Natto in Japan and Beyond

Natto, or fermented soybeans, are everywhere in Japan. There are natto burgers, natto bruschetta made with heaps of natto mixed with melted cheese or tomatoes on toasted bread, and even natto curries and sushi. But the most common way Japanese people eat natto is for breakfast over steamed rice with condiments, such as pickled fruits and vegetables. To me, one of the most interesting things about Japan’s beloved, traditional natto is that there is nothing uniquely Japanese about it. . . [MORE HERE from Zester Daily]

Homemade Natto on Rice
Homemade Natto on Rice

Salted Eggs Revealed

Salted Eggs Ready to Harvest
Salted Eggs Ready to Harvest

Its been a few months since I put up my salted eggs, and over the holidays I noticed that the water they were in had turned a rusty brown from the spices used in preservation. This meant that it was time to harvest them.

I carefully removed a few raw (but preserved) eggs from the jar. A gentle shake of the egg allowed me to feel the hardened yolk inside the shell, but just to be sure they were done, I broke it over a bowl and watched the solid, dark orange yolk spill out of the shell. A lovely site for anyone into preserving and fermenting foods!

Salted Egg Yolk (Raw)
Salted Egg Yolk (Raw)

There are many ways to enjoy salted eggs, but an omelette of mixed eggs is a great way, and one of my favorites. I hardcooked a couple of salted eggs by cooking them for 3 minutes in rapidly boiling water, and set them aside until they were cool enough to handle. Then I peeled the eggs, and chopped them for inclusion in the omelette.

I beat a few, “regular,” eggs, diced some spring onions, and ground a dash of white pepper.  Combine the salted and the unsalted eggs and stir to mix.  Now, salted eggs are salty. No strike that, they are EXTREMELY salty, so I recommend using one or two salted eggs per 3-4 regular eggs per omelette. A higher ratio of salted egg to unsalted egg, and the resulting dish may be to salty to enjoy.

On the subject of salt, some recipes flavor salted eggs with copious amounts of soy sauce. I recommend caution on this because of the saltiness of the eggs. One option is to serve a bit of soy sauce in dipping bowls as part of the meal so diners can dip a bit of omelette into the soy sauce or sprinkle a bit over their portion. Other ways to introduce flavor is to add a bit of minced shrimp or other shellfish, some minced and pickled mustard greens for a bit of pucker, or some fresh or dried ginger for a bit of sweetness.  Be creative – think outside the salt box on this one – you’ll be happier if you do.

Omelette with Salted Eggs
Omelette with Salted Eggs

Just heat a tablespoon or two of sweet butter in a pan and saute the spring onions and any other ingredients you wish to add over medium heat until they are mostly cooked.  Add the eggs and the white pepper and stir quickly with a fork to evenly distribute the salted egg pieces and pepper.  Cook as usual and, if desired, finish under a preheated broiler.  When done, loosen the omelette from the sides and bottom of the pan and invert onto a serving plate.  Serve with condiments: minced spring onions, minced pickled mustard or ginger, soy sauce, or even lavender flowers. It is especially good when served with a selection of steamed Chinese sausage.  If you have a larger group to feed, you can make this dish along with the Eggs with Shrimp and Pidan for some variety of egg dishes at the meal.

Salted eggs in one form or another are eaten all over eastern and southeastern Asia, from China and Vietnam to the Philippines in the east and Sri Lanka in the west.  (Geographically, Sri Lanka is part of south Asia, but so much of its food culture is influenced by southeast asian cuisines that I’m including it in this list.) The process to make them in the Philippines is a bit different and is more like the pidan-making process than the Chinese method of preserving eggs in salt.  In the Philippines, they mix salt with a thick, clay-based mud and coat the eggs with it to salt-cure them.  Other ways of salting eggs that are sometimes confused with this type of salt-preserved egg are eggs marinated in soy mixtures that make the egg taste salty, but do not preserve them.  (Words and all photos by Laura Kelley.)

Garum – Its not as Roman as You Think!

