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Long Live the Century Egg

In Chinese, Recipes on September 19, 2010 at 10:49 am

My dear readers, apologies for my long hiatus from blogging.

After five weeks of food indulgence in my food haven home of Singapore and…
five weeks of food travels and organic farming in Eastern Europe…

I’m now back in the Netherlands, once again living within one of the most neophobic cultures in the world. The Dutch have a saying that goes: Wat de boer niet kent dat eet hij niet, often used in excuse of their reluctance to allow unknown foods on their palate or even their plate. It happens to be the only Dutch saying that I know, as ever so often when I prepare something unusual from Southeast Asia, it would be met with equal reactions of delightful curiosity and of politely watered-down gag reflexes, AND a proclamation of this saying.

Surprisingly though, with this return to Wageningen, the friends seem to be a lot more fearless, unquestioning, and willing to ingest some foreign objects laid on the table by yours truly. Perhaps, by now they have been positively conditioned to know that poorskinnychef here loves them and loves food and will not poison them with ingredients laboriously lugged 10,000km across the globe?

With that, I refer to one of the foods that I missed so much while being away for 11 months last year. It is probably the last thing I would expect a Dutch person to want to try due to its freakish appearance… yet, several friends have pleasantly surprised me by their positive acceptance of the CENTURY EGG. ๐Ÿ™‚

(See the snow-flake pattern on the egg that I had with pickled ginger as a side with my dinner? Beautiful, isn’t it?)

While being home this summer, I had a fair dose of this wonder of traditional Chinese preservations. The century egg or ็šฎ่›‹ (leather egg, in reference to its leathery texture of the brown jelly that was once the white) is made by preserving eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, calcium oxide (alkaline ingredient), coated in rice husks, and left to be transformed over the next several weeks to months.

The alkaline medium that the egg is stored in raises the pH of the egg, and in the process, proteins are denatured, sulfur and ammonia is released from the amino acids, resulting in reactions that are responsible for:
1. green colour of the yolk (iron sulfide that is also responsible for the green layer on the yolk of overcooked hardboiled eggs)
2. broken down proteins and fats to produce a sweetish ammonia flavour and other flavourful compounds (MMM!) that give this egg so much more character than a ‘normal’ one.
3. clear gelled egg ‘white’ probably due to the breakdown of proteins that result in a more open gel that forms in comparison with a heat-coagulated opaque egg white. just my hypothesis.
The point is that, there’s really nothing to be afraid of (no horse urine myth, please)…

My favourite way of eating the century egg is in Century Egg and Minced Pork Congee, because the flavour of the egg compliments the rice porridge deliciously well, sending a warm and wonderful sensation through my entire body ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s the ultimate comfort food, the ultimate winter food, the ultimate homesickness food.

Century Egg Minced Pork Congee Recipe my own recipe for 2 from previous congee-cooking experiences

Ingredients:

  • 100g minced pork marinated in soya sauce
  • 1 cup rice (long-grained)
  • 1 litre of water
  • 1/2 chicken stock cube
  • 2 slices of ginger
  • sesame oil, white pepper, soya sauce, fried shallots, chopped spring onions, fried dough fritters (you tiao) for optional but recommended topping
  • 1 century egg

Method:

  1. Stir fry minced pork in pot (enough fat in the meat to not have to grease pan), and set aside when cooked.
  2. Add rice, water, ginger to the pot and bring to a boil
  3. When rice has softened after 15 min, lower to a simmer and stir until rice has broken down (about 30 min)
  4. Add chicken stock cube to taste (depends on how salty you like your congee!). Add more water to the desired consistency.
  5. Remove ginger slice, mix in minced pork and century egg sliced into small wedges / cubes.
  6. Top with a sprinkle of soya sauce, sesame oil, pepper, spring onions, fried shallots… and tuck in!

But of course, you wouldn’t have to spend a whole hour at the stove stirring the magic pot to enjoy the egg as here’s a couple other alternatives that are just as awesome.

Century Egg with Pickled Ginger Recipe see Camemberu’s

Ingredients:

  • 1 century egg
  • pickled ginger

Method:

  1. Slice century egg into 8 wedges
  2. Top each wedge with a slice of pickled ginger
  3. Eat!

That was too simple, wasn’t it? Here’s another delicious one.

