Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Food Desert Project - Zheng Shui Dan - Chinese Water Eggs


A Facebook friend recently posted she was making Chinese steamed eggs, and I immediately set off to google to investigate. This homestyle custard is often made with just eggs and water (in this case we're using stock) and steamed at low heat to get that beautiful, slightly-jiggly creamy texture you might associate with silken tofu. It's also used as a starting point: frequently tidbits of other foods like rehydrated dried mushrooms, shallots, seafood, century eggs and minced pork are added to the dish. 

Since the usual seasonings are sesame oil, soy, and sherry, I thought I'd begin by making a food-desert-friendly substitute for sesame oil:

Put 4 tablespoons of plain untoasted sesame seeds in a pan with the same amount of canola or other flavorless vegetable oil.

003001Toast until the seeds turn from ← this to this  (it happens in seconds), and remove from the heat.

Blend into a chunky paste in a blender or food processor using short pulses, and then allow to sit at room temperature for a few hours until the oil floats to the top. Skim this off with a spoon into a container, refrigerate the oil, and discard the paste at the bottom.

Internet recipes for steamed eggs vary on the egg-to-liquid ratio. I read anywhere from a 1 to 1 or a 1 to 1.5, but I decided to make my life easy and go with equal amounts.

1 cup chicken stock (store-bought or homemade)
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground ginger powder
1/8 tsp onion powder
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sherry
About 4 eggs

First, I prepared the chicken stock (store-bought or homemade) by heating it gently in a saucepan with the spices and soy sauce. I allowed this to cool and added 2 tablespoons of sherry.  I poured the stock in a two-cup measure and then added enough eggs to bring the total amount to two cups (about four large eggs.)

006This went into the blender and was blended on low until thoroughly combined.  (I suggest allowing it to sit for 10 minutes to lessen the bubbles.  To further reduce the bubbles, I then passed this mixture through a fine tea-strainer into a heatproof bowl.

The bowl was covered with a plate and placed in a steamer basket inside a large pot of simmering water.  The pot was covered tightly, and the heat turned to low. After 20 minutes, I checked the eggs - the middle hadn't puffed - total cooking time was about  25 minutes; the eggs are done when the center is lightly set and puffed up.

As you can see, I should have skimmed off the bubbles on the top of the custard, but while it's not winning any beauty contests, it was certainly delicious - sort of a solid version of very good chicken soup.  Laced with the homemade sesame oil, it was a delicious breakfast and would have been a welcome lunch.

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