In any recipe that calls for century eggs, there could be few — if any — substitutions that would do the dish justice.
Century eggs are a Chinese delicacy, made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture that can include clay, quicklime, ash and salt. Over the course of several weeks or months, the curing process turns the yolk grayish-green and the whites dark-brown and translucent. The proteins in the egg break down, and the pH level rises, producing salty, complex, slightly pungent flavors. As it turns out, century eggs (which are also referred to as “hundred-year eggs,” “thousand-year eggs,” “thousand-year-old eggs” or “millennium eggs”) take far less time to produce than their name suggests.
Chinese people have been eating century eggs for hundreds of years. In Chinese, the eggs are called 松花蛋 (sōnghuā dàn), a rather poetic moniker that means “pine flower eggs,” as especially high-quality century eggs often develop dainty branch-like patterns on their surface.
My favorite way to enjoy this ingredient is in a simple chilled dish that marries the luscious creaminess of century eggs with the soft, tender texture of silken tofu. The two foods make a complementary pair, with the blander tofu serving as a lovely contrast to the strongly flavored egg.
To make this dish, open a box of silken tofu, draining it carefully. Unlike regular tofu or bean curd, silken tofu can fall apart quite easily, so it’s helpful to slice it directly in the serving dish. Then, in a small bowl, mix up your sauce, which includes the pleasant acidity of soy sauce and Chinese black vinegar, heat of chile peppers, earthy aroma of sesame oil and pepperiness of scallion. Peel and chop the century eggs lengthwise, then place the pieces around the tofu. Garnish the dish with cilantro. And you’re ready to enjoy!
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Century Egg with Silken Tofu by Megan Zhang
This is a staple home-style appetizer served all across China, but it brings enough gusto to be the main event. And it doesn’t even require turning on a stove.