All About Egg Foo Young
by contributing writer Chef Mark R. Vogel
The word “omelet” or “omelette” if you prefer, first appeared in English in the early 1600’s, after being successively morphed from Latin and then French terms beforehand. Whatever the diachronic linguistics, omelets have been consumed by man since ancient times. And once omelets became nascent, it certainly didn’t take long for man to realize that other ingredients such as meats and vegetables could be added to them. The truth is that most of today’s dishes, even so called “classics,” are largely derivative.
On that note, say hello to egg foo young, which for all intents and purposes is an omelet. You should first note that it has a plethora of spellings with “fu” instead of “foo,” and “yong” or “yung” in place of “young.” And just to make it more complicated the various foos and youngs can be connected or separated such as egg fuyung or egg foo yong. The only constant in this chaos is the egg.
Egg foo young is an American Chinese restaurant staple. Like many other common “Chinese” dishes it was invented in the US. However, egg foo young does have authentic Chinese underpinnings. It is a variant of an old Sichuan dish called Fu yung egg slices, a dish based on egg whites and pork.
Exactly who and precisely when egg foo young was created is elusive but it appears to have been extant since the 1940’s. In a nutshell, (or should I say eggshell?), egg foo young is beaten egg mixed with vegetables, sometimes a protein, pan or deep-fried, and served with a sauce reminiscent of brown gravy.
The vegetable options include onion, scallions, carrots, peas, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and cabbage. Meats include beef, pork, chicken or shrimp. Of course the specific combinations vary from chef to chef. Sometimes there’s no meat as in “vegetable egg foo young.” If the admixture contains a protein it will usually be denoted in the title as in “pork egg foo young.”
Variations of the Same
If you research various egg foo young recipes you will find a dichotomy exists in the cooking instructions. Some instruct you to stir-fry the vegetables and/or the protein first and then combine them with the egg, which is then fried. Others direct you to add the uncooked vegetables and meat to the eggs and then proceed with the frying.
I believe it is prudent to cook, or at least partially cook, the non-egg ingredients first. The eggs fry very quickly and the vegetables, especially harder ones like carrots, can end up too hard if not pre-cooked.
The sauce is based on chicken broth to which soy sauce and cornstarch are added. The soy sauce adds flavor and darkens the final color while the cornstarch imbibes it with viscosity, thus producing the aforementioned brown-gravy-like quality. For the best flavor and authenticity I recommend you make your own Asian chicken broth. I have supplied a recipe below. But of course if you are pressed for time, a canned chicken broth will do.
Asian Chicken Broth
- 8 lbs chicken parts, (legs thighs, and/or wings)
- 6 quarts of cold spring water
- 1 batch scallions, white and green parts, roughly chopped
- 1 two-three inch chunk of ginger, sliced
- 1 dried hot red pepper
Add the chicken and water to a large stockpot, bring to a boil and then immediately reduce to a very gentle simmer, uncovered. Bubbles should only be lazily breaking the surface. This is important. A strong simmer will evaporate the fluid too quickly and not extract the flavoring elements as efficiently.
Skim the top to remove any scum or errant particles but do not stir. Stirring will make the final broth cloudy.
Add the remaining ingredients and simmer, occasionally skimming, for at least 4 hours. Strain the soup to remove the solids. For a clearer broth strain again through cheesecloth and a chinois, (a fine-meshed strainer). Discard the solids. (You can save the leftover chicken meat for chicken soup).