I don’t know if this is the BEST thing I have cooked this week, but it’s certainly the most interesting! A Chinese friend gave me one of these after we had talked a lot about the ‘strange’ things that I tote into work with me to eat – kale bars, green smoothies, fake meats made from beans and gluten, rice made from cauliflowers, and the leftover results of various food experiments. She gave me instructions to eat it with chilled silken tofu, chopped shallots, splashes of sesame oil and soy sauce, and rice or congee. I’m pretty open minded with food and have eaten some strange things before like live squid (a strange stopover in Korea – don’t ask!), sushi topped with natto (a strongly flavoured fermented soybean paste) and battered deep fried Oreo cookies, but Century Eggs have never found their way onto my plate. Until now.
Century Egg with Tofu and Shallots
1 century egg
2/3 cup cooked jasmine rice
100g chilled sllken tofu
soy sauce or tamari
These eggs are not what we Westerners understand as appetising to look at. The shells are quite a pretty pale green, but open them up and you find translucent reddish brown albumen with a dark green/grey yolk. They smell of ammonia, and are often marked with a pattern from the reaction of the mineral salts in the fermentation process. They are fermented in clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for weeks to months. I don’t know if traditionally they were really preserved for a hundred or a thousand years, but the century eggs (or pei-dan) of today are more likely to have been preserved for a few months rather than decades. You can buy them in most Asian grocers, but be careful not to get one with a cracked shell. They like cool dark conditions, so keep them near your coffee beans. Don’t refrigerate them before you open them, but once you have deshelled an egg it is important to refrigerate any leftovers in a sealed container and eat within a day or so.
The egg is deceptively pleasant to eat – the yolk is creamy, and the ‘white’ only has a very light flavour. It does taste fermented, but not unpleasantly so. My friend tells me you can eat these any way you like, but this is the method she gave me:
Dice century egg and 100g or so of chilled silken tofu, and wash and slice some shallots. Place 2/3 cup of cooked rice in a bowl (I used Jasmine), and top with tofu and egg, scattering shallots over the top. Add a dash of sesame oil and soy sauce, being mindful to add only a small amount. You want more soy than sesame, and I found it better to add a tiny bit and then add more as you eat depending on your taste.
They are definitely worth a try. Would you eat one? Have you eaten one? How do you like to eat them? I’m curious! Leave me a message in the comments below!