A Hamburger Today
Singapore Stories: Century Egg Salad
When I was little, my mom used to talk about her Chinese high school friend, Betty, who ate these "hundred-year-old eggs." I was fascinated at the idea of eating this black egg, though it did sound gnarly. When I moved to Singapore, I finally had my chance. Though this treat (and yes, it has become that for me) is not specifically Singaporean, because of the large Chinese population here, century eggs are everywhere.
Century eggs, also known as hundred-year-old eggs or preserved eggs, are simply cured eggs. They're made by covering an egg (chicken, quail, or duck) in a highly alkaline mixture—such as a mixture of salt, clay, ash, tea, lime, and rice hulls—and left to sit for a couple of months (so really more like a hundred days, not a hundred years). During the process the egg white turns into a translucent dark brown jelly, and the yolk a soft textured (sometimes even gooey) dark greenish grey. The lovely aroma is a mixture of sulfur and ammonia. Still want to try it?
I bought a package of these at my local FairPrice supermarket, right next to the regular eggs. As you can see, the eggs came covered in a crumbly brown mixture. Which smelled like barnyard. Not a good start, huh? Once the layer of mulch is broken off, the eggshell is peeled away just like a hard boiled egg. After a quick rinse, it's ready to eat. No cooking necessary. It's mighty unnerving as you stare at this jiggly, brackish thing, and everything in you says, "Do not put this in your mouth." And I'll admit, I still haven't had the guts to savor it plain.
The first time that I tried century eggs was in a creamed spinach dish from Chong Qing Grilled Fish. The brown-green wedges were slathered in the tasty sauce—a safe way to try it, I thought, and it was great. The anticipated taste of sulfur and ammonia (which can be quite pungent in some eggs) was very faint—a sign of a good egg, from what I've read. Next step was to try it in a rice porridge. Check.
After that, I gave it a go in a century egg salad, a popular dish here, and my absolute favorite way to enjoy it by far. The bright soy-sesame dressing, with a bit of heat from chilies and crunchy fresh herbs, perfectly balances the rich, unctuous egg. I can easily down two whole eggs this way—if I don't let the slippery egg slip through my chopsticks.
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About the author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore as a freelance writer for Time Out Singapore. Check out her blog: shophousecook.com. Follow Yvonne on Twitter.