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Improvisations on foo yung

Szechuan-style foo yung with yellow squash and store-bought pot stickers.

The chickens are laying so well and I am so rich with eggs that I’ve been eating far too much egg foo yung — and, of course, running experiments. This is a post about Szechuan-style sauce. It’s also a post about MSG.

First, about MSG.

I cannot find any scientific reason for being afraid of MSG. Glutamates occur naturally in many foods, especially the tasty ones such as mushrooms and roquefort. As far as I tell, MSG these days is made through a natural fermentation process. I’ll leave you to read up on all that, though, if you’re interested in the rehabilitation of MSG. As for me, I am increasingly convinced that MSG has its place in a healthy, clean-cooking kitchen.

Last week, while sautéeing onions, I added half a teaspoon of MSG, and within a couple of minutes the onions turned very brown, though the heat was low. (I never cook with high heat unless I’m boiling water.) I Googled and couldn’t find a word about any browning capabilities of MSG. But then I read the Wikipedia article, and, sure enough, MSG will get involved in the Maillard reaction — the browning of food. The Wikipedia article says that this occurs under high heat in the presence of sugar, but I can testify that the heat I use is not high, and that the onions brown — very fast! — under much lower heat, and much quicker, than onions would otherwise brown. Onions work well for this, because there is far more sugar in onions than we might think. Now this easy browning is pure alchemy! Not only are your sautéed vegetables nice and brown, the sautée process also leaves a nice brown glaze in the pan which cries out to be deglazed into a savory sauce.

I have been making a Szechuan-style sauce using harisa paste, a pepper paste that actually is Tunisian in origin. I buy it at Whole Foods. But who cares if we mix our regional cuisines. Pepper paste is pepper paste. As readers here know, I almost never write up recipes, because most of the time I don’t use recipes. But the general idea is: Deglaze the sautée pan by bringing some rice vinegar to a boil. Add honey, soy sauce, a little toasted sesame oil, and pepper paste. Reduce it until it foams. It makes a great sauce for tofu, vegetables, foo yung, or whatever.

The pot stickers, by the way, come from the freezer department at Trader Joe’s. They are sold as Thai Gyoza. But I prefer to call them pot stickers. I have tried to make pot stickers, but I just don’t have the touch, and they come out too big and heavy. The Trader Joe’s pot stickers are vegetarian and very reasonably priced.

Onions, sautéed over medium heat until soft

The same onions, same heat, about three minutes after adding a half teaspoon of MSG


  1. Jo wrote:

    Interesting post, particularly regarding MSG. I haven’t used MSG in a long while, but intend to look for it in my local market. The pictures of onions in your post are such a contrast.

    Saturday, December 2, 2017 at 10:16 pm | Permalink
  2. Phil wrote:

    Excellent points on msg! It’s good stuff. It’s umami.

    Sunday, December 3, 2017 at 2:36 am | Permalink

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