There exist people who don’t have “favorites”. Ask them what they want to eat for their birthday, and the answer is along the lines of “whatever you want” or “anything is fine”.
Alex falls into this category, which is why I’m shocked whenever he expresses a preference for a dish.
Last week, he requested this Chinese egg and tomato stir fry. You know this dish must be appetizing if he could remember its existence.
What’s so special about tomato and egg stir fry? Read on to find out.
Why make this dish?
Call it stir fry. Call it scrambled. Egg cooked in a tomato gravy. Add fragrant sesame oil and fresh herbs. It doesn’t sound like much, does it?
Yet, there’s a reason this dish is one of the most popular all over China. Why do immigrant families make it all the time? Why is it a mainstay in student kitchens? Why does almost every hole-in-the-wall eatery serve it?
Stir-fried egg and tomato is the ultimate comfort food that many of us grew up eating. It’s cheap, nutritious, and faster to make than cooking rice. It’s also packed with umami ingredients like ripe tomatoes and soy sauce.
If you’ve never tried this dish, it’s worth adding to your meal plan because you’ll discover it’s a breeze to prepare. Plus, you can make endless varieties.
Every family has their variation on Chinese egg and tomato stir fry.
My mum’s recipe follows the minimalist approach where she adds salt and soy sauce for seasoning and umami. A teaspoon or so of granulated sugar balances the tomato’s acidity. Finish off with freshly chopped cilantro and sesame oil.
There are endless variations, including:
- The Woks of Life’s version uses green onion and white pepper without cilantro.
- Omnivore Cookbook’s version has garlic and green onion.
- Francis Lam’s version contains ginger, shaoxing rice wine, a cornstarch slurry, and ketchup (yes, ketchup!)
- In the comments of this NYTimes version from Francis, someone mentions a Taiwanese version with egg, tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. No shaoxing wine.
- Another comment mentions an Italian version that adds Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- There’s a Colombian style with diced onions.
- And a Greek style with olive oil, oregano, and feta cheese
NOTE: This forgiving dish can be modified to accommodate whatever ingredients are in your fridge and pantry right now. The more times you make the dish and adapt it to your tastes, the more likely you are to hone your signature version.
Technique for scrambling eggs
One of this dish’s greatest advantages is how simple it is to prepare. That said, there’s some technique involved to stir fry the eggs so make them fluffy and tender.
NOTE: You don’t need perfect eggs to make a tasty dish. But it’s worth following the Chinese way to make fluffy eggs so you have pillowy soft—rather than scrambling eggs the Western way, which results in chewier and harder eggs.
Here are tips from my mum on how to cook the eggs:
- Nonstick pan: Use a nonstick pan or a seasoned wok to reduce the chances of egg sticking to the pan.
- Thoroughly beat the eggs: There shouldn’t be any unmixed egg white. You can test the eggs by pulling up the beaten eggs with a pair of chopsticks to make sure there aren’t strands of egg white remaining.
- Add 2 tablespoons of water for about 5 large eggs: Adding water can make the eggs fluffier. When I’m lazy, I skip this step.
- Add the eggs to a very hot pan: The oil should be shimmering. Test if the pan is hot enough by dripping beaten egg off your chopsticks. If the egg immediately bubbles and cook, the pan is hot enough.
- Lift the eggs up as they cook: As the middle of the pan is usually the hottest, the egg sets fastest in the middle while the outer edge remains raw. Lifting the cooked egg allows the raw egg on the side to flow to the middle of the pan. This cooks eggs more evenly and quickly.
- Keep flipping the eggs and pushing them left and right: Agitating the eggs in the pan reduces the chances of overcooking the eggs. Don’t be shy about flipping the eggs to make sure they’re cooked evenly on both sides.
- Avoid overcooking the eggs: Once the eggs are set, remove them from the pan immediately to avoid overcooking. They’ll keep cooking from residual heat and when you return them to the pan with the tomatoes too.
TIP: When I first learned this dish, I always overcooked the eggs because I was slow moving. My mum recommended that I remove the eggs while they still looked jiggly and moist around the edges (because you can return them to the pan if they’re undercooked, but you can’t undo overdone eggs).
Tips for success
- Use sugar: As someone who tries to avoid white sugar in savory food, I understand the desire to skip the sugar. But sugar makes a huge difference to balance out the tomato’s acidity. To make the dish healthier, stick to 1 teaspoon of sugar, and don’t add ketchup (which often has a lot of added sugar).
- Peeling the skin off the tomatoes is optional: Some people go to the extra step of blanching tomatoes and peeling the skin because it creates a smoother gravy. I don’t have time for this. If it’s important to you, I recommend using canned tomatoes where the skin is already removed (or go through the extra effort to blanch and remove the tomato skin).
- When fresh tomatoes are out of season: Substitute with canned plain whole or diced tomatoes.
- 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil is a lot: It’s potent so be judicious to avoid overwhelming the dish.
- Serving suggestion: When I visited Beijing and Xi’an, stir-fried tomato and egg was often served with hand-pulled noodles with a lot of chopped cilantro on top. You can use udon or another thick wheat noodle.
10-minute savory Chinese egg + tomato stir fry for a satisfying meal
- Chopping Board
- Mixing Bowl
- Gather the ingredients.
Chop the vegetables
- Chop the tomatoes into large chunks (I like to chop each tomato into quarters, then cut each quarter into quarters again).3 large Tomatoes
- Chop the green onions. Roughly chop the cilantro.3 sprigs Green onion, 1 handful cilantro
Cook the eggs
- Crack the eggs into a bowl, and discard the shells. Beat the eggs until the egg whites and yolks are evenly combined.6 large Eggs
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil in the pan on high heat.2 tablespoons canola oil
- Add the beaten eggs. Cook the eggs until they are fluffy but not overdone. Check out these tips for how to fry the eggs.6 large Eggs
- Set aside the cooked eggs in a plate.6 large Eggs
Cook the tomatoes
- Heat the remaining oil in the pan on medium-high heat. Add the chopped green onions.3 sprigs Green onion
- Once the green onions begin to sizzle, add the chopped tomatoes.3 sprigs Green onion, 3 large Tomatoes
- Cook the tomatoes until they soften. If your pan is too hot, you can add 2 tablespoons of water to avoid burning the tomatoes.3 large Tomatoes
- Stir in the sugar and salt.½ Salt, 1 teaspoon sugar
- Push the tomatoes into the pan with the spatula to mash them. This helps the tomatoes turn into a gravy.3 large Tomatoes
- Once the tomatoes are softened and have formed a thick gravy, add the soy sauce. Mix to combine.3 large Tomatoes, 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- Add the eggs back into the pan. Break up any larger pieces of egg by "chopping" them with the spatula.6 large Eggs
- Remove the pan from the heat. Mix in the sesame oil. Add the chopped cilantro on top as a garnish.½ teaspoon sesame oil, 1 handful cilantro
- Enjoy your stir-fried egg and tomatoes!
Can you make this in advance?
Yes, this dish stores well, which means you can make extra and eat leftovers the next day.
I love taking stir-fried egg and tomato to work for a brown bag lunch. It goes well with leftover fried rice or stir-fried noodles and another stir-fried vegetable or braised tofu for a complete meal.
How to store leftovers?
Store the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat in the microwave when you’re ready to eat.
Can you freeze it?
I don’t recommend freezing this dish. Make it fresh as it only takes 10 minutes.