Wherever I go, for work or for personal travel, I like to hit a good restaurant during my trip. If that restaurant can be a Silk Road restaurant, all the better. I had the chance this past weekend to find a little gem of a Chinese restaurant in downtown Ithaca, New York. Spicy Asian restaurant is a small place on Elmira Road, that delivers a knockout of a great dinner.
The restaurant has two menus. the first is packed with Chinese-American standards like General Tso’s Chicken and Orange Chicken as well as Egg Rolls and Wonton Soup. The second menu, and the reason I chose to dine there, is a menu filled with authentic Szechuan specialities featuring sour cabbage, tripe, frog, pig trotters, and fish prepared in a myriad of different ways.
I started with a couple of appetizers I just couldn’t resist: peanuts in black vinegar and a tea egg. The peanuts were boiled to perfection and mixed with black vinegar, Asian cucumbers and spring onions, and the tea egg was fragrant with star anise and cinnamon with a gentle flavor of strong black tea.
For the main course, I chose the Sliced Fish with Sour Cabbage. The fish was tender but firm, and easy to eat with chopsticks, in a savory and lightly sour brown sauce. The cabbage was sliced into long ribbons that provided a strongly sour accent to the mild white fish.
I sipped green tea throughout the meal and afterwards got to chat with the owner’s mother and beautiful young daughter. I wish I had more time to spend with them and their little gem of a restaurant, and I have only one regret – that I wasn’t dining with a group of people to sample more of their wonderful food.
If you are in Ithaca and looking for some really good Szechuan specialities, Spicy Asian is highly recommended.
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 grew up in a very closely knit Italian-American community in the suburbs of New York City. Nearly everyone I knew as a child was related to me by blood or marriage. It was a world of cousins. There was an Italian-American club where old men played bocce, crazy car-horns that played the tarantella, and there was the great, carnival-like Summer Festa, that seemed to bring the whole town out to Saint Anthony’s school to gamble, play games, and, of course, eat. Food was everywhere, and people loved eating – not just at the Festa but in everyday life. Sunday dinners were serious business, and you didn’t skip them without a really good excuse.
So, when Sasha Martin, of the Global Table Adventure, asked me to participate in her Feast of Seven Fishes event, I had to pause and wonder how I had missed out on this wonderful Christmas-Eve tradition growing up. A little research and I found out that it is specifically an Italian-American Christmas-Eve event that is practiced by people who came from southern Italy. (That would rule out my ancestors who were from an area between Bologna and Ravenna.) It also is a relatively new concept that has been quickly growing in popularity since Mario Batali and other Food Network stars started demonstrating recipes for special Christmas Eve fish-only dinners. There are even restaurants that now offer special menus for people wishing to celebrate the Feast.
The seven fishes that either stand for the seven sacraments or the number of days that it supposedly took God to create the universe. Sometimes, there are more than seven dishes – nine for three times the holy trinity, or 13 for the apostles plus Jesus. No matter the number of dishes, there always seems to be an effort to couple them with an element of religious symbolism. A Christmas Eve fish-themed dinner. It must be an American concept. Americans love theme dinners.
On to my own recipe for Sasha’s Feast: Sweet and Savory Eel – Chinese Style. What is a Chinese dish doing at an Italian-American feast? Well, Silk Road, Marco Polo . . . it fits, in a loosely-tight sort of way. Actually, Italians of all varieties love eel and eat it when they can, and there are loads of wonderful recipes for it from the Mediterranean and beyond. Its my job to focus on the beyond. So, Sweet and Savory Eel. This recipe is adapted from a Chinese homestyle recipe, generously shared with me by my friend Dimon. It is delicious, easy to prepare, and well worth the effort of handling the slimy beasts. Lots of ginger and garlic form the base of the savory brown sauce with tangerine peel, maple syrup, and a few chili peppers providing the grace notes.