Century Egg with Silken Tofu Recipe from the Graces of NUS FST’05 ๐Ÿ™‚

Ingredients:

  • 1 century egg
  • 1 block / 1 tube of soft chilled silken tofu
  • 2 tsp soya sauce

Method:

  1. Slice silken tofu into 1cm slices.
  2. Chop up century egg into cubes of half cm dimensions (or bigger or smaller, it’s up to you) and sprinkle on top of the tofu.
  3. Sprinkle soya sauce over the dish.

To the supportive Wageningen readers of my blog, I have 2 more of these treasures remaining, and I would love to prepare these dishes for you IF you would make a comment here that you would like to try it. Really, good food isn’t good food until it’s shared. To non-Wageningen Dutch residents, I’ve seen these century eggs (6 euros for 6 eggs) in a hidden bottom corner of a shelf of a Chinese supermarket in Amsterdam’s Chinatown. ๐Ÿ˜‰
Interestingly, an alternative Chinese name for this egg is the ‘ๆพ่Šฑ่›‹’ or ‘Pine-patterned egg’ — Why interesting? Because I have just started my research project on the Pine Nut Syndrome and I’m currently (and desperately) collecting reports and samples from the public regarding pine nuts that have caused their taste disturbance that is described as : an offending bitter metallic aftertaste in the mouth upon consumption of any food, and these symptoms show itself 1-2 days after ingesting the pine nuts, and lasts for 1-2 weeks. Please contact me at pinenutsyndrome@gmail.com if you have a recent experience of this!

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Steamy Solution to Low-Fat Cake-Making

In Chinese, Recipes on May 28, 2010 at 11:24 pm

My recent interest in steaming has escalated into a full-blown obsession with steamed cakes.

Yes, steamed cakes! Soft fluffy and moist sponge cakes in 30min or less! …no more long lists of ingredients, nor lengthy energy-consuming pre-heating of oven, nor even a need for sticks of buttery unhealthiness to keep the cake moist… not even a messy cleaning aftermath. It saves time, it saves energy, it saves money — absolutely PERFECT for a busy and poor student who craves a sweet treat.

Steaming cake eradicates the problem of tough chewy textures that often plague low fat / fat-free baking. With a little help from baking powder and whisked eggs, cooking the cake in the moist heat of the steamer results in a quick rise and quick set of the sponge cake due to the more effective heat transfer via steam. At the same time, the steam keeps the cake from drying out as it would during oven-baking. This gives the cake a nice open texture with good moisture retention without having to add a whole lot of empty calories to prevent the flour proteins from forming tight gluten networks that result in a tough final product.

I hereby declare the end of my struggles with fat-replacement in baked muffins and cakes.

Just steam ’em!

Steamed Egg Cake Recipe adapted from HappyHomeMaker

  • 3 eggs
  • 150g sugar (I used half brown half white)
  • 100g flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Optional: Raisins / Vanilla essence / Almond essence / Ground cinnamon
  1. Heat up the water in your steamer.
  2. Separate the egg whites from the yolks and whisk the whites adding sugar halfway until stiff peaks form. (Alternatively, beating the whole eggs till foamy will work too, but takes longer.)
  3. Mix in the yolks and fold in flour and baking powder.
  4. Add in 1 tsp of essence and a large handful of raisins at the end if you’d like.
  5. Pour batter into a dish and steam for ~20min in the heated steamer. (Mine: 20cm diameter cake, ~4cm height)

FAB – Chinese Custard Egg Tarts

In Baking, Chinese, Recipes on May 21, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Today’s FAB session was especially quick and hassle-free. From gathering the ingredients till washing up and giving away / gobbling up the tarts — all done within 1 hour! It happened so quick, I thought I might as well complete the entire cycle and make the post right away, while the 4 tummies in this house are still digesting happily.

Back in ’96-’98 when my family was living in Hongkong, I often delighted in the weekly dose of freshly baked custard egg tarts from the bakery nearby my piano school. Aaah… definitely the most lovely memories from those weekly lessons ๐Ÿ˜› Those fresh-baked dan tat with their flaky pastries and sweet wobbly eggy filling were absolutely heart- and tummy-warmingly heavenly ~*

Btw, flaky tart cases are now on sale (got sale got S’porean) at fakta / netto for 8kr (~1 euro / SGD$2) for 10 pieces of convenient goodies. What are you waiting for?

