When I pulled out my copy of Lucky Peach’s 101 Asian Recipes the other night, I intended to make the Malaysian “Economy Noodles” as I said I would at the end of my cookbook review. However, I ran into a problem: My enormous tub of Asian noodles (I have a similar one of European-style pasta) did not contain thin rice noodles. I had wide rice noodles and a dozen kinds of wheat noodles, but no rice vermicelli. And it was too late to run to the store for any.
So, having discovered necessity, I flipped through the book searching for invention. And found it, in the form of one of the silliest-sounding recipes I’ve ever seen: Omurice.
Japanese food has a reputation for being elegant, sophisticated, delicate, subtle. But Japan has poor college students too, and tired workers looking for a quick meal, and harried moms who haven’t had a chance to buy groceries. And once upon a time, one of those folks looked into their refrigerator and saw nothing but a tub of day-old rice, a single egg, and a bottle of ketchup. That practical, whimsical person invented Omurice: An omelet stuffed with ketchup-flavored fried rice, alluringly enrobed in still more ketchup. (The word, of course, is a portmanteau of “omelet” and “rice”: a Western-style omelet with a decidedly non-Western filling.)
Okay, you. I see you shuddering. Ketchup on eggs? That’s the terrible thing Grandpa does. But seriously, Grandpa may know something we don’t.
Actually, I told Arne, as we were both giggling in delight over this weird dinner, that I’d never been a ketchup-on-eggs person. He laughed at me. That’s right, laughed at me. And he said, “What about fried egg sandwiches?” To which I had no answer, because while I don’t use much ketchup as a rule, I love my fried-egg sandwiches absolutely drenched in the stuff.If you’ve ever eaten takoyaki or okonomiyaki (the former being custardy squid balls, the latter a sort of pancake known to some as “Japanese pizza”), you know that the Japanese people do not fear condiments. If this were made with Bull-Dog sauce, the Worcestershire-flavored sauce served with tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet), it wouldn’t have struck me as odd. But ketchup? It seemed so strange I had to try it. And it was really yummy.
While I stand by the idea that you could make Omurice with nothing but rice, egg, and ketchup, this version adds a few more elements for flavor and color: onion, peas, and a protein of your choice. The cookbook called for chicken; I used shrimp because it was veggie week. I also threw in some sliced mushrooms, because I had a few kicking around the crisper. Like fried rice in general, Omurice is a perfect place to use up those odds and ends in the refrigerator.
The one place I had trouble with this recipe was the egg itself. The recipe calls for one egg per omelet, cooked in an 8-inch skillet. This makes for a very thin and delicate sheet of egg. You’re going to smother it with ketchup anyway, so you can cover up flaws, but you could also easily add more egg to make it easier to handle. Two eggs per omelet would be fine. Use a nonstick pan that still has a good coating, too, not an old ratty one like I did. Also, unless you have an enormous spatula to move it with, it is much easier to move the egg to a plate and stuff the rice into it there than to try to stuff the omelet in the skillet and then move it. The rice goes everywhere when you try that (see the picture above).Don’t worry too much about aesthetics, though. Omurice is not gourmet. Omurice is quick, cheap, tasty, and strangely satisfying.