Seriously Asian: Preserved Duck Egg

Boiled greens with a preserved duck egg.
Chichi Wang

I seem to be on a roll with talking about oft-maligned, malodorous foods common in Asian cuisine. Natto, for instance, being the most noxious of them all. Preserved duck egg is another one. It's not for everyone, but of course that's what makes it so special.

When I try to describe the taste and texture of a preserved duck egg yolk to someone who's never had it before, what comes to mind isn't exactly appetizing. Overripe, slightly rotten avocado. Baking soda and vinegar, if the two ingredients were made into a paste. The creamy egg yolks can be so soft that they stick to your chopsticks and leave trails of grey paste on your teeth if you bite into a piece.

Also known as "thousand year eggs," (the Chinese are prone to grandiloquence when it comes to naming their food), preserved duck eggs are prepared by caking the eggs in a paste of quicklime, salt, and ash, sometimes with tea leaves or rice husks thrown into the mix. The eggs are left to age for a few months, producing grayish, soft yolks and egg whites that are almost blackish-brown and translucent.

Like salted duck egg, preserved duck eggs can be eaten straight from the shell or as an accoutrement to porridge. I often eat the preserved duck eggs out of the shell, drizzled with vinegar and sesame oil.

The eggs impart their distinct taste and richness to this Hunanese dish. Slices of preserved duck egg are simmered with stir-fried amaranth greens, which exude pinkish juices when cooked. The egg yolks enrich the vegetable broth; the egg whites add a bit of gelatinous texture to the dish. With nothing more than garlic and a bit of salt, the combination of the preserved duck eggs and the amaranth greens is subtle and curiously well-matched.