Chinese Custard Egg Tarts adapted from Chow Times

  • 1 egg
  • 160ml whole milk
  • 40g sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 10 ready-made tart shells
  1. Preheat the oven to 200หšC.
  2. Warm the sugar with the milk in the microwave for about 30s until lukewarm (just to dissolve the sugar).
  3. Mix the egg and vanilla essence into the sweetened milk and strain to remove any lumps.
  4. Pour into tart shells (fill to the rim as it will decrease in height as water evaporates) and bake for 12-14min.
  5. Eat them straight from the oven for maximum enjoyment!

*Adjust the sugar for your desired level of sweetness. Mine were slightly less sweet than the one’s at the shop, but I love it this way! ๐Ÿ™‚

Look at that quivery custard!

Chinese Steamed Bun – ๅŒ…ๅญ

In Chinese, Recipes on May 19, 2010 at 8:19 am

I’ve always thought that I needed one of these in order to steam my food:

Apparently not! As long as you have a pot / pan (with a lid) that is big enough to enclose some kind of container on a stand (e.g. small bowl), steaming is just as easy as putting a pot of water to boil. Here’s how I do mine: fill the base of a large pot with 3-4cm height of water, place a bowl in the centre, then I lay the plate of food to be steamed on top of the bowl. ๐Ÿ™‚

Great. Now you have no excuse not to try out steamed recipes.

Steaming food is a healthier choice because it doesn’t require the addition of oil and nutrients are not leached into boiling water. Moreover, the steam keeps the food moist and tender…AND busy / lazy people don’t have to watch it closely (as long as the water at the base does not dry out, your food and house will be safe) so it’s easy to cook the food well without spending much time at the stove.

Evidently, it isn’t used much in Western kitchens, but Asians use this method to cook almost anything — fish, meat, sweet potatoes, eggs, rice, soups, noodles, cakes, breads… Perhaps the common usage of this healthy method is part of the answer to the Westerner’s constant dwelling on ‘why are Asians so skinny’, apart from ‘burning energy picking up food with chopsticks’ lol. I guarantee that you can expect more steamed recipes to pop up soon!

First up, here’s a simple recipe for the Chinese steamed bun a.k.a. baozi (if filled) / mantou (if unfilled), which I often grab from the school canteen in Singapore for 60cents (30 euro cents, 2.5kr). Steaming bread is faster than baking it, and produces a texture that is both soft and moist. With many sweet and savory fillings to choose from – char siew, cabbage, corn, red bean paste, yam, lotus paste, etc etc… it is one of those grab-and-go breakfasts / snacks that is both satisfying and comforting. ๐Ÿ™‚

Steamed Chinese Bun recipe adapted from standard baozi / mantou recipe

  • 400g plain / cake flour — I used 340g plain + 60g potato starch (usually corn starch)
  • 1-2 tsp yeast / half a yeast cake
  • 1 tsp baking powder (optional)
  • 50g sugar
  • 180ml warm water / milk
  • 2 tbsp oil
  1. Mix the yeast and warm water together.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together then rub in oil evenly (tenderizer by limiting gluten formation)
  3. Combine and knead into a soft dough.
  4. Cover with a damp cloth and leave aside to rise for 2h.
  5. Shape dough into a log of about 4cm in diameter. Cut into 2-3cm segments, flatten / roll into a round and wrap your desired filling (any finely chopped stir-fries or sweet pastes or anything you’d willingly eat with soft white bread – I had in mine cabbage and corn stir-fried with garlic, onions, chili, pepper and oyster sauce). Place on a square of baking paper to prevent it sticking to the plate.
  6. Steam for 8-10min and serve warm!
  7. If you’re lazy to make the filling, you can make mantou from the dough by rolling it out into a sheet, then rolling it up like a swiss roll, and cut to desired shape. Here’s a good pictorial instruction. Good to eat with anything with a gravy (e.g. Singaporean Chilli Crab!!) or your stir-fries (you can serve it on a side like the Europeans do with boiled potatoes!)

Note: Remember to leave enough space between the buns, it expands about 50% of its size after steaming!

Refrigerate the extras and just pop it into the microwave for 30s and… voila! Soft chewy buns!