Roman Fish Mosaic
Roman Fish Mosaic

I had the pleasure recently to be a guest on Eat This Podcast with Jeremy Cherfas. On the show, Jeremy and I spoke about the fish sauce garum, how to make it, its origins (not Roman), and its many uses in cooking and as a table condiment. I hope you enjoy the show and consider making some garum for yourself! I also hope that you continue to listen to Eat This Podcast Its a great source of eclectic information about food and cuisines.  Jeremy writes:

Garum is one of those ancient foods that everyone seems to have heard of. It is usually described as “fermented fish guts,” or something equally unappealing, and people often call it the Roman ketchup, because they used it so liberally on so many things. Fermented fish guts is indeed accurate, though calculated to distance ourselves from it. And garum is just one form of fermented fish; there’s also liquamen, muria. allec and haimation. All this I learned from Laura Kelley, author of The Silk Road Gourmet. Unlike most of the people who opine on garum, and who offer recipes for quick garum, she painstakingly created the real deal. She is also convinced that it isn’t really Roman in origin. We only think of it that way because history is written by the victors not the vanquished.  And then there’s the whole question of the Asian fish sauces, Vietnamese nước mắm and the rest of them. Independent discovery, or copied from the Romans?

Other interviews I’ve done are available on the sidebar MP3 Player as well.

Thai Pork with 1000-Year Eggs

This next to last recipe for 1000-Year Eggs might be my favorite way to prepare them.  It is savory, spicy, and hot, and the Thai basil lends a wonderful lightness to both the pork and the eggs for a winning dish.  This recipe also lightly fries half of the Thai basil for a delicious, crunchy herbal topping that one encounters in lots of dishes from Thai street-food vendors.

Thai Pork with Century Eggs
Thai Pork with 1000-Year Eggs

The dish really is delicious! I urge you, however, to be mindful of the number of chili peppers used, because they can quickly overpower the other flavors. I would say that 1 tablespoon makes it mildly to moderately spicy and two tablespoons make it moderately to very spicy. Three tablespoons would probably make this, “Real Thai,” but although that may satisfy the macho or macha in you, it will be too hot for most. I also made the second tablespoons of soy sauce optional, because salt can also overpower the other flavors in the dish.

I hope you enjoy it! Since the moment I first made it, my husband has been asking for it again and again, and was telling some friends about it on the 4th. It’s that good!

Thai Pork with 1000-Year Eggs

4 century eggs
¼- ½ cup flour for coating eggs
1 large handful of fresh Thai basil leaves, split into two parts
½ cup corn or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon each of dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce and palm or cane sugar
1 medium-large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons Thai red chilies, minced
¼ cup pork or beef stock
0.75 – 1 pound of minced pork
1 tablespoon light soy sauce (optional)
1 cucumber, sliced for garnish (optional)

Peel the 1000-Year Eggs and cut into quarters. Roll or dust the quartered eggs in flour and set aside.

If you have a mortar large enough to hold the chilies and garlic, grind briefly before using. Combine the dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce and palm or cane sugar in a small bowl and mix well.

Heat oil in a wok and when just starting to smoke, lightly fry half of the basil leaves until crispy – about 1 minute. Remove from the wok with a slotted spoon or a long-handled Asian cooking sieve. Drain basil on paper towels. Place flour-coated eggs into the hot oil and cook, turning them gently to ensure that all sides of the eggs are cooking. When eggs are a light brown, remove them and drain on paper towels.

Discard all but a few tablespoons of oil. If however oil has become scorched, it’s fine to clean the wok and fill it with a couple of tablespoons of new oil. It’s also fine to add a tablespoon of sesame oil for flavor if desired.

When the oil is hot in the wok, add the sliced onion and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until the onion begins to color. Then add the garlic and stir fry for another minute before adding the chili peppers and frying for another 1-2 minutes. Add the minced pork and stir until well combined with the other ingredients. Pour the stock and mixed sauce over all and stir well. Cook for 2-3 minutes and add the uncooked portion of the Thai basil and stir into the mix. Cook another 2-3 minutes and add the 1000-Year Eggs and fold them into the dish. Cook another 1-2 minutes to warm the eggs and turn out onto a serving platter.

Top with fried Thai basil leaves. If desired add some sliced cucumbers around the edge of the platter, or serve separately. Enjoy!