Sweet and Savory Eel
1.5 – 2 pounds fresh eel, cut into 1.5 inch sections
Tapioca flour as needed (for dusting)
3-4 tablespoons of corn oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 small bunch (4-6) spring onions, chopped
2 -3 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
5-6 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Peels from 2 tangerines, dried and thinly sliced, or minced
3-4 dried red chili peppers, diced (I use Japones)
2 cups of brown rice wine
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce (or a mix of dark and light)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 cup water or fish stock
1 sweet, red bell pepper, thinly sliced
Dust the eel slices with tapioca flour, and tap on the edge of a plate when done to remove excess flour. Heat corn oil in a large sauté pan until smoking hot. Add the coated eel slices and sauté until golden. Remove eel from the pan with a slotted spoon and let cool on a plate.
Drain off most of the corn oil and add sesame oil to sauté pan and warm it up. Add spring onions and sauté until they start to soften. Then add the garlic and ginger slices and cook on low-to-medium, stirring often, until the ginger colors or the garlic swells. Add the tangerine peel and chillies and cook well, adding part of the rice wine to moisten as needed.
Add the rest of the rice wine and heat to almost boiling. Reduce the heat, and immediately add the eel slices. Cook on a low-to-medium simmer for five minutes, then add the dark soy sauce and the maple syrup, cover, and lower the heat to a low simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes. Then add water or fish stock to moisten the sauce and bring back to a simmer. Add the sliced peppers, then cover and cook for another 15-20 minutes until the eel is beginning to soften. Stir well and cook for another 10 minutes or so until eel is soft, and peppers are cooked. Depending on the desired consistency of the sauce, you may cook uncovered if you want a thicker sauce.
Serve with rice, tangerine slices, more spring onions, or the condiments of your choice.
NB: To be authentically Chinese, the eel should be a river eel or swamp eel. The salt-water eels often used in other cuisines would offer a much sharper flavor and change the recipe significantly. The right type of eel are usually sold live at larger Asian markets. You can ask the fish mongers to cut and clean the animals to order, to minimize handling them. This is an important bit of advice to consider, because when eels get stressed (like when a fish monger reaches into a bucket, grabs them), they get even more slimy than usual. If you ever taken a graduate genetics lab, and know what its like to handle stessed hagfish – this is exactly the same.
The Feast of Seven Fishes undoubtedly has its roots in the traditional Italian vigil feast, which is celebrated all over Italy. However, unlike those feasts, the Feast of Seven Fishes is a fish-only extravaganza with the number of dishes symbolically tied to Catholic themes. At a traditional vigil feast, for example, one would be unlikely to find meat dishes (at least in a strictly Catholic home), but you would find meat-based soups (like a chicken broth with tortellini or “cap-lets” as we grew up calling them), sauces with meat stock or broth in them, butter, cheese and eggs – all meat products.
Also, how the Church has defined, “meat” over the years is really fascinating. Generally, the prohibition extends only to terrestrial mammals and birds; whereas aquatic animals of all types were allowed. At different times in history, the Church has also allowed Catholics to eat mammals that spend a lot of time in water during lent and other no-meat fast and vigil days. This means that Catholics in Quebec ate beaver and Latin Catholics ate (and still do eat) capybara on no-meat Fridays or in times of fasting. Likewise, reptiles and amphibians are on the Lenten or fasting menu in places where it is traditional for the secular populous to eat them.
What I suspect is the Feast of Seven Fishes was a tradition in a very local part of Southern Italy – probably somewhere deep in the foot of the boot – that immigrants brought with them. It spread within the neighborhoods they emigrated to and is now being projected back as broadly, “Italian,” by their descendants and others who have adopted the practice.
Although I am a stickler for detail, to me its wonderful and interesting that the Feast of Seven Fishes is taking on a life of its own in the New World of the 20th and 21st Centuries. It is the birth of a new food tradition, right before our eyes! And another example of how cuisines are constantly evolving. Whenever you try this recipe, whether for the Feast of Seven Fishes or at some other time, prepare it and share it with loved ones – now, that’s Italian!
