Growing up in a thriving metropolis like Kankakee, Illinois, didn’t offer many opportunities to eat ethnic food; that is unless you count Italian food or pizza as ethnic. I believe it has changed and now the big K3 even has Mexican food, but 40 years ago one would have been hard pressed to find a taco, unless it was a prepared shell, in a cellophane wrapper, at the grocery store. 40 years ago Chinese food was the name of the game and I remember driving 30 minutes to eat at a Chinese restaurant, I think on Route 1 in Monee, Illinois; that is if memory serves me correctly. Kankakee finally got its own Chinese restaurant, of which my family was a big patron.
I remember us munching on such delicacies as eggrolls and wontons and won ton soup and sweet and sour chicken. I don’t remember much else except that whatever it was my middle brother ordered, was only for him. No sharing on his part-yeah- I know there is always one of those! I also remember seeing giant, colorful tiki punches, some even flaming, maneuvering past our table; but we were too young for those!
Sooner or later my mother decided she wanted to learn to cook Chinese food, and after a grand expedition to Chinatown in Chicago, where she bought the store out, she arrived home with ingredients that had nowhere to go. Soon she cleaned a cabinet, found a spot and started taking cooking lessons from the local Chinese restaurant, while amassing a large library of Chinese cookbooks, some of which I still cook from today. Thank goodness for the lessons, because up until that point I believe she only made Chow Mein and Egg Foo Yung-both of which I totally despised. Somehow seeing cans of bean sprouts being opened on the olive green kitchen counter top, was not appealing to me, nor were the chow mein noodles that came in the cellophane bag.
So how is it that a recipe for an egg foo yung sandwich caught my eye? Maybe it caught my eye because I found it in the Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian recipes cookbook, that came out not too long ago. And I do like the Lucky Peach. My son even gave me a subscription to it one year; he had found it before me! Maybe it is because I am a big fan of okonomiyaki-a Japanese-egg pancake-or maybe it is because I like sandwiches that I can call dinner-which is what this one has become several times over. Yes, Manservant really fell for this one, too and I’ve already lost track of the number of times I’ve made this beauty.
Now let it be said that this is also known as a St. Paul sandwich and just so you know, I’ve double checked my facts on that amazing Wikipedia site and they tell me the same thing that is written in the Lucky Peach cookbook, so it must be true. I repeat…Ever since the Chinese immigrants came here to build the railroad-the big, GIANT, Transcontinental railroad, is also when Chinese food made its inroads into America and quickly became Americanized Chinese food . Well, story has it that in St. Louis, MO (yes, I know some of you are from St. Louis, so you can verify my “facts”) these little egg foo yung pancakes, (that my mother used to top with a horrid brown sauce and that also contained canned bean sprouts), were somehow, miraculously, placed between two slices of white bread,(probably the squishy kind), and then somehow got attributed to someone from St. Paul, Minnesota. If that is you please stand up and take a bow! Whereas said paragraph goes on to say that the sandwich is entirely foreign in that said Northern region. Yes, I am sure that is more than you want to know!
What I’m sure you do want to know, is that this is a great meal. Not having a doctorate but being famous in doctoring up, especially when it comes to food, I took lots of liberties with the recipe from the Lucky Peach. Mine is a bit more filling, has a great mayonnaise sauce instead of just the plain mayonnaise, and I put that elusive ingredient that everyone loves into the center of the sandwich. I bet you all guessed ham, hah!-yeah, I know you know-it just has to be bacon!. Besides that I subbed out beansprouts, because unless I venture to the Asian groceries or sometimes I can find them at Sprouts-well, beansprouts are hard to find, and I detest the canned version, and I know you know that already. Well, water chestnuts are a great substitute in my humble opinion and I have no problem opening a can of those. Enough doctoring. Let’s eat!
Egg Foo Yung St. Paul Sandwich
Adapted from: Lucky Peach
Time to Make: About 20 minutes-have your ingredients prepped!
3 T canola oil
1 can of water chestnuts-drained and chopped or 2 c of fresh bean sprouts
1 c finely chopped scallions
4 T of chopped green pepper or jalapenos or serranos
2 t soy sauce
Salt and Pepper
1/2 c chopped ham, chicken or beef (optional) OR
4 large eggs
2 T cornstarch
4 slices of toasted white bread
1/4 c of mayonnaise mixed with 1 T of soy sauce and 1 t of sriracha
6 slices of cooked, crisp bacon
4 crisp slices of Iceberg lettuce
1 tomato, sliced and salted
Lots of dill pickle chips, blotted dry
Cilantro sprigs, optional
Heat 1 T of oil in skillet over medium heat and cook beansprouts, if using, scallions and pepper, about three minutes until veggies are slightly wilted. Transfer to bowl and let cool a bit. Season with soy sauce and salt and pepper.If using ham, chicken or beef, add it to bowl now. Crack eggs into a large measuring cup and add cornstarch. Beat with a fork to combine. Pour over veggies in bowl and stir until everything is coated with egg.
Reheat skillet over medium low heat and add 2 T of oil. Pour about the equivalent of 4 pancakes into skillet and using a spatula try to contain them into 4″ pancakes. Cook until the edges are brown and set, then flip and cook until pancake is puffed and cooked through out. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and keep warm.
Assemble: Spread flavored mayonnaise on toast. Top with bacon, lettuce, tomato, dill pickles, cilantro and 2 pancakes per sandwich. I think that’s it!
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