A reader wrote to ask for a recipe for salted eggs. I was skeptical, assuming there was some arcane trick to it involving strange ingredients, like that potassium carbonate stuff you need to make steamed rice cake.
Not so. A 1978 book from my collection, “Chinese Aromas from Aunty Daisy’s Kitchen” by Daisy Hee Wong, offered a simple and straightforward recipe. A stroll through the Internet uncovered a number of You Tube how-to videos. Wikipedia clarified that salted eggs, though made in slightly different ways, are a favorite not just with Chinese but with people of Filipino extraction as well. And, contrary to what I thought, you don’t have to use duck eggs, which are increasingly hard to find, even in Honolulu’s Chinatown. But connoisseurs say only duck eggs have the right fat content to create the most intense flavor and cause the yolks to turn the startling sunrise hue of orange that characterizes a salted egg. The taste is said to resemble an aged cheese while the texture is almost creamy.
I was interested in how the eggs are used — not only in joong (Chinese “tamales” made with rice, pork and a salted egg yolk wrapped in bamboo leaves), the only place I’ve encountered them. But I saw some very delicious-looking recipes for salads with sliced salted egg and bright red chopped tomatoes (this is a traditional Filipino thing). Also, are often shredded to make a topping for jook (congee, a rice and chicken gruel, often eaten for breakfast). They are also an ingredient in various pastry fillings, such as in those gorgeous design-stamped moon cakes, and also as a stuffing in some rice-flour dumplings.
First, a little primer. Salted eggs are not thousand year eggs. Salted eggs simply brined in a salt-water solution for 30 days or so, then peeled and coked. Thousand year eggs involve a quite different technique of coating the unshelled eggs in a briny slurry of ash, lime and black tea, then packing them in some insulating material (rice husks are traditional), placing them a crock and aging them for 100 days. These eggs harden and take on a very dark hue — brown to even a greenish black. They’re not for the timid but much prized by those who grew up with them, or who have discriminating palates.
Today, we’re talking about the simple salted kind that any brave soul could attempt. Here’s Aunty Daisy’s very basic recipe, with some tips gathered on the Internet:
1/2 gallon water
1 rice bowl of Hawaiian salt (mine measured exactly 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 dozen eggs
Boil the water. Stir in the salt until it is entirely dissolved. Cool completely (this is important; you don’t want to cook the eggs). Place the egg in a gallon jar. Pour water over eggs and let stand for a month or a month and a half.
–Some suggest instead of a gallon jar (glass ones are getting increasingly difficult to find), place the eggs in a square or rectangular lidded container — something plastic, at least 8-by-8. Place the eggs in a single layer in the container. Cover with the brine. Then, because the eggs tend to float, weight them down with a saucer or with a zippered plastic bag filled with water. Some people first cover the eggs with a kitchen towel, or butcher paper, tucking in the ends, then press on the plastic cover.
–There are stir-fry dishes made with salted eggs; with pork or pork hash, for example. Also, some people make an eggy casserole with them. And we’ve heard a rumor that some people just nosh ’em with beer (that’s what they do down south, but those are pickled eggs).
–Some people add Chinese wine (shaoshing), star anise, Szechuan peppercorns or other aromatics or spices to the brine. And I saw a very interesting technique on Lily’s Wai Sek Hong web site in which she doesn’t use a liquid brine at all. She dips the eggs in shaoshing, rolls them in salt, places them in a zippered plastic bag and presses out the air and leaves them for 20-30 days. She swears this works. Less work, too!
–Salted eggs can be stored up to one year in the refrigerator.
–Both salted eggs and thousand year eggs are sold all cleaned up and ready to go in some Chinatown shops.