IMBB is a perfect excuse to cook something fun on a Sunday. This month's theme, Eggs, hosted by Seattle Bon Vivant, is extremely versatile with lots of room for creativity. I briefly toyed with the idea of showcasing baluts, but then decided that was some what too advanced for the general readership... Instead, I went with a more regular egg dish - at least in Japan.
Onsen Tamago, which literally translates to Hot Spring Eggs, is a breakfast staple at any hot spring spas in Japan. Usually served with rice and other assortments of savory breakfast trimming like dried fish, onsen tamago holds a special place in my heart. It reminds me of those lazy family vacations at hot springs when I was a child. Its slippery and condensed egg yolk flavor send me back to my childhood when I marveled at the mystery of the egg yolk being hardened before the egg white...
Yes, the yolk in onsen tamago is firmer than the egg white. This is accomplished by cooking the egg (in its shell, of course) at a relatively low temperature for a long time. Originally, these eggs were cooked in hot springs, where the temperature is naturally much lower than boiling. They were served rather exclusively at hot springs, where water at the optimal temperature for making onsen tamago was readily available.
I made these on the stove by keeping the water at a constant 155F by monitoring the temperature and adding cold water or hot water as necessary. I have to admit - it was a huge pain in the butt. I cooked the eggs for 20 min, which apparently wasn't quite long enough and the yolk was a bit too runny to be perfectly cooked onsen tamago. Next time, I'll cook it in the rice cooker for 90 min, which seems to be the recommended method in many Japanese recipe sites...
But what really matters is that I had fun cooking again, which was something I haven't felt in a while. When I cracked the eggs and slid the contents out into the bowl, my heart jumped with excitement as I saw the entire egg slide out of the shell in one big swooping motion. With elegance and grace, the egg glided out of the shell. I really felt like I was working with the ingredients, despite its extremely simple preparation.
I made some chilled bonito dashi with mirin and soy sauce, which I also used to eat cold udon noodles (which is material for another post...), and floated the eggs in it to serve it in a very traditional style. The chilled noodles is not a traditional accompaniment for onsen tamago at all, but the combination made for a perfect summer lunch. The yolk was heated through and retained warmth despite the quick chilling. The chunks of solid texture in the yolk blended in with the luscious creaminess of the yolk.
I'll probably do things differently next time, but for a first time try, it wasn't too bad. The dichotomy of the simplicity of the method and the extreme care and attention it required to maintain that simplicity reminded me what Japanese cooking was really all about - which is more than anything a complicated dish could do for me right now... In the difficulty of simplicity, I found a moment of calm quiet.
PS: Thank you, Papa Bear, for helping me with the onsen tamago!