Century of Love for Eggs

By Tris Marlis - Thursday, Aug 01, 2013

Century egg, millennium egg, or even “horse urine egg” as it’s known in Thailand, whatever it is called, is certainly not a favourite among the Eggs Benedict lover. It is cured egg (duck, chicken or quail egg), made by soaking in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime and rice hulls for, not a century, but several weeks or months. The end result is a dark brown, translucent jelly with a creamy dark greenish egg yolk that has a slight of sulfur and ammonia smell. Century eggs have been eaten in China and Asia for centuries.

The curing process transforms the colour, smell, taste and texture of the egg. Besides the rich (some say pungent) smell and flavour, the jelly-like texture of century egg is commonly incorporated into many dishes to lend contrast of texture and taste to the key ingredient of the dish.

Century egg with tofu (image courtesy of bilbaobab via Flickr)

Besides the usual century egg porridge, another common Cantonese cze cha dish is the “sum wong tan” or Three Egg Spinach soup. A spinach soup is topped with salted, century and regular steamed egg- a very hearty family dish that’s getting harder to find.
Century egg is also sometimes made into aspic, set into gelatinous meat stock and cooled. This dish is a three-dimensional jelly with different consistencies. First, it’s the tough century egg jelly, then it’s the softer gelatin and lastly, the creamy yolk.
Century Egg Aspic

In China, while the Cantonese love it plain with ginger, the northern Beijing folks like it chilled and served with silken tofu and doused with spicy and tangy sauce. The firm and gelatinous texture of century egg goes very well with the delicate silken tofu, as the egg offsets the fragility of the tofu and adds a distinctive flavour to the dish. The tang in the sauce contains the equation.
Century egg with ginger (image courtesy of avlxyz via Flickr)

In Si Chuan restaurants, you would find century eggs served with poached chicken and chilli oil instead. Chilled century egg retains its firmness very well and is often paired with chopped cucumbers to elevate that texture, both go well with Si Chuan style chillis with peppercorns and complement the texture and flavour of poached chicken.
A couple years ago, we found and fell in love with this fried century egg with Thai chilli sauce [read here: http://sg.news.yahoo.com/my-flavour-ite–this-month-.html]. The fried century egg is commonly found in Thai menu. When the egg is fried, the edges of century egg harden as the yolk slightly melted. It becomes a chewy gelatinous ball that will burst as you bite into it, a wonderful treat. It is then tossed in a wok for dishes like the Pad Kra Prow (minced spicy basil pork).
Pad Kra Prow (spicy basil minced pork) with century eggs.

Love it or hate it, the century egg adds flavour and texture to complement a dish more than to intimidate. The smell of ammonia and sulfur is very faint when it’s done right, which gives you more reason to indulge in the century egg.