Expand your Feast of the 7 Fishes menu with these delicious ideas:
I love to be of use. It turns me on to help people and to help them figure things out. To that end, this recipe is a request from a colleague who loves Chinese culture and cuisine and who is learning how to make some delicious and interesting dishes. Earlier today she asked me if I had a recipe for Chinese salted eggs. Wouldn’t you know, I put up a bunch only 6-8 weeks ago and the are about ready for harvest! I am happy to oblige the request, so here it goes. . .
Salted eggs are usually duck (tho’chicken eggs can be used as well) that are preserved in a flavored brine for 6-8 weeks. There are many ways to flavor the brine, but the most common way is to use Sichuan pepper and star anise along with some chilies (and of course lots of salt). A couple of months in brine firms the yolk and darkens it significantly. It also deepens and changes the flavor of the egg and makes it stand out in when used in congees, stir fries with shrimp or more often with pork, in dumplings or even occasionally in soup. As some of your may have noticed, salted eggs were used in several of the thousand-year egg recipes that I featured a couple of months back. Without further ado, the recipe:
6 cups water
1.5 cups coarse sea salt
2 Tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns
4 Star anise corms
4 Red chili peppers
12 chicken or duck eggs
Five to six hours before you wish to make salted eggs, bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. As it heats, dissolve salt into the water in batches, taking care that all of the salt dissolves into the water (the water should clear as the salt dissolves). Bring to a full rolling boil and let cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Cool the salt-saturated water to room temperature.
Clean and sterilize a couple of pint size mason jars if salting chicken eggs. You may need a third jar if salting a dozen duck eggs or any larger egg. It’s fine to reuse lids and seals, because an airtight seal is not required. Just make sure that all parts of the container are clean.
Place 1 tablespoon of Szechuan peppercorns in each jar. Then add 2 star anise corms and 2 chili peppers to each jar as well. Then take each jar in hand and tilt it horizontally. Slide the uncooked eggs gently into the jar. I can usually fit 6 chicken eggs into each jar. I leave at least 1 inch of space from the rim to ensure that the brine covers the eggs completely. There will be leftover brine.
When done fitting the eggs into the jars, place the jars on the counter and fill with brine and seal. Let sit for 15 minutes or so, as the brine begins to permeate the egg shells. Then place in a cold place – refrigerator or cellar/garage in cold weather and leave for at least 1 month.
After 4-6-weeks has elapsed, remove 1 egg from the brine and crack the shell over a bowl. If the eggs are properly brined, the yolk will be firm and oftentimes a bit darker in color from uncooked eggs. If the yolk is as runny as that in an uncooked egg, the eggs need more time to brine. Reseal the jars and leave them for another couple of weeks.
Once the eggs are done, they must be cooked before one eats them. They can be cooked as an ingredient of a dish (as in steamed three eggs) or hard boiled before using.
Variations: There are many ways to flavor the brine. Szechuan peppercorns and star anise are just the most commonly used traditional ingredients. Other ingredients to add include, a bit of peeled garlic or ginger, or a different spice mix. Some people also add a bit of rice wine to reduce the odor of the eggs and to keep bacterial growth to a minimum.
One of the important holiday uses of salted eggs in Southern China is as part of the filling for moon cakes along with red bean or lotus seed paste. These moon cakes are eaten as part of the Mid-Autumn Festival which is a harvest festival that in many cases honors the moon. There are myths told from ancient times of husbands and wives separated by magical elixirs and of women (like Chang’e pictured here) who become part of the moon that are part of this festival as well. But the salted egg with its dark, salty yolk is the archetypal symbol of the moon in Southern Chinese culture and in many of the cultures along the Mekong as well. When you eat a salted egg, you consume the moon and with it its powers of renewal and rejuvenation.
This is a quintessential Uyghur Dish. Stir-fried chicken, potatoes and bell peppers in a rich, savory sauce redolent with star anise and cinnamon. Roasted cumin flavors the base of the sauce, with black cardamom lending a smoky taste, and Sichuan pepper offering up a few bright, spicy lights. Interestingly, the heat of this dish is extremely variable and ranges from mild to four-alarm hot, although most people prefer the dish with moderate to high heat. As written, the dish is moderately spicy and sure to please anyone who desires a taste of The Silk Road.
