A thorough introduction to egg foo young with an easy-to-follow recipe. It includes the formula for the classic gravy, as well as a tasty alternative way to season.
What is Egg Foo Young?
Believed to be invented by immigrant Chinese chefs, egg foo young (芙蓉蛋, aka Chinese omelette) is a popular Chinese dish that is primarily, if not solely, available outside China. It comprises a pan-fried (or deep-fried) omelette with various meats and vegetables inside, served with a savoury brown gravy.
Compared to Western-style omelette, egg foo young has some unique features:
- The add-in ingredients (meat and vegetables) are different and they’re mixed with beaten eggs before cooking.
- No dairy products (butter or cheese) are required.
- It uses plant-based cooking oil to fry.
- Although it can be pan-fried (like today’s recipe), many restaurants deep fry it for a better taste.
- It’s served flat like a pancake, instead of being folded.
- Typically, it’s served with a gravy made with classic Chinese condiments.
- It has a distinct savoury taste; thus, it’s usually enjoyed with steamed rice.
Two great things about egg foo young are: it’s very simple to cook, and you’re free to make many adjustments. In this post, I’ll provide you with as many tips as possible, such as ingredient options, the ideal egg and meat/veggie ratio, the formula for the classic gravy (with a quick and tasty alternative), serving ideas, etc.
The composition of egg foo young
Apart from eggs, what goes into Chinese egg foo young? There isn’t a set answer but there is plenty of room to improvise. The image below shows you the ingredients that I used when shooting this recipe: raw shrimp, pre-cooked chicken, bean sprouts, carrots and scallions.
Choose your own meat/veggies
Please feel free to make your own choices (I often just have a quick check of what’s available in my fridge). Here is a list of popular items that you can choose from:
- 1 to 2 types of protein: They can be pre-cooked ingredients, such as chicken, Char Siu (Chinese BBQ pork), minced pork or beef, etc., or raw ingredients that don’t take long to cook through (or can be consumed without cooking), such as shrimp, squid, fish fillet, tofu, etc.
- 2 to 3 types of vegetables, ideally those that have a crunchy texture and can be cooked quickly: bean sprouts, mushrooms, carrot, cabbage, bell peppers, courgette (zucchini), scallions, water chestnuts, etc.
Most of the ingredients above (except bean sprouts) need to be diced, finely chopped or grated before adding to the beaten eggs. This ensures even cooking.
For meat that needs to be cooked beforehand (raw chicken, minced pork/beef, etc.), simply fry it with a little oil until it loses its pinkness. I also often use the leftovers of roast five spice chicken.
The egg and meat/veggie ratio
Although I provide precise quantities of all the ingredients in the recipe card below, you don’t have to worry too much about measurement. Just eyeball them following this ratio:
By VOLUME, combine 1 portion of beaten egg with no more than 2 portions of other ingredients (chopped). For example, for 6 medium eggs which measure a little over 1 cupful, use a maximum of 2 cups of add-ins.
You don’t need to be precise, but remember not to overload the egg with add-ins. This would make it challenging to fry an egg foo young in whole without falling apart.
How to fry it properly
It takes only two simple steps to make egg foo young: mix all the ingredients, then fry the mixture in a little oil until fully cooked.
However, to achieve the perfect texture, slightly crispy outside but tender inside, you’ll need to pay attention to the heat. Here is the rule of thumb: Make sure the cookware is very hot when you pour in the mixture. Lower the heat to cook through thereafter.
- Lightly whisk the eggs then combine with chopped meat, vegetables and a little salt.
- Heat an empty wok over high heat until it becomes smoking hot. Pour in oil enough to cover the bottom of the wok (if using non-stick cookware, add the oil first then turn on the heat). Swirl the oil to coat a larger surface. Then pour in the egg mixture.
- Turn the heat to medium-low and leave to fry. Once the bottom side becomes golden brown, flip to fry the other side.
When shooting this recipe, I made medium-sized egg foo young. Each measures about 13cm (5 inches). You can make bigger ones if using a frying pan/skillet. Just note that the bigger the omelette is, the more difficult it is to flip without breaking. Use a lid to help, just like how I flip a crepe in the tutorial video for Jian Bing (Chinese crepe).
