Tomatoes Stir-Fry Eggs – 番茄炒蛋
I have heard, or read, a huge number of Chinese people, cooks and non-cooks alike, who claim that 番茄炒蛋, or Eggs gently scrambled with Tomatoes, is the first dish they ever learned to prepare themselves. It is certainly a popular dish amongst students, and at modest family meals, not only because it is delicious, but because it so incredibly simple to make. The humble meal may consist of nothing more that the requisite Tomatoes and Eggs, along with maybe a pinch or two of Sugar, or it may get considerably more complex with all sorts of other additions, much like an Omelet, or Scrambled Eggs in the West. The recipe for the version here is a touch more complex than the most basic form of Tomatoes Stir-Fry Eggs, but it is still remarkably simple.
A Word about the Recipe Name
By the way, those reading this recipe might wonder why I have used what might seem like a curious way of naming the dish. After all, why call it ‘Tomatoes Stir-fry Eggs’ rather than say, ‘Eggs Stir-fried with Tomatoes’, or. More simply, ‘Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes’?
Well, the reason for this is that the form of name I have chosen is actually pretty well suggested by the Chinese version of the name – 番茄炒蛋, pronounced fānqié chǎodàn in Mandarin. Stir-frying is a common cookery technique, even in the West, these days, but few people know that the term was coined by a Chinese-American author, Buwei Yang Chow, who adopted this style of naming in her book How to Cook and Eat in Chinese, back in the 1940’s. If you are interested in culinary lore of this sort, you might want to read her explanation for the nomenclature in that vey interesting little book.
Oh… on a final note … The most common name for the Tomato in China (番茄) translates as ‘foreign eggplant’, but you may occasionally see the dish referred to as 西红柿炒鸡蛋 (xī hóng shì chǎo jī dàn), in which case ‘tomato’ is rendered as ‘Western Red Persimmon’.
Ingredient Notes for 番茄炒蛋
Sugar is a pretty common addition to this dish. You may make it as sweet as you like, but going over the recommended three teaspoons for this number of eggs will likely be overkill. Alternatively, you can omit the sugar entirely if you prefer.
This recipe calls for Fish Sauce as an optional ingredient. This may seem like an odd addition to Western ears, but it is no more unusual than adding anchovy paste to a Tomato-based Pasta Sauce, or beneath Scrambled Eggs in a dish of Scotch Woodcock. In all of these cases, adding a fairly strong-tasting fish paste or sauce to a dish in small amounts doesn’t result in a ‘fishy’ taste, rather, it just gives the finished product nice umami-depth.
Some people like to add Oyster Sauce to this dish, rather than Fish Sauce, but, while this really does taste terrific, it also gives the eggs a rather darkish brown tint which I find unappealing. I often replace the Fish Sauce with Korean Saeu-jeot, or Fermented Salted Shrimp. However, this product really is salty, even more than Fish Sauce in many cases, so you need to use it carefully.
The Basic Method
The Tomatoes are first cooked in a little oil (or rendered Pork Fat) over moderately high heat until they begin to break down, and the released juices form a nice, fairly thick sauce. If you prefer to deseed your tomatoes, they will throw off less juice than otherwise, so you may wish to add at least another half tomato in order to increase the juice quotient a little.
The Egg mixture is prepared by are beating the Eggs well with the Scallion, Sugar, Pepper, and the Fish Sauce, if you choose to use it.
When the tomatoes are nicely done, you spread the pieces as far apart as possible in your pan and pour in the egg mixture. It is very important that you do not start stirring and tossing the eggs right away, as you want the final dish to have thick, fluffy curds rather than small fragments of cooked egg. To achieve this let the mixture sit for a moment until the bottom starts to set and then run your spatula in crisscross lines through the mixture to break it up in large chunks. Turn these, let the bottom cook again, and then repeat the process several times until everything is almost cooked through.
You should remove the eggs from the flame while they are still a little moist and slightly underdone as the residual heat will continue to cook them as they are plated and served. Do so immediately, before the eggs cool too much, and garnish, if you like, with a little extra Scallion Green, or chopped Parsley.
This particular dish is a simple preparation that will often be made and consumed as a light meal for one. It is a favorite among students, but, as one Chinese Website notes, it ‘is very simple so that many housewives and working-class people would cook it very frequently’. It can, as such, be a light family meal, eaten with very little else, or it can be served as a main plate serving as part of a larger meal.
Personally, I only ever eat Scrambled Eggs as a side dish, and this version goes as well with Bacon, Ham, Toast, or any of the other trappings of a Western Breakfast, as does a serving of plain old, standard Scrambled Eggs. In the above picture, though, I have plated a small portion alongside some Pork Belly fried with Green Pepper. It made for a very nice breakfast indeed.
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Tomatoes Stir-Fry Eggs – 番茄炒蛋
- 4 Eggs
- 2 medium tomatoes coarsely chopped
- 1 Scallion finely chopped
- 1 – 3 tsp. sugar
- 1 pinch Ground White Pepper
- 1 Tbsp. Fish Sauce optional
- Beat the Eggs well along with the Scallion, Sugar, Pepper, and the Fish Sauce, if using.
- Heat a tablespoon of Oil, or rendered Pork Fat, in a pan over medium-high heat.
- Add the Tomatoes and stir-fry until they have broken down slightly, and thrown off a good deal of juice.
- Add the egg mixture and slowly, and gently, begin to fold and scramble so as to produce nice large curds of almost fully-cooked egg.
- Remove from the heat and serve while still piping hot.