Author Notes: This recipe is very special to me-- while it's unlikely to be familiar to most of you, it is iconic with anyone with roots in Taiwan. Taiwanese food is not as well known as other types of Chinese cuisine popular in the United States, which is mainly Cantonese and more recently, Sichuanese. With the exception of the San Gabriel Valley near LA, it is difficult to find Taiwanese restaurants even in major Asian enclaves in the States. The ones I have visited have always disappointed me. Admittedly, it’s hard to replicate the exact tastes that make up Taiwanese cuisine: bold flavors which include vinegar, garlic, sesame, soy and other umami flavors, and the texture known as “Q” (chewy/glutinous; you know it when you taste it). These flavors derive from eclectic cultural influences. The majority of Taiwan’s modern population can trace its ancestry to China’s Fujian province, with later arrivals from other parts of China post-1949. The island’s mountain dwelling aborigines are probably responsible for the mad love for eating bamboo shoots and wild greens. Seafood figures prominently, as is natural for an island nation. And other marks were left by previous colonizers from Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, and Japan.
The Taiwanese oyster omelet, pronounced “oh-ah-jen, ” is very popular at Taiwan's famous night markets. It has many of the elements of the Taiwanese pantry: oysters, interesting greens, “Q” from tapioca starch, and a very umami sauce. Shrimp can be substituted for the oysters, if you’re not a fan, and it’s also very good without any seafood. I adapted this from a recipe by Julienne on Taiwanese American.org.
—Beautiful, Memorable Food
Taiwanese Oyster Omelet Sauce
- 3 tablespoons ketchup
- 3 tablespoons soy paste (NOT soy sauce); I recommend Kimlan brand
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Place all ingredients in a small bowl, and stir until well combined. Set aside until the omelet is done-- it will thicken as it sits.
Taiwanese Oyster Omelet
- 1/4 cup tapioca starch
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1 cup Chinese greens-- I recommend A-choy; Romaine leaves make a good substitute
- 3 eggs
- 1 pinch ground white pepper
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 10 oz jar of fresh, shucked oysters, or 4-6 fresh oysters
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- Stir tapioca starch and water together in a small bowl until you have a slurry. Set aside.
- Chop A choy or Romaine leaves into 1/2 inch pieces and set aside.
- In another bowl, beat eggs. The tried and true Taiwanese method is using chopsticks, and you don’t have to fully combine the yolks and whites. Add salt and white pepper. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat.
- When oil is shimmery, add the tapioca slurry (careful, it may splatter a bit) and reduce heat to medium. Cook for a minute or two until the color changes from white to translucent (kind of like a jellyfish).
- At this point, reduce heat to low and add beaten eggs. Stir for 10 seconds with chopsticks until coarsely combined.
- Quickly add oysters and greens on top of eggs and press gently to set. Allow to cook, undisturbed, until slightly golden around the edges.
- Using two spatulas, carefully flip omelet over in pan. Bring heat back up to medium and allow to cook until oysters are fully cooked and omelet is set, about 5 minutes.
- Serve omelet on a plate and drizzle desired amount of sauce on top.
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Shellfish