2 cups water
¼ cup light soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 whole black cardamom pods
2 star anise pods
1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
2 pounds of chicken (bone-in pieces or boneless breast meat)
3 tablespoons hsao xing rice wine
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons black rice vinegar
1 tablespoon broad bean paste (Doubanjiang) *
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper
3 – 4 star anise pods
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small bunch spring onions (6-8 stalks) roughly chopped **
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1½ – 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced or minced
1 heaping tablespoon Uyghur five-spice mix
6-8 dried mild-to-moderately hot red chili peppers ***
1 cup water
2-3 medium golden potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ -inch chunks
2 medium red bell peppers, cored and cut into chunks
2 tomatoes, diced
Method Marinate the chicken. Mix the liquid marinade ingredients together in a large bowl. Break the cinnamon stick into pieces and lightly crush the black cardamom and the star anise pods before adding to the marinade. Add salt and stir well. Add chicken pieces and stir well to evenly coat the chicken with the marinade. Cover and rest at least overnight, stirring occasionally.
Preparing to cook. In a small bowl, mix together the hsao xing, light and dark soy sauces, black vinegar, bean paste, sugar and salt. Stir well until sugar and other solids are dissolved. Lightly crush the Szechuan pepper and the star anise pods and stir into the mixture. When other ingredients and prepared, drain chicken but do not rinse.
Cooking. Heat the oil in a wok on high heat and when the oil begins to smoke add the drained chicken pieces and stir fry for about 3-4 minutes or until the chicken becomes opaque and starts to color. Remove meat from the wok with a slotted spoon or strainer and set aside.
If necessary add a bit more oil to the wok and when it smokes, add the spring onions and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic begins to swell and color. Add the ginger and stir for another minute or two. Add the Uyghur 5-spice mix and the whole chili peppers and stir well to coat the onion mix in the wok. Cook for 1 minute to warm the spices.
Add about 1/3 – to ½ cup of the water and stir. When the water has heated up, add the potato slices and stir well. Cover and cook for 6-8 minutes stirring occasionally. Add more water as necessary to keep the potatoes from burning.
Now add the bell peppers and tomatoes and stir – lifting more than stirring to keep the partially cooked potatoes intact. Give the hsao xing and soy sauce mixture a good stir to bring the solids back into solution and then pour into the wok and stir once more. Cover and cook for 3-4 minutes then add the chicken back into the wok and stir. Cover and cook another 3-5 minutes or until the chicken has warmed and the rest of the vegetables are cooked but still firm.
Plate and serve with rice, noodles, or naan flatbread.
My favorite things about Big Plate Fried Chicken – called “Chong Tahsilik Tohu Qorimisi,” in Uyghur – are the clear links the recipe has with Central Asian and Himalayan cuisines. In particular, the rich star-anise laden sauce has many variants across Central Asia and the use of black cardamom is common in the Himalayas and parts of Central Asia. That said, however, there are several clearly Chinese ingredients as well, such as black vinegar, broad bean paste and hsao xing rice wine. Although Chinese in origin, Sichuan pepper has many close relatives (same genus, different species) that impart similar flavors in Himalayan cuisine as well, so it is difficult to know whether this ingredient links the recipe to China, or to the Himalayas. The bottom line is that this is a UYGHUR dish, and as such it is a product of the Silk Road that joins ingredients and preparation methods from a variety of cultures to form its own unique recipe. Uyghur cuisine is a one of the world’s lesser-known fusion cuisines.
Big Plate Fried Chicken is available everywhere in Xinjiang Province. It is a standard in restaurants and is also a commonly prepared home-cooked meal. It can be served as single main course – which is the most common presentation at lunchtime – or it can be part of a larger multi-course (usually) evening meal. With only a couple of changes, the sauce is used with lamb or mutton as well as chicken.
