It was not so much nostalgia as a yearning for something
deliciously Vietnamese that led me to whip up these scrambled eggs today. My
mom taught me how to make scrambled eggs – after she let me prepare rice for the family. We’d
have the eggs for lunch with bread. At the time, I didn’t realize how genius it
There were just a handful of ingredients involved: shallot
or yellow onion, tomato, eggs, fish sauce, and black pepper. If things got
fancy, green onion was added for color. Making the Viet scrambled eggs got me
thinking about the brilliance of simple cooking.
For example, gently sauteing shallot turns it fragrantly
sweet. Rush it and it can be harsh and hard. Go too far and it can dry up and
caramelize, which is good for some dishes but not others. My mom mostly used
yellow onion because it was cheaper in the U.S. than shallot. In Vietnam,
shallots the size of boiling onions are the workhorse of the kitchen; yellow onions
are their pricey kin. I go back and forth between onion and shallot.
Tomato lends color, umami savory flavor, and a vegetable
component to make the scrambled eggs a somewhat complete meal. We always seeded
the tomato to reduce its moisture content but we never peeled them. In general,
Vietnamese people are not tomato peelers; maybe they sensed that the skin was a
super source of lycopene? These days, I use Roma tomatoes, letting them ripe at
room temperature before using them, skin on.
Combining eggs, black pepper, and fish sauce is a nifty way
to mimic the briny richness of crab tomalley (fat) — the yellow-green stuff you
scrape out of the shell when you pick
crab. My friend Celia Sack, owner of Omnivore
Books in San Francisco, recently reminded me of the culinary magic of that
trifecta of ingredients. She picked up on the idea after making the mien xao cua crab and cellophane noodle
stir-fry recipe from Into the Vietnamese
Kitchen. In the recipe, there’s a workaround for the tomalley that involves
eggs, pepper, and nuoc mam. Like a good cookbook reader, Celia read between the
lines. She’s been employing the eggy sauce in other noodle dishes whenever she
wants that rich briny effect.
The key to maintaining eggy richness is to gently cook it
over medium-low heat. Some people like dry scrambled eggs but my mother taught
me to enjoy them soft.
In fact, and here’s the real brilliance: After pouring the
beaten eggs into the pan, my mom kept the bowl near the stove. When the eggs
were done, she took the skillet off heat and poured the residual raw egg over
the cooked scrambled eggs to finish them with a bit of richness. Maybe that
technique developed from a desire to use up every bit of egg (protein has
always been precious in Vietnam) but Viet scrambled eggs with fish sauce was
always and still is a fine little meal to have.
Are you an egg and
fish sauce lover? Or got a scrambled egg secret to share? Do tell!
Tomato and Fish Sauce
Yields 2 servings
- 3 large or extra-large eggs
- 3 healthy shots of fish sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground preferred
- 1 small green onion, green part only, cut into thin rings
- 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
- 1 medium shallot or 1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
- 1 ripe Roma tomato, seeded and cut into thumbnail-size
- In a small bowl, beat together the eggs, fish sauce, and
pepper. You should be able to smell the brininess of the fish sauce. Otherwise,
add a little more. Add the scallion and set aside near the stove.
- Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Add the shallot and gently saute for 4 to 5 minutes, until soft and fragrant.
Add the tomato and cook, stirring, until heated through and slightly softened,
about 2 minutes.
- Lower the heat to medium-low, pour in the egg mixture. Keep
the bowl nearby. Gently stir and fold to scramble the ingredients. When done,
remove from the heat and drizzle on the egg leftover in the bowl. Divide
between two plates and serve with baguette.
- Cooking and Life Lessons from Our Moms
- Premium Fish Sauces to Try: Red Boat, Megachef, IHA
- Egg Foo Yung Recipe (flash from the past!)
- North Indian Egg Curry (another brilliant way to treat eggs, tomatoes and onions)