Century egg is a type of preserved egg in Chinese cuisine. It isn't actually old. In fact they could be only one month old. Born out of an approach not to waste food, whenever there is an egg glut, egg farmers will preserve them so that they don't spoil. Salted egg is another type of preserved egg.
The Mandarin name is 皮蛋 (pi dan) which roughly means "leather egg".
Why such a bizarre name?
It could be because of its colour. The egg is generally blackish and brownish. The egg white is brownish, like firm jelly, and is tasteless. The texture is similar to a hard boiled egg. The egg yolk is greyish and creamy. Some say it has a sulphurous smell. I had very little encounter with sulphur, so I can't say.
Snowflake-like patterns sometimes appear on the egg white. It used to fascinate me when I was a child. The next time you buy century eggs, try looking for these patterns.
Century egg is usually made with duck eggs but chicken eggs have been preserved as well. The preservation ingredients are generally considered toxic. However, in recent years, the making of century egg has become more modern using healthier ingredients. One Taiwan manufacturer even only uses sea salt and sodium bicarbonate.
The eggs we buy locally used to have rice husks and mud still intact. The eggs come individually wrapped in plastic to prevent the mud and husks from falling everywhere. But I have seen shops selling century eggs pre-washed. I don't quite trust those initially as I was told that the mud and husks protect the eggs.
It does make sense to buy pre-washed eggs as it is quite messy removing the husks and mud. I used to scrap the mud off with a butter knife. But it made a mess in the kitchen sink and I worry that the husks might clog up the drain.
I tried rubbing off the mud and husks with my hands while the eggs are still wrapped in plastic. It is less messy. Loosen the plastic a little and then use the thumbs to push the mud away from the shell. Wash off any leftover mud from the shells.
Only remove the shell after it has been thoroughly cleaned.
Slicing the century egg can be a challenge too because the yolk is soft and creamy, and tend to stick to the knife. Smearing some oil on the knife will help.
Someone has suggested using dental floss. I tried it and it works. Place the egg on the chopping board. Hold the dental floss in both hands and press down on the egg. Continue until you have the chunks you want.
It is interesting to note that it is considered a bizarre food in many parts of the world. I was quite amused by the fuss surrounding this very "old" egg. I saw a few youtube videos of people trying it for the first time. I knew they were going to gag or throw up because most of them took such huge bites which would obviously be overpowering.
Would anyone wolf down an entire piece of blue cheese? No, right? You slice a little piece and smear it thinly on a large biscuit right? The same principle goes for the century egg. Eat in small quantities.
Having said that, many people still do not like the taste as it can be quite strong. Alex of Justcookit.blogspot.com wrote a controversial post of his first encounter with it. It is quite funny, if you need a good chuckle, head on over.
I have probably acquired a taste for it because I can eat it on its own with just some preserved ginger. It is most commonly added finely chopped to steamed egg custard and of course, in rice congee. I suggest interested newbies try it in very small pieces and never on its own. Eat it with lots of rice congee.(^__^). See how it is done by this chap from So You Don't Have To.
I usually eat century eggs in rice congee or as a side dish. I have 3 century egg congee recipes here. But there are other ways to enjoy it and here are 3 soup recipes using century eggs.
The third recipe is a popular soup sold in many Chinese restaurants in Singapore. The soup usually contains salted egg and fresh chicken egg but this recipe only has century egg.
Find the recipe for chinese spinach soup with goji berries and century egg at the page on Chinese spinach.
I hope you will give century egg a try with the information and recipes here.