Scan the menus of Chinese restaurants in Canada, from small towns to big cities, and on many of them you’ll see egg foo yung. Some describe it as an American-Chinese hybrid.
That’s because many sources say the name egg foo yung is derived from the Cantonese, fu yung, and a dish called fu yung egg slices. The latter is a fanciful Shanghai-style recipe made with such things as beaten egg whites and minced ham.
When Chinese immigrants came to the United States, those who cooked for a living adapted the recipes they knew to match what local ingredients they could find and the palates of the folks they were feeding. How popular North American-Chinese dishes such as chop suey and chow mien were created.
That was also the case for egg foo young, which evolved into being like a Chinese-style omelette that was either folded or shaped into a pancake-like shape. Mixed in to the beaten eggs used to make it, either before or during cooking, were other ingredients.
When egg foo young was first being made, those other ingredients were basically whatever the cook had on hand, perhaps it was mushrooms, cabbage and some form of protein, such as ham or chicken.
In some restaurants, as time went on, more elaborate types of egg foo yung were created, where such things as fine seafood or in house-made Chinese-style barbecue pork were added in. Unfortunately, as time went on, in some other restaurants some very lack lustre versions of egg foo yung were also dished up, where over-cooked beaten eggs, bean sprouts and not much else were plated and topped with an insipid tasting sauce/gravy.
That said, in Jim Lee’s Chinese Cook Book, published by Harper and Row way back in 1968, the author notes that when properly made, egg foo young is delectable.
I have to agree and one way to achieve that tasty goal is to prepare it your self. If you’re now keen to do it, try my recipe.
Shrimp Egg Foo Yung
This savoury and palate pleasing egg foo yung rich is with shrimp, vegetables and mushrooms. The recipe will yield two servings when served as a main course with rice and a steamed vegetable, such as baby bok choy. It will yield four servings when served as part of a multi-dish Chinese-style meal.
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: About 10 minutes
Makes: two to four servings
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 tsp oyster sauce
2 tsp ketchup
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp vegetable oil (divided)
1/2 cup thinly sliced oyster or shitake mushrooms (see Note 1)
1/4 cup diced red or green bell pepper
1 small garlic clove, minced
4 large eggs
1 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp sesame oil
• ground white pepper, to taste
1/2 cup fresh bean sprouts, cut widthwise into about one-inch pieces
1 large, or 2 small, green onions, thinly sliced (divided)
100 grams hand-peeled shrimp, thoroughly patted dry (see Note 2 and Eric’s options)
• hot chili sauce, such as sriracha, to taste (optional)
To make sauce, place stock, oyster sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, honey, cornstarch and vinegar in a small pot and whisk to combine. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat, cover and set sauce aside until needed below.
Add 1 tsp of the oil in a skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the mushrooms and bell pepper and cook until tender, about three to four minutes. Mix in the garlic and cook 30 seconds more. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Place eggs, water, sesame oil and white pepper in a bowl and beat until well blended. Mix in the mushroom and peppers, bean sprouts and half of the sliced green onions.
Preheat a non-stick, electric griddle to 350 F, or set a large, 12-inch wide non-stick skillet or cast iron griddle over medium heat (see Eric’s options). Set the egg foo yung sauce over low heat to warm up.
Pour and spread the remaining 1 Tbsp oil on the griddle or in the skillet. When oil is very hot, create four, about five-inch wide egg foo yung by ladling on half cup or so amounts of the egg mixture, leaving a two-inch space between each one. Top each egg foo yung with some of the shrimp. Cook the egg foo yung until light golden brown on the bottom and set around the edges, about 90 seconds to two minutes. Carefully flip each egg foo yung and cook until golden brown on the underside and the egg is cooked, about 60 seconds more.
Transfer egg foo yung to a serving platter, drizzle with some of the sauce and sprinkle with remaining green onions. Serve the rest of the sauce, and the hot chili sauce, if using, in bowls alongside the egg foo yung, to spoon on it once plated.
Note 1: Five or so medium oyster or large shiitake mushrooms should yield the amount needed here. If using oyster mushroom, trim off the tough lower stem before slicing. If using shiitake mushrooms, remove and discard the tough stem, and slice the caps.
Note 2: Cooked, hand peeled shrimp are sold at seafood stores and in the seafood department of some supermarkets. Any other small cooked shrimp will also work here.
Eric’s option: If you don’t have a griddle or large skillet, you could cook the egg foo yung in batches in a smaller, non-stick skillet. Keep the cooked egg foo yung on a platter in a 200 F oven until all are cooked. If you don’t like shrimp, you could try topping each egg foo yung with another item, such as chunks of crab meat, small cubes of ham, cooked chicken or anything else you think would work.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.