Saturday, April 16, 2016

Thai Oyster Omelette (Hoi Tod - หอยทอด)

People who head to Bangkok would probably be surprised that pad thai is not the most popular street food. It's something called hoi tod.

This is a crispy oyster omelette that is irresistible because it tickles all the different parts of your food longings. There is the super crispy, slightly soft, slithery continuum between the crisp edges, the eggs and the oysters. The oysters, eggs and fish sauce add an absurd umami. The scallions, garlic and cilantro are just classical tastes and the crispy bean sprouts add textural contrast once for added measure.

The recipe is clearly not Thai. It seems to be a Chinese idea ("scallion pancakes") adapted to Thai tastes. However, it's vastly more seductive than pad thai.

Hoi (หอย) refers to any shellfish really. You could use mussels but the one thing that is absolutely necessary is that you shuck them and keep them raw. This is a bigger pain for mussels than oysters (provided you know how to shuck them safely and cleanly.)

The hardest part about this recipe is that you don't have a flat iron surface with a roaring fire underneath. An iron skillet or a non-stick pan are going to come closest provided you pre-heat them and really get them going.

Remember this is street food so you'll have to keep everything ready ("mise-en-place") so that it can go in at high speed. This recipe is really going to test your classical French cooking skills even though it's so easy that it's the most popular street dish in Bangkok.

The recipe is adapted from David Thompson's book but it's so popular that there are tons of recipes all over the web. Clearly, this is a much-loved item.

David Thompson who's probably the leading authority in the world on Thai cooking calls for a mixture of mung bean flour and rice flour but it's hard to find the former. The latter works excellently. However, if you have access to an Indian grocery and bung in some urad flour, it's going to achieve the same result. The goal is crisp and it really resembles more than anything a dosa except it's not fermented and a second layer of eggs is going on top.

Coherence in the French manner of a "perfect" omelette is simply not necessary. Even though you can rather trivially make it into a perfect flipped omelette, such precision for a street dish is rather besides the point. Don't sweat this part. It's far more important that you cook it individually and serve it as quickly as possible.

The dish originated as a fast snack at seaside towns in Thailand before migrating to the rest of the country. So did Sriracha. They are match made in culinary heaven.

The CC's friend noted that while the oysters added a perfect counterpoint, you could easily envision the dish with something that supplied the umami like shiitake mushrooms and the CC would concur. It would also work with something like snails. (This heresy is probably going to make the Thai internet explode with outrage but that's par for the course for a much loved dish.)

There is a savage irony to the fact that notes for a simple street dish are so copious but what can the CC do? It's a choice between an expensive airplane ticket to Thailand or cheap local oysters and making it himself.

That's street food. You need the culture otherwise you are stuck working hard to achieve something that's both dirt-cheap and fast.

Whither, progress?


(per serving)

1/4 cup rice flour
1/2 tsp salt
cold water

3 oysters (shucked)

2 tbsp peanut oil

2 eggs
1 tbsp fish sauce (nahm pla)
1 red chilli sliced fine (prik kee noo)
1 tbsp sugar
1 scallion - both white and green - sliced really fine
white pepper

2 sprigs cilantro (minced)

bean sprouts

1/2 tbsp minced garlic


[1] The Thai overwhelming prefer "white pepper" over "black pepper" for aesthetic reasons. They don't like the black flecks. Sorry but this is one of those details that the CC is simply not going to sweat. Certainly not at brunch.

[2] The traditional "choice" is between "crispy" and "extra crispy". This is trivial to achieve by increasing the proportion of rice/lentil batter and bunging it in at intervals. (Just read below the understand the process.)

[3] The oysters will have plenty of oyster liquor. Separate it, filter it -- East Coast oysters have plenty of grit -- and add it to the egg batter.


First, make the rice flour batter by mixing the rice flour, salt and cold water. The cold water will make it go into suspension faster. It should be slightly thin, slightly salty and when tasted after 10 minutes, not taste like flour. Add some more water otherwise.

Mix the eggs, fish sauce, sugar, chilis, scallions, 1 tbsp of the minced cilantro, and white pepper as a batter in a separate bowl. You won't need salt since the fish sauce is plenty salty.

Pre-heat your skillet. It should be as hot as possible.

Add a tbsp of peanut oil. When hot, ladle the rice batter all around it. It will bubble furiously and start getting crispy right away. Let it cook for a minute or so and gently loosen the edges. Cut into four pieces and push them towards the edges of the skillet.

Add the other tbsp of the oil in the center. Add the minced garlic and let it color a bit. Add the oysters in the center and let them cook for 30 seconds.

Pour the egg batter, gently all over the pan, adding a little bit over the crispier rice batter bits so that it makes it into an omelette. Let it cook. You can flip it if you like but not necessary. The CC prefers that the outside be crisp and the inside soft.

Serve over a bed of bean sprouts with the extra minced cilantro on top. Sriracha on the side.

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