Some adjustments have been made in cooking to adjust for vessel shape and material. Uyghurs usually prepare stews in a large cast iron pot with slightly slanted sides very much like the Uzbek qozon or cauldron. These vessels can get blazingly hot, but like any cast-iron pot or pan, they take a long time to heat up and to cool down. The meat and the potatoes cook much quicker Uyghur style than they do in a steel wok. Because of this, I suggest stir-frying the meat first, then removing it from the stew while the vegetables cook, and then returning it to heat up before serving.
* I used the kind that has few (if any) chili peppers in it (low heat).
** If you use the giant Asian spring onions, 1-2 should suffice.
*** Any mild-to-moderate red chili will work, but I used Japone chilies.
(Words, recipe and photograph of Uyghur Big Plate Chicken by Laura Kelley.)
We’ve come to the end of our current exploration of Century Eggs – from making them from scratch, to mixing them with other ingredients and preparing dishes with them. This is recipe number ten of ten, and what a nice way to end a series it is. This is a soup – a homestyle recipe – that is enjoyed across China as well as in East and Southeast Asia. It uses Chinese Spinach, also called Yin Choi or Yin Tsai, to flavor a delicate, egg-drop style soup that is savory, delicious and filling.
The soup is also very quick to make, and takes about 20 minutes from the beginning of preparation to serving. It could be a bit more time if you chose to let the wolfberries stew in the chicken broth a bit, for a sweeter soup.
The Chinese Spinach or Yin Choi (Yin Tsai) is really a form of edible amaranth that comes in a variety or shapes and colors. My favorite is the type with a purple blush up the center of the otherwise green leaf, it makes for a beautiful presentation. Alas, this form is not always available around here, so for this dish, I used one of the all-green varietals. Yin Choi is delicious, and very nutritious. It is extremely high in Vitamin A (2770 IU/100g) and is also a good source of Vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and iron. Other greens are sometimes substituted for amaranth, and it is not uncommon to see the thin, spear-like leaves of water spinach used in variations of this dish.
Another interesting thing about the soup is that it makes use of goji berries – also called wolfberries in English – and can thus be considered a medicinal soup as well as just a dish that is comforting and good to eat. The goji berries are high in iron, selenium, riboflavin, Vitamin C and other antioxidants, as well as a wide variety of phytochemicals such as beta-carotene. and amino acids. They also contain small amounts of atropine, an acetylcholine receptor antagonist. In plain English, this means that the atropine in goji berries binds at the receptor sites used by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and dilates the pupils, increases heart rate, and reduces salivation and other secretions. In much larger doses than those provided by goji berries, atropine is used as an antidote to a number of toxins, including organophosphate insecticides and some chemical nerve agents such as tabun, sarin, VX and soman.
So you have a recipe using Century Eggs that make a delicious, medicinal soup that also protects you from chemical weapons. Does it get any better than this?
Chinese Spinach Soup with Century Eggs
1 pound Chinese Spinach (also called yin choi or yin tsai)
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup plus 1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons wolfberries
1-2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2-3 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 century egg, quartered
1 cooked salted egg, quartered
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon of sesame oil (or to taste)
Wash spinach and drain well. Separate leaves from stalks, and cut stalks into 2-3 inch sections.
In a large saucepan, bring chicken stock and 1 cup of water to a rolling boil, and add the wolfberries. Lower heat to a low simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes. (If you desire a stronger wolfberry flavor, remove from heat and cover the pot to allow berries to stew a bit.)
Return broth to a boil and add soy sauce and garlic. Then add the spinach stalks. Cover saucepan and boil for about 2-3 minutes. Pour cornstarch and water mixture into pan a bit at a time, stirring constantly until desired thickness is achieved.
Add the leaves of the Chinese Spinach and after the leaves begin to wilt, add the sliced century and salted eggs. Boil for about 1 minute Add salt and pepper.