In this recipe, I’d like to introduce two ways to season egg foo young. Usually, I serve the traditional gravy for my daughter who isn’t yet used to hot food, and the spicy alternative for the rest of the family.
The classic gravy
As I mentioned earlier, the gravy served with egg foo young makes it different from other types of omelette dishes. Typically, it’s a brown, semi running sauce made with a set of common Chinese condiments. Here is the formula (the quantity is for 4-6 servings of egg foo young):
- Oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon
- Light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon
- Dark soy sauce, ½ teaspoon
- Sesame oil, ½ teaspoon
- Cornstarch, 1 tablespoon
- Ground white pepper, 1 pinch
- Garlic powder (optional), 1 pinch
- Sugar, 1 pinch
- Water, or unsalted chicken broth, 240ml (1 cup)
It’s super simple to make egg foo young gravy! Here are the steps:
- Mix all above in a small saucepan (make sure there are no lumps).
- Bring it to a gentle boil then leave to simmer over the lowest heat. Stir from time to time.
- Remove from the burner as soon as it becomes just thick enough to coat a spoon. It’s important not to overheat the gravy as it will become thicker once cooled down.
A spicy alternative
Although I like the classic gravy, I often give my egg foo young a spicy twist. It doesn’t involve any cooking and makes a wonderful alternative for those who, like me, enjoy hot food.
What you need is simply a mixture of soy sauce and chilli oil. For best flavour, use sweet soy sauce (甜酱油) which has a thicker consistency than the regular version. Also, make some Chinese chilli oil if you have time. It tastes heavenly and super versatile.
Or, skip the sauce!
It’s totally fine to enjoy egg foo young on its own without any sauce. In this case, add some oyster sauce, light soy sauce and white pepper to the egg mixture to enhance the flavour.
What to serve with egg foo young?
Serve your homemade egg foo young hot, garnished with chopped scallions and toasted sesame seeds if you wish. Here are a few ways to enjoy it:
- Simply slide it over a bowl of steamed rice and add plenty of gravy (for both the omelette and the rice). This makes a quick and tasty meal that contains all elements that a healthy meal should have. If this is your plan, don’t forget to cook the rice before you start preparing the egg foo young.
- Include it in a multi-dish, shared meal with plain rice.
- Enjoy it on its own as a brunch dish.
- Use it as a filling for semi-circular steamed buns (Gua Bao).
Egg Foo Young (Chinese Omelette, 芙蓉蛋)
For the gravy
For the egg mixture
- 6 eggs
- 50 g shrimp (raw), diced, about ⅓ cup (see note 1)
- 50 g chicken (precooked), diced, about ⅓ cup (see note 1)
- 50 g bean sprouts, about ½ cup
- 30 g carrot, grated, about ⅓ cup
- 30 g scallions, finely chopped, about ⅓ cup
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Neutral cooking oil
Alternative seasoning (substitute for the gravy)
- Sweet soy sauce, or light soy sauce, to taste
- homemade chilli oil, to taste
- Scallions, finely chopped
- Toasted sesame seeds
Prepare the gravy (skip this step if using alternative seasonings)
- In a small saucepan, mix oyster sauce, light and dark soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, white pepper, garlic powder and sugar with room temperature water (or unsalted stock).
- Bring it to a boil then leave to simmer over low heat until it becomes just thick enough to coat the spoon (Do not overcook as the sauce will thicken further as it cools).
Cook the egg mixture
- In a mixing bowl, lightly beat eggs. Then add shrimp, chicken, bean sprouts, carrot, scallions and salt. Mix well.
- Heat an empty wok over high heat until smoking hot (see note 2). Pour in oil (just enough to cover the bottom of the wok). Swirl to cover a bigger perimeter. Add ¼ part of the egg mixture.
- Turn the heat to medium-low and leave to fry. Once the bottom side becomes golden brown, flip to fry the other side. Repeat to cook the rest of the mixture.
Garnish and serve
- Place the cooked egg foo young over steamed rice. Pour the gravy over. Alternatively, use soy sauce and chilli oil to season. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds.