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.)

Making 1000 Year Eggs

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:

Duck Eggs Caustic Mud
Duck Eggs Caustic Mud

Then one thoroughly (and evenly) coats them with the mud:

Coating the Eggs
Coating the Eggs

And lastly, after they are covered with rice chaff, they look like this:

Eggs Coated with Mud and Chaff
Eggs Coated with Mud and Chaff

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

Ingredients
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
Latex gloves

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.

Method

  1. 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.
  2. Put on latex or other protective gloves. The mud is caustic and will cause skin discomfort.
  3. 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)