Adapting egg foo young shifts it closer to origins

The Whole Dish podcast: Eggs, garden veggies on hand make foo young an impromptu meal

It’s strange when ordering takeout Chinese food that I struggle to add a dish with vegetables, usually falling back on tofu with broccoli, snow peas, carrots, bok choy and water chestnuts.

The rest of our order relies on meat, starch and such deep-fried staples as General Tso’s chicken, widely known in the United States but a conundrum in China, so I’ve read. Perhaps chief among the unholy dishes of Americanized Cantonese cuisine is egg foo young, a favorite of my dad and the barometer by which we measure our indulgence. One more deep-fried item with little to redeem it nutritionally? Sure, why not?

Egg Foo Young’s reputation certainly has suffered, admits Chicago Tribune writer Louisa Chu, not least for its requisite gravy, often nothing more than a cornstarch-thickened slick of soy sauce and stock. But I would argue that the patty’s bean sprouts do little to recommend the dish. Although apparently authentic, bean sprouts are nearly flavorless and, through cooking, transformed texturally into one of the more unappetizing foods I know.

What would you use in lieu of bean sprouts? Oh, let me think of about a dozen other options.

My mom and I debated this point last weekend when I expressed a distaste for bean sprouts. How could you make pad Thai without them? How could it still be pad Thai?

It’s the iconic Thai seasonings and noodles that denote pad Thai, I argued, not bean sprouts, which I’ve more often seen atop the dish as a garnish. So you can just use any other vegetable, she asked? Why not? That’s how cooks around the world rely on vegetables that are in season, not a recipe’s list of ingredients.

And that’s exactly what I did when I wanted to make egg foo young with what I had on hand, not the bean sprouts recommended here. Nor did I have a can of water chestnuts in the pantry. So I substituted julienned leeks and sunchokes from my garden. I also reconstituted some dried shiitake and oyster mushrooms to incorporate into the patties and gravy, which I enriched with the mushroom-soaking liquid.

The resulting foo young was still a serving of greasy, gravy-laden goodness. But at least the vegetables came fresh from my garden, and the gravy earned its savor from something other than chemicals.

Pan-frying, rather than deep-frying, also produced the crispy halo of egg-battered vegetable tendrils that Chu raves about. And like hers, it’s not exactly vintage egg foo young. But making it by hand from seasonally fresh vegetables, as she ventures, likely is closer to the spirit of the original.

Tribune News Service photo

Egg Foo Young

Peanut or vegetable oil, as needed

8 ounces fresh shiitake or portobello mushrooms, sliced thin

3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

1 teaspoon dry vermouth or vegetable stock

2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided

1/2 cup water chestnuts, chopped rough

1/2 cup bean sprouts

1/2 cup thinly sliced scallion greens, divided

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

6 eggs, beaten frothy

Steamed white rice, for serving

Egg Foo Young gravy, recipe follows

Sesame seeds (optional)

Heat wok to medium-high; add 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil, immediately followed by the mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms start to brown, for about 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce and the vermouth; cook until mushrooms are golden-brown, for about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a big bowl, with scraped up browned bits; stir 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil into mushrooms; set aside to cool.

After mushrooms cool, add the water chestnuts, bean sprouts, 1/4 cup of the scallions, remaining soy sauce and sesame oil and salt and pepper to taste; toss to mix well.

To frothy beaten eggs, add mushroom-sprout mixture; mix well to coat all with eggs.

Clean out wok, heat, then add oil for frying, about 2 tablespoons.

Immediately ladle about 1/2 cup egg mixture in wok. When bottom sets and turns barely golden, flip carefully. Cook other side. Transfer to a rack over a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining mixture, adding more oil if needed.

Best served immediately over steamed white rice, with gravy on top or on the side, garnished with remaining scallions and the sesame seeds. Makes 6 servings.

Egg Foo Young Gravy

1/2 cup peanut or coconut oil

1/2 cup finely sliced white part of scallions

4 ounces shiitake or portobello mushrooms, chopped well

1/2 cup flour

4 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat wok to medium-high; the add oil, scallion whites and mushrooms. Cook until browned well, for about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle in the flour; stir and cook until golden, for about 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in stock until sauce forms. Simmer until desired consistency is reached, for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the soy sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Makes 6 servings.

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