Turn off heat and slowly pour in the beaten egg and stirring vigorously to thread the egg as you do. Add sesame oil, and mix. Serve immediately with extra sesame oil and other condiments as desired.
Variations: There are many variations of this dish. One of the most popular is a spinach in sauce that can be achieved by reducing the chicken broth and water by half and adjusting the seasonings accordingly (reduce soy, reduce pepper). One can also omit the garlic and add a couple of teaspoons of sugar to emphasize the goji berries in a less savory broth. The dish can also be made suitable for vegetarians (assuming they eat eggs) if a strong vegetable broth is substituted for the chicken broth.
I really like this recipe. It is as comforting and homey as an egg-flower soup can be with the added flavor of the amaranth, goji berries, and of course, the Century Eggs. In truth, the Century Eggs provide something of a foil to the rest of the soup with mouthful blasts of lightly sour, pungent flavor within the delicate broth. It is indeed good to the last, but the white pepper has a tendency to aggregate at the bottom, so be careful of those last couple of spoon fulls – they might pack a wallop of spice.
There are many other ways to prepare pidan or Century Eggs, but the ones presented here are my favorites. They can be coated with fish, shrimp or squid paste and deep fried. My favorite form of this recipe is found most frequently in Thailand where they flavor the fish paste around the eggs with lots of Thai Basil. There are also a whole family of steamed Century Eggs recipes – usually coupling the pidan with salted eggs or occasionally with tea eggs or the intriguing soy-soaked iron eggs in a ground of regular chicken or duck eggs.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of Century Eggs, and that you try (and like) some of the recipes presented. If you were familiar with and like Century Eggs, I hope that these recipes give you some great ways to enjoy the eggs. If you were unfamiliar with the eggs to start, I hope also that the recipes and discussion gives you some perspective when viewing all of those “most horrible food ever,” videos out there on the internet of young men proving their bravery by eating a Century Egg. They really aren’t any worse than a bit of strong cheese, and when prepared correctly, their flavor brings a delicious savoriness to a wide variety of dishes. Its been an interesting journey for me, and as always, I am grateful for having the opportunity to share it with you. (All words and photos by Laura Kelley.)
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 are nearing the end of our exploration of Thousand-Year Eggs (for now). There was just something congruous (perhaps logarithmic?) about offering 10 recipes for 1000-Year Eggs that really floated my boat. This is number eight, and it is a really delicious way to cook pidan. It is so good that we had it for breakfast this morning along with some steamed spicy Chinese sausage. But you can eat it any time. This dish or some variation of it is enjoyed around the Eastern and Southeastern Asian countries that eat Century Eggs. And it is usually eaten at a lunch or dinner, but if you think beyond the edge like we do, breakfast is a fine time to tuck in as well.
This dish is savory and delicious. Because the pidan are used as a topping for the rice, they are quite flavorful. The rice is a little bit sour, a little sweet, a little spicy, and a bit hot – and really good. The garlic and tomato add a depth of flavor that works well with the Century Eggs and complements them without overpowering them or toning them down much.
This is also a really flexible dish with nearly endless potential variations. If you love veggies – throw in some matchsticked carrots and chopped bell peppers or celery. A ginger aficionado -add some fresh or pickled ginger to brighten up the composition. Whatever you do – enjoy the eggs. This is a great way to make them.
Fried Rice with Thousand-year Eggs
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar (I use demerara or jaggery)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons Shaoxing or other Chinese rice wine
¼ – ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
3 thousand-year eggs, peeled, rinsed, and cut in quarters or eighths
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2-3 teaspoons garlic, minced (2-3 cloves)
2 dried, red chili peppers
4 spring onions, minced
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon pickled mustard, minced
½ tomato cut into a small dice (or 1-2 teaspoons tomato paste)
2-3 cups cooked short-grain rice, broken up with a fork into individual grains
1-2 regular eggs beaten until they lighten in color
1 tablespoon pork floss
Mix the salt, sugar, sesame oil, rice wine, and ground pepper in a small bowl until well blended. Place the roughly diced Century Eggs into this and set aside for 10-15 minutes.
