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]
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
We harvested the 1000-year eggs and are finally getting around to preparing and eating some of the crop. The color is right, and a few of them have the pine-patterning that their CHinese name suggests on their dark, amber-colored flesh. They taste good, but are MUCH milder than some of the Pidan I’ve had in China. They are also missing the strong ammonia-like scent that accompanies some commercial century eggs I’ve had.
For those of you who are just tuning in to this culinary adventure of mine, check out this post to see how the eggs were transformed. This is how they looked the morning I harvested them:
They didn’t look particularly appetizing at this stage. But swim on, I told myself, the results will be worth it. I cleaned them using a bit of water and some elbow grease, but I had to be very gentle so as to not crack the shells. The shells are rather delicate by the end of the process, because they have been permeated by the chemical brew of tea, salt, ash and lime.
Some of the shells had a bluish tinge to them and some of them were a mottled off-white as shown above. When the first crack revealed a solid amber flesh, I was overjoyed! All of the eggs were transformed, but some were a bit runny in their forest-green centers. After cleaning, I let them dry completely and then placed them in the refrigerator until I could prepare them. I was very pleased with the results:
This is one of the most common ways to serve them – simply as a snack, or appetizer, or part of a large collection of dishes that might also include pickled diakon radish and pickled carrots, some sliced abalone or some and barbequed pork. The presentation pictured here is most like the Cantonese way of eating the eggs – simply wrapped in slices of pickled ginger. Elsewhere around China and Taiwan people enjoy them with tofu or as a flavoring to omelets made with fresh eggs.
My eggs were creamy but still a bit sharp, sort of like the sharpness of a very pungent cheese. So don’t blindly believe all of the macho videos out there that show nervous boys choking them down. The flavor is strong, but enjoyable. In the preparation I made, the ginger works nicely to modulate the flavor of the eggs, and the soy dipping sauce is completely optional in my personal opinion.
Other ways to prepare them that I am set to explore soon include using them to flavor a congee (rice porridge) along with bits of pork (皮蛋瘦肉粥), and perhaps one of the recipes with chilled tofu – so stay tuned for more 1000-year eggs. (All words and photos by Laura Kelley.)
So, as promised, I spent several hours yesterday making 1000 Year Eggs. That is, I coated a dozen and a half duck eggs with caustic mud, rolled and pressed them in rice chaff, and set them aside to dry. Later I placed them in a soil-lined ceramic crock and will let them sit for three to three-and-a-half months, before checking to see if I did it right. I’m sure if they start to rot instead of chemically change, we will be aware of it.
To start off, the eggs in the mud looked like this:
Then one thoroughly (and evenly) coats them with the mud:
And lastly, after they are covered with rice chaff, they look like this:
And now we wait. . . three whole months for the chemical conversions to take place inside the egg. After the ingredients to make pidan are mixed, the following chemical reactions take place:
CaO + H2O -> Ca(OH)2
Ca(OH)2 + Na2CO3 -> 2NaOH + CaCO3
Na2O3 + H2O -> 2NaOH + O2
K2O + H2O -> 2KOH
*The Na2O3 and K2O are from the plant ash
Because of the porosity of the egg shell, NaOH is first adsorbed to the surface, and, owing to a change in the osmotic pressure, NaOH enters the egg through the pores and subsequently penetrates the semi-permeable membrane, coming into contact with the egg protein, causing it to become denaturized and hydrolysed into polypeptides and finally into amino acids.
The result is that 1000 Year Eggs are much higher in protein and much lower in carbohydrates than unpreserved duck eggs. Other nutritional elements such as amino acids and fatty acids are about equal between the two egg forms, although the preserved egg generally has a bit less of everything in it.
The recipe follows:
1000 Year Eggs
3 – 4 cups black tea brewed very strong + strained tea leaves
2/3 cup sea salt
3 cups wood ash
3 cups charcoal ash
1 ¾ cups quicklime
18 fresh duck eggs
2-3 pounds rice chaff
I procured all of the ingredients from internet retailers except the wood and charcoal ash which our neighbors were generous enough to donate to the project in exchange for a chance to taste the bounty of the experiment. We also had the sea salt and tea on hand.
