I am slightly obsessed with eggs at the moment. Not only are they delicious, they are also one of the most versatile and nutritious fast food. And the great thing is, there's always some knocking about in my kitchen and when on days when I lack the passion or initiative to do any major culinary challenges, it is a great fall back ingredient to use.
They are perfect for breakfast - poached, boiled, scrambled and fried and by adding a few more ingredients such as potatoes and onion, a classic Spanish tortilla is transformed into lunch. But for the Chinese in me, I always like to make this simple steamed savoury eggs to go with my lazy meal.
For those who frequently visit Chinese restaurants will no doubt have come across this deceptively simple dish at some point. You might even puzzled at how on earth does such a 'boring' looking egg dish command such highly acclaimed status - We Chinese adore this! This humble custard is home comfort to us.
The ingredients list is simple. Eggs, water, seasoning and that's it. To be able to make this skilfully at home is the most fulfilling achievement. The key to a smooth and silky steamed custard is to not to whisk it too ferociously when mixing the eggs with the stock. It is also essential to pass this mixture through a fine sieve to remove any bubbles that may have formed. My nan used to scoop up any visible bubbles with a spoon and then painstakingly prick any remaining bubbles with a sharp toothpick to ensure that a clear and smooth surface is achieved before slowly transferring the dish into a steamer. Another key thing to remember is to keep the water in the steamer at a steady but low boiling pace. Otherwise, the custard will cook too quickly and you will ends up with lots of craters/dimples formed around the edges and the surface, the look of a moon surface in this instance is not desirable. I would also recommend using a ceramic deep dish and never metal for the same reason, so the custard cook more gradually and evenly.
Once you've mastered the techniques to a tender and silky steamed custard, go wild. There are many variations that can be conjures up from this basic recipe. My nan often added chunks of century eggs or even seasoned minced pork etc to create a more luxurious version. You can also add prawns, scallops or cooked crabmeat and a drizzle of XO sauce for a delicious seafood version if you like. But to my mind, the simplicity of the basic recipe is as good as any of those fussy posh concoctions. Sometimes, I even replace the stock with just water for a cleaner taste if I don't have any good homemade stock at hand.
Ingredients (Serves 2 )
4 free range eggs (I use burford browns but any good quality free range eggs will do)
250ml good quality chicken stock or water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp sesame oil
light soy sauce, to serve
ground white pepper, to serve
sesame oil, to serve
1 spring onion, cut into thin rings, for garnish
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the stock or water, salt, white pepper and sesame oil and whisk until well blended. Strain through a very fine sieve. Strain again if necessary to remove any visible froth from the mixture. There should be no froth or bubble on the surface. This is the secret to a smooth steamed egg.
Carefully ladle the mixture into a large heat-proof dish (such as Pyrex or porcelain china) or 4 individual serving bowls. Make sure the egg mixture is no more 5 cm deep. I used an 8cm diameter x 4cm deep dish for this.
Prepare a steamer. Set it on a gentle boil. Do not steam the eggs on a high heat as this will create dimples which meant it won't have a desired smooth finish. Lower the bowl into the steamer. Cover and steam for 20 minutes for the large dish and about 15 minutes for the individual bowls. Watch out for the water level and add more boiling water to the steamer when needed.
When done, the egg should be just set and feel firm in the centre when touch, with a slight wobble but not liquid. Test by inserting a toothpick in the centre, it should come out clean. If not, steam for a few more minutes.
Carefully remove the dish from the steamer, drizzle with a dash of soy sauce, white pepper and garnish with the spring onion.