When eggs are done or nearly done marinating, heat the vegetable oil in a wok. When the oil just starts to smoke, add the garlic and stir fry for about half a minute until the garlic starts to swell and color. Add the spring onions and stir fry another minute. Add the remaining Shaoxing and the soy sauce and stir once or twice. Add the pickled mustard and the tomato or tomato sauce and stir well.
Add the rice and stir well, lifting rather than stirring so as to not squash the cooked rice. Stir fry for about 1 minute. Add the liquid from the century-egg marinade (reserve the eggs) and stir lightly to distribute around the rice. Add the beaten eggs and stir once or twice. Turn into a serving dish, garnish with pork floss and Thousand-Year Eggs and serve with extra pickled mustard and sesame oil or condiments of your choice.
Variations: Works with noodles as well. Cook or soak noodles according to package directions and drain. (Add a touch of sesame oil if desired to keep the noodles from sticking). You can top the noodles with the spring onions, floss and Century Eggs with marinade along with the pickled mustard without cooking (and omit the garlic and tomatoes), or lightly stir fry the garlic and tomatoes and stir into noodles or add to the toppings and serve.
Additionally, you can toss in a few shrimp or a couple of teaspoons of fish sauce in lieu of the pork floss for a more Southern Chinese or SE Asian approach to the dish. (Words and photo of Fried Rice with Thousand-Year Eggs by Laura Kelley.)
I would eat them in a car, or at a bar, or on the way to a star . . . Of course, I am talking about century eggs! But I am getting Seussy because this recipe pairs the pidan with a savory, delicious pork congee. So, indeed, this is Green Eggs and Ham – Chinese Style. For more about this delicious dish and about congee in general, check out my article in today’s issue of Zester Daily.
This interesting dish combines century eggs with sliced beef in a stir fry that is perfectly suitable as a main dish, or as one of many dishes in a multicourse Chinese meal. Most of the flavor in the dish comes from a brief marinade of the beef in mushroom-flavored soy sauce, sesame oil and Shaoxing – a type of rice wine. This is accented by the lightly cooked sliced ginger to produce a fantastic combination of savory, salty, and lightly spicy dish.
The pidan add a gentle, but piquant flavor to the recipe that works extremely well with the sliced beef. Once again, the strong flavor of the eggs is tamed by the other flavors of the recipe to produce a uniquely flavored dish suitable for many meals.
Stir-Fried Beef and Century Eggs
¾ – 1 pound sirloin beef, thinly sliced (¼ inch thick or less) *
3 teaspoons mushroom-flavored soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 teaspoons Shaoxing
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
4-5 thousand-year eggs, cut into eighths (coarsely chopped)
2 x 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
2-3 teaspoons sesame seeds, lightly roasted (for garnish)
In a small bowl, mix mushroom soy, rice wine, and sesame oil. Add the beef strips and set aside for about 30 minutes to marinate.
Heat vegetable oil in a wok and when oil just starts to smoke add the meat mixture and marinade and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes. Then add 1000-year eggs and stir-fry another half minute before adding the ginger. Stir well for another minute, plate, add sesame seeds, and serve.
* To easily make thin, neat slices of beef, place meat in the freezer for about 1/2 hour before slicing.
Variations: This recipe works well with salted eggs, or a combination of pidan and salted eggs. For a Taiwanese twist, use a few iron eggs in place of some pidan, or mix all three egg types for a really interesting dish. A lighter soy can also be used instead of the thicker, mushroom soy. Other rice wines can also be substituted, but the flavor will not be the same as that brought by Shaoxing.
Once again, this is a recipe that is a must try for those a bit shy to the flavor of Century Eggs, because it is a dish that uses, but at the same time, mutes the strong flavor of the eggs. And with a total of 3-4 minutes of cooking and perhaps 15 minutes of prep, what’s not to love about this dish! (Words and photographs by Laura Kelley.)