Teochew-style Steamed (Freaky) Fish

In Chinese, Recipes on May 13, 2010 at 10:52 am

FINALLY, spring is here and the garfish has just started streaming into Danish waters. It’s time to hit the coast and scoop up some of these eel-like fishes that have a wonderfully textured meat similar to our beloved stingray (ohhh, would somebody pleeaseprettypleeeease bring me some grilled sambal stingray from Changi?). It’s such a pity that such a palatable fish hides some skeleton in the closet under its skin that often sends people’s faces scrunching up in fear and disgust when discovered. BLUE-GREEN BONES. Can you handle that?

The housemate U had told me about this unusual colouring of its bones and scales before I had seen it for real, but I must admit, I still shuddered when I first set my eyes upon it. Of course, now I think it’s darn funky cool (I’ve saved some bones, anyone wants to make art with it?). The colour is due to the presence of the pigment biliverdin, which is a product of heme metabolism (same pigment responsible for the blueness of our bruises). In mammals, biliverdin is reduced and converted by enzymes to be secreted in bile, but many marine animals are believed (not yet strongly established in research) to lack the necessary enzyme for the metabolism and hence accumulate these pigments in their bones, muscle, skin, scale, etc….

By the way, this was supposed to be the product of my first fishing trip but the meet-up with the fishermen of 2nd floor biological department failed as a result of double phone malfunctioning… but a big DANKE SCHร–N to the mighty kind fisherman T for offering me part of his catch and the good ol’ housemate U for delivering it right into my refrigerator shelf! ๐Ÿ˜€

As it was my first time eating this fish, I wanted to cook it in the best way possible that will allow the taste and textures of the fish to come through… and I couldn’t think of any better way than Teochew-style steamed fish, just the way mom does it. Preserve the taste, preserve the moistness, preserve the nutrients! Food for the soul. ๐Ÿ˜€

Teochew-style steamed fish recipe produced from eating mom’s cooking for 24 years.

  • One garfish / fish to serve two
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 onion
  • handful of preserved vegetables (substituted with shredded pickled cucumber)
  • 3cm of ginger (slice half, shred half)
  • 1-2 tsp soya sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • shallots
  • scallions (spring onions)

*dried chinese mushrooms not available, but would have been awesome

1. Fill the base of a steamer with water and heat to a boil. Or mom’s suggestion: fill the base of a large pot with 3 cm depth of water and place a small bowl in it, on which you can set your plate of food upon.
2. Wash the scale and wash fish and rub with salt and pepper.
3. Make deep slices in the fish meat and insert slices of ginger.
4. Arrange slices of onion at the base of a soup plate and lay the fish on top.
5. Top fish with pickled vegetables, sliced tomatoes, shredded ginger and sprinkle soya sauce over.
6. Steam for 8-12min (until fish turns white and flakes easily).
7. Heat up oils in small pan and fry some shallots. Pour sizzling oil over fish and top the dish with chopped spring onions.
8. Serve with rice or rice porridge! *spoon the sauce gathered at the bottom of the fish over your rice / porridge — MMMM!!

ๆปกๆœˆ-Chinese Red Eggs

In Chinese, Recipes on April 27, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Today I celebrate my blog-baby’s 1st month anniversary by posting you some Chinese Red Eggs:

In Chinese tradition, the baby’s first full month (ๆปกๆœˆ – man yue) is celebrated with a party where parents of the baby give out red-dyed eggs as a symbol of happiness and renewal of life. This is rooted in ancient Chinese culture where a baby’s survival of the vulnerable 1st month is a worthy cause of celebration.

The key to making red eggs is to hard-boil the eggs in a slightly acidified solution, in which the acid reacts with the calcium carbonate egg shell (you will see bubbles on the shell), increasing its porosity to the dye that you will use later. Rolling the hot egg in some red dye after cooking allows the dye to quickly stain the shell, while the heat dries the dye before it colours the egg red. You’d then have an egg that is no different from a hard-boiled egg, apart from its pretty red shell (or pink in my case)! ๐Ÿ™‚

Chinese Red Egg Recipe

  • Eggs
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Red dye (I used the red colouring solution instead of preparing from the concentrated powder, hence my pink eggs!
  1. Place the eggs in a pot and cover with water. Add a splash of vinegar.
  2. Cook on low heat for 30-40min.
  3. Spoon individual eggs into bowl containing the red dye and swirl around until you’re satisfied.
  4. Remove and leave aside to cool while you do other eggs!

