I've recently been enjoying some lovely preserved duck eggs. They are stunners. Peel them and you reveal gem-like eggs, with firm, amber egg whites and grey-blue creamy yolks. I love how sunlight, shining through the crystal-clear, golden-brown yolks turns the eggs into glowing treasures--totally breathtaking and inspiring. For as much as I already love eggs in general, the striking beauty of these "1000 year old eggs" makes me see eggs in a whole new light. Think about how fun it would be to use these marvelously-colored eggs to reinvent classic egg dishes, infusing them with an element of surprise!
These eggs make for good comfort food--good and nourishing food--with unexpected newness.
Preserved eggs are a favorite in Chinese cuisine, made by curing duck, quail, or chicken eggs in a salty, highly basic (i.e. high pH) mixture. Traditionally, this mixture was made from clay, wood ash, quicklime, and salt, but today it is more common to preserve eggs in a salty brine made with calcium hydroxide and sodium carbonate.
Pídàn (皮蛋), translated as "thousand-year old eggs" or "preserved eggs," but also referred to as "century eggs" or "millenium eggs" in English, come ready to eat as-is and are used in Chinese cooking in a variety of ways, all of which I've not explored. But one very delicious way to enjoy them is as a part of a rice porridge congee (粥, zhōu) made with lean pork (瘦肉, shòuròu). This congee is eaten as a breakfast dish and is often served at dim sum restaurants.
I remember going to brunch in Cupertino Village with some college friends one Sunday years ago and my roommate being decidedly firm about us ordering congee. It wasn't just her excitement as a Taiwanese American over eating something homey and familiar that convinced us to get it; no, when Christine tells you to order something, you do it, because experience has proven she knows what she's talking about when it comes to food. And let me tell you, that first time I tried congee, I was once again glad I'd listened. It was delicious.
One of the most comforting of foods, congee is as cozy as a nice warm blanket wrapping all around you--like a nice big hug. It has such a velvety, creamy texture that gets you licking the spoon and ahem, even the bowl. It's just so tasty you don't want to miss one drop of it. And this recipe here--lean pork and rice congee--becomes even more delicious when you swirl in the creamy yolks of the preserved egg slices garnishing each serving.
This recipe is so easy, and it is such a great way to use up leftover rice. If you don't have leftover cooked rice on hand, though, start with one cup dry, uncooked white rice. Wash uncooked grains in several changes of water until water is clear, drain, and cover with 1 1/4 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and steam until tender. Continue by adding the minced pork and broth and following the rest of the recipe as written.
Lean Pork Congee with 1,000-Year-Old Egg
(皮蛋瘦肉粥, pídàn shòuròu zhōu)
Makes 4-6 servings
Adapted from 飲茶食譜 "Chinese Dim Sum"
3 cups cooked white short-grained rice
112g (1/4 lb.) lean pork, minced
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or stock
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
3 1,000-year-old preserved eggs, cut into eighths*
Place cooked rice, pork, and broth into a medium pot. Cover pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until rice is very soft and congee has thickened, about 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid burning the bottom. Season with salt and sesame oil to taste. Ladle congee into individual bowls and garnish with chopped green onion and slices of preserved egg.
*Note: if 1000-year-old eggs are not available in your markets, substitute eggs that are cooked just barely to the hard-cooked stage. As of December 2011, these eggs were available at the Oriental Market here in town.