Sunday, February 21, 2010

Farm-style omelets

In her book Breath of a Wok, Grace Young devotes about three pages of buildup and a full page of description to the following recipe, made for her by a rice farmer when Young visited the southern Chinese city of Yangshuo to research the book. These delicate yet piquant little omelets use dried shitake mushrooms, prized in Chinese cooking for their strong and meaty flavor. The omelets are wok-fried and then braised briefly in the soaking liquid used to rehydrate the mushrooms. These were the best omelets I ever had, bursting with fresh herbs and a little hotness and delicious with white rice. If either the cooking time or the heat is increased, the omelets become dry and tough, so be sure your pork is not icy cold or the omelets will require more time to cook.

Adapted from Young's recipe:

1. In a small bowl, soak a small handful of dried shitake mushrooms in 1/2 cup cold water 30 minutes or until soft. Meanwhile, finely mince 1/4 cup cilantro, a couple scallions, a few cloves of garlic and a couple hot fresh chillis. When the mushrooms are ready, squeeze them dry, reserving the soaking liquid. Discard the stems and finely mince the caps.

2. In a bowl, combine the cilantro, scallions, garlic, chillis and mushrooms with 4 ounces ground pork and a pinch of salt. In another bowl, beat 5-6 large eggs.

3. Heat the wok over high and swirl in a bit of oil, then using a measuring cup, pour a 1/4 cup of egg into the wok like pancake batter. (Young says to do two at once, but I had trouble keeping them separate in the rounded bottom of the wok). Cook on medium 20 seconds until bubbles form around the edges. Spoon some pork mixture onto the pancake and fold it in half. Then fold it in half again to form a flat cigar shape and cook 1-2 minutes until golden. Transfer to a plate. (Or push the omelets up the side of the wok to keep cooking at a lower temperature, but I would only do this if you are working very quickly).

4. Continue forming little omelets with the remaining eggs and pork mixture (you should end up with about 8). When all the eggs are cooked, return the omelets to the wok, increase the heat to high, and add the reserved mushroom liquid. Cover, reduce the heat to medium, and cook 2 minutes. Turn the omelets, cover, and cook 2 minutes or just until the pork is no longer pink. Feeds 2.

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