One month ago, I created poorskinnychef on a whim, as an experimental venture to catalog both my earthly and outlandish food adventures and share the interesting bits of science I’ve learnt in school. I began with much hesitation, like a baby taking her first steps, even imploring a friend not to publicize it because I wasn’t sure of sustaining this effort. However, as the first comments came in, I started to feel an immense pleasure in writing about food, and sustaining this blog was no longer an ‘effort’ but something I look forward to. As a month-old anniversary gift to nourish this blogbaby, I’ve ordered Harold McGee’s encyclopedia ‘On Food and Cooking’ from Amazon.uk (due to arrive in a week)! ๐Ÿ™‚ Meanwhile, poorskinnychef will be off for six days on a little expedition out of Copenhagen and will be back soon with more yummy stories to tell!

Now in beautiful hard-cover! ๐Ÿ˜€ Can’t wait!!

The 10-min Stir-fry

In Chinese, Recipes on April 12, 2010 at 7:10 am

I can practically live in the kitchen when it comes to baking and cooking for others, but when it comes to cooking for myself, quick, easy, healthy and cheap is my mantra. Normally, I would throw some soup vegetables into the pot (cabbage, carrot and onions for sweetness; potatoes, celery, tomatoes and mushrooms for the glutamate savoury-ness; 2 ginger slices for the spice), take my shower, and when I’m done I’ll add soya sauce / miso / fish sauce / tom yam stock cube in some combination, stir in an egg, add a dash of sesame oil and pepper and a sprinkle of fried onions (6kr for 200g packet from Fakta). Then I’ll enjoy it with some reheated rice that I cook for a few days at a time, or throw in some instant noodles a couple of minutes before taking the pot off the stove. Hardly 5min spent at the stove.

When I’m feeling a little more escapist (cooking is my main form of escape from serious work haha, but now blogging has joined the ranks!), I’ll spend a little more time in the kitchen and go for the 10-min stir-fry (which btw can be done with the same ingredients). I happened to have some frozen lean pork (Netto sale: 450g of pork steak for 18kr/SGD$4.50) that I had packed into eight tiny 50-60g packets that I’d defrost in the fridge in the morning of the day I plan to use it.

Here’s a really quick and simple recipe for a friend who has been feeling rather tired, experiencing muscle weakness, having gastrointestinal upsets and a poor appetite. From her description of her diet, I’m guessing that she might be lacking vitamin B1 and/or vitamin B6 (*nutrition info) and pork is one excellent source of them [apart from my beloved bran flakes, milk and eggs, but she loves pork, so maybe this is a better solution for her]. Well, I sincerely hope this works out, if not, we’ll continue to explore the possibilities!


The 10-min Stir-Fry Recipe born out of convenience and availability

  • 50g pork (or double for a more typical portion) – or chicken / fish / tofu / mushroom / shrimp / surimi
  • half onion, one clove garlic
  • ginger and fresh chilli (if you have)
  • 1tsp soya sauce, dash of sesame oil, sprinkle of pepper, 1/2 tsp corn starch for marinade
  • 1dsp oyster sauce or ketchup
  • 150g frozen vegetable or as much as you’d like
  • 1tsp oil

(for those without a freezer, a tray of meat and a pack of frozen veggie would make two meals for two, so just cook the whole tray and the whole pack and store the leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a week)

1. Marinate the defrosted sliced pork in soya sauce, sesame oil, pepper and corn starch. Dash of wine if you have. (1min) [corn starch gives the velveting effect that creates the perception of a smoother and more juicy / tender texture]. Save the marinade to add at the end if you’re cooking with mushrooms or tofu.
2. While meat is marinating, chop onion, garlic, ginger and chilli (1min)
3. Stir fry (2) till fragrant in a tsp of oil in a non-stick pan (1min)
4. Throw in a bunch of veggie and a little water to simmer (3min)
5. When veggies are almost cooked, push to the side, sear pork and then mix around with veggies until everything is fully cooked (2min)
6. Squirt in some oyster sauce/ketchup/chilli sauce/soya sauce for more flavour and to taste. (15sec)
7. Serve with rice / rice porridge / noodles / whatever carbohydrate you’d like to eat!

Hope this helps, E! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll bring some for you on Wednesday’s exam day.