Egg Foo Young Omelets Were Designed To Upgrade Your Leftovers

Among lovers of international cuisine, American Chinese food has a decidedly less-than-favorable reputation. Often seen as a poorly executed and heavily bastardized version of authentic Chinese cuisine, American Chinese dishes have long disappeared from upscale Chinese restaurants, relegated to take-out menus and fast-food joints. In fact, Americanized Chinese food is so different from authentic Chinese food that restaurants have opened to specialize in these Westernized dishes as a curiosity in mainland China.

However, although American Chinese food has been treated as a bad joke in some foodie circles, it does not mean some dishes aren't worth trying. In fact, when done well, some of these dishes are pretty delicious, even to a modern palate. One such example is egg foo young, an omelet-like dish that combines eggs, vegetables, and protein into a crispy and fluffy pancake. It is a simple recipe that allows you to use almost any leftovers, and when served with a Chinese-inspired gravy and some steamed rice, it is a one-dish meal that is economical and delicious.

A brief history of egg foo young

The origin of what we can recognize as egg foo young began in 19th-century California. During that time, Chinese immigrants, mostly from coastal provinces such as Canton (Guangdong today), came to work on the railroad projects on the West Coast, many settling in San Francisco. As these immigrant communities formed, restaurants opened to serve Chinese cuisine to natives and curious Americans. Seeking to expand their business by catering to American tastes, Chinese cooks transformed authentic dishes into what we recognize as American Chinese today — egg foo young being one of them.

The dish that inspired the creation of egg foo young is not certain. The term "foo young" can be loosely translated to "blooming flowers" in Cantonese, which might be an allusion to the way egg whites puff up when fried in oil. Regardless of its origins, the dish was eventually standardized into a fluffy stuffed omelet, and it is a dish that can be easily made at home. Start with making the gravy by mixing oyster sauce, soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing wine), sesame oil, and cornstarch in a small saucepan and simmer until thickened. Meanwhile, whisk eggs in a large bowl and combine with vegetables and proteins of your choice. Fry the egg mixture on high heat with oil, flipping the pancake over once the other side is golden brown. Serve with the prepared gravy with a scallion garnish.

Filling your egg foo young

When it comes to fillings for egg foo young, anything is possible, although they should be diced small so they can easily blend into the egg. For vegetables, a general favorite is bean sprouts, but tomato, Chinese celery, bamboo shoots, broccoli, cauliflower, summer squash, and mushrooms are all great additions. However, some vegetables, such as turnips and cucumbers, might produce too much water when cooked, negatively impacting your omelet's texture and preventing it from browning correctly in the pan.

For proteins, common additions are chicken, pork, or shrimp, but any fresh or leftover meats can work. For example, you can add steak, leftover roasted chicken, or even cocktail shrimp into the mixture. However, if you are planning to add raw protein into the mix, make sure they are cut small so it will cook through. You can even adjust the gravy formula for your taste, adding garlic, ginger, cilantro, and chili crisp for additional flavors.