- Brew the tea. I used at least a cup of loose tea leaves for 8 cups of water (I did say strongly brewed, right?) Let the tea sit for at least an hour to get really strong. In the meantime, find a large, non-reactive vessel (like a plastic painter’s bucket or other very large and deep bowl) and put the salt, ashed and quicklime into the bowl. When the tea is done, add about 3 cups and stir well. Then strain the tea, preserving both the liquid and the solids and add the spent tea leaves to the mud mixture. If necessary, add more brewed tea until the mud is a thick, but not watery solution.
- Put on latex or other protective gloves. The mud is caustic and will cause skin discomfort.
- Place the first batch of eggs into the mud and coat them well. I let mine sit for about 15 minutes before moving on to the next step. Find a large, deep bowl and fill it with rice chaff. After the eggs have rested in the mud, take them up one at a time and make sure they are completely coated. I found that the mud was a bit sticky and almost serous and didn’t want to adhere to the surface of the shell. When the coating is more or less uniform, place the egg in the chaff. Wipe excess mud off of your gloves by scraping on the edge of the vessel holding the mud. Then take handfulls of chaff and cover the egg with it completely. Pick up the egg and put chaff on the reverse side if needed. Then lightly compress the egg in your hand to try to get the chaff to bond with the mud. Remember the egg is raw and don’t squeeze too hard. When the chaff fully coats the egg (add more chaff if necessary), set it on a plate and move onto the next egg.
When all of the intended eggs are coated with mud and chaff, clean up. I let my eggs sit overnight before burying them in soil and lime. I used soil from outside (not potting soil) to fill the crock to get some natural microorganisms in the mix. If you have a choice of soils around your yard, use one with a high clay content. Set crock in an out-of-the-way place outside and wait a few months. I placed my eggs in a decorative sort of crock and put the crock in the garden as an ornament. Water is crucial to the process and the crock needs to be open to the rain to get wet and dry in cycles.
The reaction that causes the preservation proceeds more rapidly in warmer weather than in colder weather, so I will be waiting the full 100 days before checking on the eggs. Then you can look forward to posts exploring the flavor of these, wonderful ancient delicacies. (Words and recipe by Laura Kelley; All Photos by Laura Kelley)
The correct answer is indeed 1000 Year eggs! (Contest closed: January 26, 2013)
The ingredients listed from left to right are: Duck eggs, rice chaff (for coating the eggs), black tea, lime and ashes (a combination of wood ash and charcoal ash.)
For those of you not in the know, 1000 Year Eggs, or Century eggs are a Chinese delicacy, eaten all over the country, except perhaps in the western, Turkic parts of the country. (As least I have never encountered them in the west). They are made by coating the eggs with a mud-like mixture of the ingredients above, along with a large amount of salt and burying them or aging them in a crock with soil for several months. The coating with caustic mixture and sodium and aging makes the firm ‘white’ of the egg turn amber and gelatinous and the yolk a dark, sea-mud green as shown in the photograph.
An egg processed thus tastes nothing like an egg. It has a sharp, almost cheesy flavor and a strong almost ammonia-like odor. Despite the description they are quite tasty and are enjoyed en seul, or with a variety of vinegar-based dipping sauces, drizzled with sesame oil, served with pickled ginger and tofu, served with a stir-fry of pork and spring onions (along with tofu and other ingredients). 1000 Year eggs can also be cut up and added to almsot any dish. They are commonly added to savory congees and tofu dishes.
As soon as it warms up enough to spend an extended period outside, I’ll be putting up a batch. I’ve got all the ingredients, its just a matter of letting the snow melt some. Of course, I’ll photograph the production and the harvesting of the eggs – sort of like how I recorded the making of garum the traditional way.
Great answers, everyone! Thanks for guessing!
I will giveaway two books – why not, right? Ellen and Mike, please send me your postal addresses and I’ll get your books in the mail ASAP!
