When I spent a month in Japan post-college, I was absolutely obsessed with bento box lunches. Tamago sushi was a common side dish found in them. These slightly sweet, rich, and creamy rolled eggs, sliced to reveal a beautiful swirl inside, were placed on a rectangular bed of sushi rice and wrapped with a strip of nori.
Years later, I learned to make that same Japanese egg omelet, called tamagoyaki, without the rice and nori. Even though I’m not an expert in Japanese cuisine, I set out to make it at home and I’m here to share what I’ve learned with you!
Tamagoyaki is an easy breakfast or a great side dish for lunch or dinner. Best of all, leftovers are amazing, cold from the fridge or warmed up in the microwave. That’s why I always make extra.
What is Tamagoyaki?
Tamagoyaki is a rolled egg omelet, slightly sweetened with sugar and seasoned with soy sauce, mirin, and dashi. Tamago means “egg” and yaki means “grill” in Japanese.
There are many variations of tamagoyaki in Japan depending on the region. Some simply season it with salt, soy sauce, and sugar. Others add mirin and dashi stock. Some add fillings like seaweed, salmon, or cheese.
This recipe is for a dashimaki tamagoyaki, which has mirin and dashi, an umami-rich stock made with kombu and bonito flakes. I cheat and use an instant dashi powder called Hondashi. It’s not as complex or deep in flavor as traditional dashi stock, but that’s okay for this recipe. Find it at any Japanese grocery store, well-stocked Asian market, or online.
Do I Need a Special Pan?
In Japan, tamagoyaki is made so often that a specific pan called a kotobuki tamagoyaki is used. It is a long rectangular pan with curved sides, which makes flipping, rolling, and sliding the egg much easier.
To be honest, you don’t need a kotobuki tamagoyaki. Any small nonstick frying pan will work. But if you do find yourself falling in love with tamagoyaki and want to make it often, you can easily find one for $15 to $20.
To Brown or Not to Brown
For me, the ideal tamagoyaki is evenly yellow, not browned, and with a creamy, custardy texture. Some people will brown it slightly, which accentuates the swirls inside. Keep in mind that browning creates a less delicate texture, but it’s your personal preference!
In “Mastering the Art of the Japanese Home Cooking,” acclaimed chef Masaharu Morimoto, the Iron Chef himself, slightly browns his tamagoyaki. It’s hard to argue with Chef Morimoto!
Things I Learned About Making Tamagoyaki
Making tamagoyaki isn’t difficult, but it does take some practice to perfect rolling it. The good news is the more you make it, the easier it gets. Here are some things I learned:
- Slowly cook the egg on medium-low to low heat so that it doesn’t darken too much and the texture stays custardy. A little patience goes a long way.
- Roll the eggs while they are still a little bit undercooked on top. Start rolling too early? They are too delicate and will tear. Too late and they will have browned and stiffened.
- Don’t stress if the first roll tears, scrunches, or flips weirdly. It’s difficult because there isn’t enough egg batter to flip. Just keep rolling—by the second or third layer it will work its way out.
- Use a thin fish or pancake spatula. Traditionally, Japanese cooks use chopsticks, because of course they do! But if you aren’t as adept at using them—the pointy tips might tear or flip the eggs unevenly—start with a spatula and switch over to chopsticks once you get more practice. Or not. It’s your call.
- The egg batter may feel too thin and delicate. Reduce the dashi stock to just 2 or 3 tablespoons instead of 1/4 cup. The tamagoyaki will be less custardy, but that’s okay. Once you get more practice, you can add up to 6 tablespoons of dashi stock for a creamier texture and bigger umami flavor.
- It’s not traditional, but I add salt and sugar as I beat the eggs to help blend them more thoroughly.
- When beating the eggs, create as little bubbles as possible so that the mixture stays uniform and smooth—you don’t want it to be fluffy or bubbly. I use a fork to move the mixture back and forth and around, not up and down. Pop any large bubbles with the fork.
- Final tip: For an evenly yellow and smooth tamagoyaki, pour the egg batter onto the pan through a fine mesh strainer. It’ll catch about a tablespoon of egg white that didn’t incorporate into the batter, which you can discard.
