How a chef handles an egg has always been a sort of standard test in the kitchen. Can a chef take a basic ingredient and turn it into something special? In the case of the Hana Tamago at Hana Japanese Eatery, the answer is "yes."
"There's not too many things you can do to fussy up an egg," chef Lori Hashimoto says. "But I wanted to do something different."
To make the dish Hashimoto soft boils and then brines a chicken egg in a light dashi broth. Dashi, for those who aren't familiar, is the light broth that serves as a basis for many Japanese soup and noodle broths. It gets its rich, umami flavor from things such as kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes).
The egg then gets tempura battered and deep fried.
It's served with a side of an excellent, creamy, yogurt-based sauce that gets a nice salty punch from mentaiko, or marinated roe of cod. Hashimoto mixes it with Japanese togarashi (a mix of several different spices), onion, and garlic among other things.
On top she places vinegar pickled myoga, the bossom of ginger root. The thin slices may look almost exactly like red onion, but offer a less aggressive flavor, more zingy and tart.
It's a simple enough preparation but the dashi brine gives the egg a satisfying richness and the tempura batter -- as opposed to panko, which Hashimoto says is not an uncommon preparation in Japan -- does a better job of sticking to the egg. That means its even easier to scoop up the runny egg and pieces of batter to dip in the salty, spiced sauce. The myoga is a perfect foil with bright flavor and a slight crunch.
Hashimoto says the Hana Tamago is a good reflection of her vision for the restaurant: to create approachable food by taking American ingredients and applying Japanese techniques.
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"When I think about Hana I just want people to have the experience of Japanese food in a very, very basic way," she says. "But as a business we have to be doing something new."
The egg is also becoming one of Hashimoto's signatures. In past years at the Devoured Culinary Classic the chef has served egg-involved dishes such as uni with a raw quail egg and ankimo with a sunny side up quail egg.
They also hold a special place in the chef's family history. Hashimoto's father grew up next door to Gertie Hickman of Hickman Family Farms, the family-owned and operated egg farm that's now one of the nation's largest.