I finally plucked up the courage to buy century eggs – I’ve wanted to try them since the first time I visited the Chinese supermarket, but have always chickened out (ahahahahaha geddit? Except actually they’re duck eggs, but you might not have known that and then I would have had to explain the joke… Like I’m doing now.. OK…). Until now! If you’re not familiar with the concept, a century egg is a duck egg that’s been preserved for 100 days, then cleaned off before packing and selling. Here’s a more detailed explanation from Wikipedia:
Century egg (simplified Chinese: 皮蛋; pinyin: pí dàn), also known as preserved egg, hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, thousand-year-old egg, and millennium egg, is a Chinese cuisine ingredient made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing.
Through the process, the yolk becomes a dark green to grey colour, with a creamy consistency and an odor of sulphur and ammonia, while the white becomes a dark brown, translucent jelly with little flavor. The transforming agent in the century egg is its alkaline material, which gradually raises the pH of the egg to around 9, 12, or more during the curing process. This chemical process breaks down some of the complex, flavorless proteins and fats, which produces a variety of smaller flavorful compounds.
Some eggs have patterns near the surface of the egg white that are likened to pine branches, and that gives rise to one of its Chinese names, the pine-patterned egg.
So there you have it. Yes, they are technically raw. No, you don’t cook them before you eat them. The G man, who backed out of trying one with me when he saw them out of the shell, was horrified by this notion, until I reminded him that smoked salmon is raw, too. So is prosciutto. Century eggs are no different in theory, but in practise they’re by far less appetising to look at.
Here is the pack of eggs. They look not unlike normal duck eggs, or the salted duck eggs that they’re sold alongside. Except maybe for that ominous looking black patch on one of them…
Here is one peeled egg. No, I really haven’t cooked it. Yes, I am going to eat it. It’s safe, people have been eating them for, well… centuries…
Below is a sliced egg. Now we begin to run into trouble (if peeling the egg to find that it’s a shade of teal wasn’t trouble enough), as the yolk is actually liquid in the centre. The G man really made up his mind at this point that we was having none of it, as the eggs do smell quite strongly of egg. I didn’t think they smelled a lot stronger than your normal eggs – I mean, when someone’s got an egg sandwich on the train, you know about it, preserved for 100 days or not. The G man begged to differ – in fact, there was no begging, only differing. I must say that I was squeamish about trying them myself, but it was more the colour of them that bothered me. As I sliced through the egg, some of the yolk stuck to the knife – as it does when you slice the top off a soft-boiled egg. I decided right then that I’d taste this tiny bit of yolk first, as eating a whole slice seemed pretty daunting. I went for it before I could change my mind.
The yolk tastes like a creamy, well seasoned egg yolk. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that’s what it is, but the fact that it’s a shade of blue-green really can’t be ignored. The first bite is with the eye, after all, and the eye screams ‘DON’T EAT THAT IT’S A BLUE EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEGG!’. My eyes can be a bit over dramatic. I was reassured by this first little taste, I really like eggs to be well salted and I enjoy a soft boiled egg, so the soft texture was fine by me. The white, on the other hand, was a different matter.
As you can see, the white is no longer white, but brown. Again, not the colour I expect an egg white to be. The clue’s in the name, really. I had read that the eggs are often served with pickled ginger and soy, so I whipped up a sesame-soy dressing that I thought would complement the eggs well, and served them on a plate with slices of ginger. I only served them to myself, right enough, and I guess in a way to those of you who are still reading and looking at this photo. There was no further procrastinating that could be done, so I picked up a slice of egg, added some ginger and sauce, and put the whole lot in my mouth. I chewed. And chewed some more. The albumen has the consistency of a meat jelly, like you’d find in a terrine or pate. This is not a winning texture for me, personally, and somehow isn’t helped by the crunch of the pickled ginger. It has very little taste, which again goes against what you’d imagine. These eggs are all about being unpredictable, that’s for sure.
I still have four of them in my fridge; the texture of the white is so wrong that I can’t bring myself to eat them, or try cooking them up with congee or anything else I’ve seen as a suggested way to serve them. It seems like a real waste, particularly as they’re not cheap at over £4 for six, but what can you do? Sometimes, the egg, he wins.