A Few Swaps that Work
This recipe has a small ingredient list: eggs, mirin, soy sauce, dashi stock, salt, and sugar. I don’t recommend substituting any of them, if possible. However, here are a few swaps that could work.
- Mirin: This is a sweet rice wine that is integral to Japanese cuisine. You can use 1 teaspoon of white wine and increase the sugar by 1/4 teaspoon.
- Soy sauce: Traditional tamagoyaki uses usukuchi, a light-colored Japanese soy sauce that adds flavor without darkening the mixture. It’s difficult to find, so I use either regular or low-sodium soy sauce.
- Dashi stock: If you can’t find instant dashi powder, use 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock. This will radically alter the flavor, but it will still yield something tasty.
There are infinite ways to fill tamagoyaki. Sprinkle on the filling right before rolling the eggs. Here are a few suggestions:
- Chopped nori
- Finely chopped cooked spinach
- Finely chopped sliced ham
- Flaked cooked tuna
- Chopped scallions or chives
- Finely chopped cooked carrots, onions, or celery
- Any grated cheese of your choice
How to Serve Tamagoyaki
Tamagoyaki is often sliced and served with grated daikon on the side. You can eat it by itself, dipped in soy sauce, or with a bowl of rice. Make tamago sushi by placing a slice of tamagoyaki on sushi rice and wrap it with a strip of nori.
You can also serve tamagoyaki as part of a Japanese-inspired meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Here are some recipes to inspire you:
Here are some books and websites I found helpful throughout my research:
Tamagoyaki is supposed to be a little sweet—this recipe uses 2 teaspoons sugar. If you prefer it less sweet, simply reduce the amount.
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1/4 teaspoon instant dashi powder, like Ajinomoto Hondashi
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon mirin
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- Grated daikon, for serving (optional)
Make the dashi stock:
In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, combine the 1/4 cup warm water and dashi powder. Mix with a fork until the granules dissolve. The warm water simply helps them dissolve, so don’t stress if you use room temperature or cold water.
Beat the eggs:
In a medium bowl, add the eggs, sugar, and salt. Use a fork to beat the eggs until thoroughly combined. Try not to incorporate too many bubbles.
Season the eggs:
Add the dashi stock, soy sauce, and mirin. Mix until the ingredients are incorporated.
Strain the eggs (optional):
For a silkier custard-like texture, strain the eggs through a fine mesh strainer set over a liquid measuring cup with the spout—it will make pouring the egg batter into the pan easier.
Grease and heat the pan:
Place the oil in a small bowl and dip a small, folded paper towel into it. Use the saturated paper towel to wipe the inside of a kotobuki tamagoyaki or small nonstick pan. Heat the skillet over medium heat, enough to immediately start cooking the eggs when they are added but not so hot that they brown right away, then reduce the heat to medium-low.
Cook the first layer:
Pour a small amount of batter into the pan, just enough to fully coat the bottom. Cook until it is mostly set, with the top still slightly liquidy.
Use chopsticks or a thin fish spatula to lift one end, flipping and rolling it over to the opposite end of the pan. Don’t worry if the first couple of flips are wrinkled or scrunched up. Just keep on rolling with it.
Add two more layers:
Use the oil-saturated paper towel to wipe the skillet with more oil, lifting the cooked egg up to get some oil under it. Then pour more egg batter in, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Lift the cooked egg up slightly and tilt the pan so the egg batter can get under it.
Cook until it’s mostly set. Roll the eggs again the opposite direction, building up layers, sort of like building a snowman. Repeat this process one more time, oiling the pan, adding more egg batter, and rolling it back the other way. You will have used half the egg batter at this point.
Slide the tamagoyaki onto a serving plate or a cutting board.
Make a second tamagoyaki with the remaining batter following the same process.
Serve the tamagoyaki:
Cut the tamagoyaki into 1-inch slices to reveal the swirls inside. Serve with grated daikon radish on the side, if you’d like, or as part of a larger Japanese-inspired meal.
Leftovers can be refrigerated for 3 or 4 days. Though you can serve it cold, I like to remove it from the fridge and let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes or so to take the chill off. You can also heat it up briefly in the microwave in 15-second bursts until warmed through.
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