Tamago Kake Gohan
When a new food-obsessed friend told me she sometimes stirred a whole egg into a bowl of steaming short-grain rice, I wrote down, “try this.” I imagined the taste of the egg piece in fried rice or something that tasted like tamago sushi–the seasoned rectangle of rice topped with a lightly sweetened omelet–only fashioned perfectly for serving one hungry and tired person.
Instead, the next day when I made a pot of rice and put a raw egg in it, I sat down to a slightly soupy bowl of grain, very plain, the taste raw eggy, mostly just very plain. I poured on plenty of soy sauce then googled to see where I had gone wrong.
What I learned, instead, is that tamago kake gohan is huge in Japan right now and has been for about a decade. It’s the original Japanese fast food, writes Harumi Kurihara admiringly in her cookbook. TKG is originally a breakfast food whose name just means raw egg on rice. There are restaurants devoted to this rice with eggs, a particular type of soy sauce you’re supposed to season with, and even a well-attended symposium (learn lots more about the trend at Tofugu). After reading for an hour, the power of suggestion induced me to try TKG again. Despite fail #1, the description still sounded so good and so useful, especially for nights when there’s nothing in the house to eat.
Back in the kitchen, I remedied the raw egg flavor using a technique picked up from this salad dressing: You pour hot water over a whole egg, leave it for about a minute, then crack the egg. The process coddles the egg but doesn’t cook it, so you should still use a top-quality egg you feel comfortable eating raw. But it does remove that unfriendly metallic taste. There are other methods, like placing an egg on top of the bowl to steam the egg or mixing the white with the rice first, then placing the raw yolk on top. When you scoop rice fresh from a rice cooker, it may have more residual heat than if you’ve cooked it on the stove, as I did. If you get into tamago kake gohan, you’ll probably experiment.
Whatever you do, the next step is to whip the egg with hot rice until you have a bowl of fluffy, pale yellow rice enriched with enough protein to make it a meal. Next, pour a generous glug of soy sauce, and then garnish with sesame seeds at a minimum, or piles of creamy avocado and crunchy celery, or more authentic toppings like dried fish flakes, pickles, dried baby anchovies, and clams. I highly recommend a final flourish of toasted nori, cut into slivers.
Even with the toppings, TKG is plain, for sure. But a lot of good meals are plain. In fact, I’ve heard it theorized that comfort foods are our favorites precisely because they’re bland. Still–a warning: if you love over-the-top sweet, sour, spice, in every meal, maybe skip this one. But if you’ve been known to douse leftover take-out rice with soy sauce and nothing else, you’ll be delighted to find that you can now call that dish a balanced dinner.
- ¾ cup short- or medium-grain white rice
- 1 egg
- Soy sauce
- ¼ avocado, cubed (optional)
- 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced (optional)
- Sesame seeds and/or Furikake or Togarashi
- ½ sheet nori, toasted (I do this under a broiler) and cut into ribbons
- Cook the rice according to package directions. When the rice is done, put the egg in a mug or small bowl and pour boiling water over it. Leave for 60 seconds, then pour out the water and run the egg under cold water. Place the rice in a bowl. Make a well in the middle of the rice, and crack the egg into the well. Toss with forks or chopsticks. Season with soy sauce (leave it on the table to add more as you go), and top with the suggested garnishes or any others that you like.