
The text below is © Jacqueline M Newman, taken from Cooking From China's Fujian Province, and reproduced by permission of the author.

This is one of the most popular Fujian dishes. There are many variations; it can be made adding or eliminating a plethora of other foods of the sea of land, including vegetables. Various milks, such as cow, soy, yak, or evaporated milk, can be added to the variations. Canned oysters can be used, but fresh ones are preferred. SERVES 6 TO 8

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/4 cup ground or minced pork
  • 4 eggs, beaten until light in color
  • 1/2 cup milk or water
  • 2 tablespoons sweet-potato flour
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 8 fresh, shucked oysters, dried on paper towels and cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely diced fresh or dried and soaked mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely diced water chestnuts

1. Heat a wok or skillet, then heat the oil. Stir-fry the pork for 1 minute or until it just begins to lose its pink color.

2. Mix together the beaten eggs, milk, flour, oyster sauce, salt, and scallion, and pour into the pan. As the mixture starts to set, add the oysters, mushrooms, and water chestnuts. Then tilt the pan so some of the egg mixture slides under the setting eggs.

3. When the egg mixture is firm around the edges and only a little liquid remains, turn the omelet, and after 1 minute, slide it onto a platter. Cut in six to eight triangular pieces and serve.

When I made this, I replaced half of the milk with liquid saved from the oysters, reducing the added salt to compensate. My execution was not entirely successful — it stuck to the bottom of the pan and ended up more like loosely scrambled eggs — but then I've never been any good at omelettes, and my greatest fear when cooking eggs is overcooking, so it's likely that it would have been fine if I'd just left it alone a bit longer before starting to scrape at it. Problems of execution aside, it was pretty tasty even if I did end up eating it from a bowl with a spoon!

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.


December 2012


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