In Heaven there is Dragon Meat, and
On Earth there is Donkey Meat
That is the saying in Northwest China, in Gansu province and the bordering areas of Xinjiang, Qinghai, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia. Donkey is revered as the earthly equivalent to dragon meat, and it is widely sought after and enjoyed by many.
Donkey meat is also available in Beijing, Shanghai and most big cities in between, but Gansu is the epicenter of donkey cuisine and where the most delicious dishes can be found. I sampled several donkey dishes, but by far the most delicious was the Donkey with Yellow Noodles (lurou huangmian) had in Dunhuang and pictured here.
The meat is tender, sweet and delicious. It tastes nothing like pork or beef. For obvious reasons, it does taste a little like horse, only it is sweeter and more tender, and like horse and many hoofy game meats it is also low in fat and high in protein. In addition to tasting good and being a healthy meat, it is also, very inexpensive, which I am sure adds to its popularity. The strips of charchuterie donkey meat for dipping are a little plain, the sandwiches and burgers are too ‘bready’ and the starch interferes with the great flavor of the meat (I favor buffalo steaks over burgers any old day as well), but for this wandering girl, the donkey with yellow noodles was just right. Another thing I like about the dish, was that it was a very “Asian” way to enjoy the dish.
I haven’t fully reconstructed this recipe yet, but my notebook reads: “Lots of sliced garlic, a bit of chopped ginger, spring onions and chilies are stir fried in sesame oil for a few minutes. Mixed vegetables (carrots, sweet red pepper, tomato) and mushrooms are added and sauteed until tender. Toss and add light soy and rice wine (Shaoxing) with a bit of cane or brown sugar and stir. Add tofu (if desired). Some mustard greens are added into the fray and then the precooked donkey slices. Cover and cook to warm. Drain noodles, toss with a light coating of sesame oil if desired. When greens are tender but still bright green and meat warm, remove wok from the heat and serve.” In the restaurant, the noodles were tossed with the meat and vegetables before service and served with chilies marinated in oil and a strong, dark vinegar. Don’t be afraid – its delicious!
Another way that I tried and really liked donkey was as donkey kebabs on the street. These are tiny little rib kebabs. Little mouthfuls of meat that are more like Yakitori than like a large Turkic-derived kebab. And the ones I had had been marinating in chilies and sugar and soy and had a light chili paste coating on them. This offset the usually sweet taste of donkey and made it sweet and spicy at the same time. Sort of a teryaki-like taste but hotter and richer – really good!
As evident in the opening saying, the donkey is revered in Chinese culture – and not only for their taste. The donkey is revered in poetry and painting as the animal that carries the wandering poet or artist on his journeys.
Caught In Drizzle At Sword Gate Pass
Lu You 1125-1210
Traveling clothes, dust caked, wine stained,
Journeying far, overwhelmed by grief.
In this life what am I?
only a poet
straddling a donkey
Entering Sword Gate in a drizzling rain.
These journeys are crucial to artist’s ability to create because they provide him the experience of the world from which his art flows. Sometimes they carry the artist away from his worldly disappointments in the city and into the more spiritual realm of nature and art. In other world views, the donkey is one of Kali’s mounts and in the Christian faith, guess who carried the holy family to Bethlehem and into Egypt? A beast of burden, yes. But also something much more. Something to think about if you venture east and try some donkey delicacies. (Words by Laura Kelley. Photo of Donkey Meat with Yellow Noodles by Laura Kelley; Photo of Yakitori-like Donkey Kebabs by Xiye @ Dreamstime.com).
We returned home from China a few days ago, my mind is still awash with all of the fantastic food I encountered on our combination family vacation and food research trip. We sampled a wide variety of food from fine restaurants in big cities serving national and regional specialties to street vendors dolling out snacks for a single yuan or two. We toured outdoor markets serving cooked food as well as huge, modern supermarkets where locals buy fresh produce and staples as well as fresh dumplings, rolls and breads. I even bought an armful of unusual, local snacks at the Xi’an Airport which included Yak Jerky and Dried Chicken Feet. In addition to sampling and enjoying food, I’ve brought back recipes and food ideas that I will have to reconstruct and share with you.
