i love japanese food. and when i say i love japanese food, i don’t mean just traditional japanese washoku. i love western cuisine-inspired yōshoku, too. japan has all kinds of awesome variations on classic american and european dishes, such as the curry filled donut (カレーパン), breaded pork cutlets (豚カツ), and spicy cod roe spaghetti (辛子明太子パスタ). some japanese chefs are protectors of art forms passed down for generations, while others are innovators using a relatively new palette of flavors and ingredients to make tasty new dishes never before heard of.
omuraisu is not, in my opinion, one of those dishes. it’s an omelette with rice inside. it was first pioneered in japan in 1900 in a restaurant in ginza called renga-tei. granted, it is popular among kids and super easy to make, but it still has an odious lackluster feel to it every time i see it in a restaurant. yeah, it might be swimming in a pool of demi-glace sauce or garnished with parsley or something, but it doesn’t change that fact that, at its core, omuraisu is just missing something.
when i did some thinking the other night, i realized why i don’t like omuraisu very much. as luck (or unluck) would have it, the fried rice portion of the rice omelette is seasoned with straight-up ketchup. and i don’t like ketchup. i dislike ketchup enough that i have regularly called it out as the worst thing to ever happened to sauce in the history of cuisine.
but i’m not a stubborn man. i’ve resigned myself to hating ketchup, but don’t want to not like omuraisu. so i pulled up my bootstraps, strapped on my cooking pants, and decided that i was going to make a brand spanking new omuraisu recipe that didn’t use a lick of ketchup, was chock-full of flavor, and implemented a plethora of ingredients that would turn the head of even the most stubborn omuraisu hater.
and here’s what came out of my noggin.
poor man’s omuraisu
- a quarter of an onion
- four cloves of garlic
- ground pork
- half a can of diced stewed tomatoes
- black pepper
- chicken stock
- leftover rice
- an eggplant
- smoked cheese
- green onions
- mince the onion, garlic, and two leaves of shiso. make sure to keep the pale side of the shiso up to maximize its flavor. add a tiny bit of oil to a frying pan, and once it gets nice and hot, add the ground pork. make sure to break it up nice and small. once it starts to brown and is well on its way to being cooked through, add the onions, garlic, and shiso.
- when the pork is done, add the contents of the frying pan to a pot. add the tomatoes, a little bit of chicken stock for liquid, black pepper, thyme, and a good amount of oregano. don’t forget the sugar, it’ll help to balance out the saltiness and make your sauce a little thicker. stir in the spices, cover, and let the sauce simmer for about 30 minutes or so over super low heat. give it a stir on occasion to make sure nothing is burning to the bottom.
- wash the eggplant, and cut it into smaller than bite-sized pieces. while you are at it, you may as well slice four or five leaves of shiso into super fine strips and finely chop a few stalks of green onion. set each aside separately.
- when the sauce is ready, you have to make a choice. if you want chunks of tomato and ground pork in your sauce, you are welcome to leave it as is. i chose to blend my sauce to create an almost chili-like color and texture. i’ll leave it up to you.
- grate your cheese. it doesn’t have to be smoked cheese, but it tends to add a lot to the flavor of this dish. any aged cheese will also do, especially a nice parmesan or asiago.
- add some oil to a frying pan, and throw in the eggplant once the pan gets hot enough. sauté the eggplant until it starts to wilt just a little bit. then add the rice. make sure to keep the pan well-oiled or the rice will stick and burn, especially if you are using japanese short-grain white rice. as it heats up, make sure to break up the large cohesive blocks of rice. if you don’t, your filling is going to be super difficult to handle.
- once the rice is hot, add a ladle or two of your meat sauce. stir it in and break the more stubborn chunks of rice apart with a wooden spoon or the back of the ladle. continue to fold the doria over on itself for a while until it becomes super thick and cohesive. pour the contents into a bowl and set them aside.
- it’s omelette time. scramble three or four eggs in a bowl. this part can be a little tough, so you might need to practice. everybody has a different method of making the egg portion of omuraisu, but my particular strategy involves keeping the pan on relatively low heat and slowly rolling the raw egg around the perimeter of the pan so as to make a really large, thin sheet.
- when the egg is almost done (a little bit of runny is good), add the rice filling to the center of the egg sheet. top it off with some grated cheese. here’s the tricky bit. run a spatula between the perimeter of the egg and the frying pan. once you are sure the egg is not clinging to the pan, fold the edges over the top of the rice. the sticky nature of the melted cheese and the rice should help hold it in place.
- kill the heat, and take the plate you want to use and place it over the frying pan upside-down. then, invert the frying pan onto the plate. with any luck, you will get an omelette with no visible seam.
- pour a few ladles of your leftover sauce around the perimeter of the omelet or over the top, and then garnish with your sliced shiso and chopped green onions.
- a side of greens or a few pieces of italian toast to mop up the leftover sauce wouldn’t be out of the question, but you don’t need them by any means. go to town. eat the whole thing by yourself and be 100% guilt (and ketchup) free.