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 was.
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!
Scrambled Eggs, 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 (optional)
- 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 pieces
- 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)