In Beijing and Shanghai, we sampled classic dishes such as Shark’s Fin Soup, Bird’s Nest Soup, Hong Kong Roast Goose, Deep-Fried Pigeon and Stir-Fried Abalone. We also enjoyed a modern take on Peking Duck, called BaYe Duck, that is prepared exclusively at Hua’s Restaurant in Beijing. This last dish is interesting, because it is representative of a new, lighter Chinese cuisine called Beijing cuisine in which traditional dishes are prepared with modern health sensibilities in mind.
Xi’an was all about local food and drink for us. We sampled a variety of local “wine” which was really corn-based liquor (aka Chinese moonshine) flavored with pomegranates, saffron, ginseng and wolfberries and the strangest with starfish, sanddollars, a turtle and what might have been a lizard. The drinks flavored with pomegranates and saffron were good and had a great flavor, the other two just tasted sharp to me – not something I would reach for a second time unless they had fantastic health benefits attached to it. On the other hand, the tea we had in Xi’an – blooming jasmine, pu’er, and dragon-well tea were keepers that I brought home loose or pressed in decorative tea cakes
Other local food we had in Xi’an include hand-stretched noodles in a rich broth and thousand year eggs as part of an incredible buffet. We also had grilled mutton spiced with cumin, babaojing rice cakes flavored with jujube and jam, and persimmon cakes – all food that arose from the Shaanxi Muslim community.
Dumplings were everywhere – stuffed with pork, cabbage, fish, and combinations of meat and vegetables, and we enjoyed them with dipping sauces or sliced baby ginger and salted cucumber sticks. They also have marvelous “soup dumplings” that are served with straws for you to enjoy steaming hot soup before the cooked dumpling dough. These are made with a mixture of meat and aspic that then becomes “soup” when steamed. We trudged through the long queue in Shanghai’s Yu Yuan Bazaar for an authentic soup dumpling from the source at the Nanxiang Bun Shop.
I’ll be writing about these experiences and more over the next few weeks and I hope you tune in to enjoy the descriptions, cultural significance and when possible, recipes for some of the food we sampled. (Words and Photos by Laura Kelley).
A news item caught my eye recently that blended two of my favorite subjects – cuisine and biology. Long story short is that a species of asexual lizard previously undocumented by scientists has been discovered in Southern Vietnam recently. Neat thing about the story is that the lizard was discovered in a restaurant – grilled and plated and ready to be consumed. Lizards for lunch.
A Vietnamese scientist stopped for a bite at a local eatery-pub in Southern Vietnam and noticed that the lizards on the plate were all female, which he thought a bit unusual. Not looking like other regional asexual species, he realized that he had potentially identified a species “new” to science and contacted colleagues at La Sierra University in the United States to help him confirm the find.
Well, sure enough. The Americans sweep in to check out the new lizards and lo and behold the restaurant has grilled up the last of the crop and there are no potential type specimens to inspect. Being resourceful, the scientists pay a bunch of kids to go catch some more of the ones usually served up at the restaurant. They hit paydirt when the kids came back with bunches of the critters – all female, all reproducing asexually, all identical genetically (with minor, standard variations due to replication error). A new species and an interesting one to boot.
All manner of lizards, insects and small mammals are on the menu in Southeastern and Eastern Asia, so it is no surprise that people are eating them. In fact, these new lizards (Leiolepis ngovantrii) are usually marinated and grilled with lemongrass after being prepped by boiling and soaking in banana leaves and are apparently quite tasty. The Thais forego the lemongrass and serve lizard on a heaping bed of their delicious basil.
Interesting thing is that the locals knew all about this “unknown” species and had been enjoying it for years. So, in addition to remote jungles and mountaintops, scientists should add “local pub” to the places where they can make great new discoveries. From experience, scientists have over the centuries made many great discoveries in pubs – but none before like this. (Words by Laura Kelley; Photos by Scientific Staff of La Sierra University. Read more about the discovery in Zootaxa 2433:47-61 (2010)).