Recipe: Hubei Style Century Eggs With Cold Tofu

Feature Article:
Century Eggs With Cold Tofu

Hubei Style Century Eggs With Cold Tofu

jeff
This is a cold salad made with century eggs, which are a style of preserved eggs from China. These are also known as thousand-year-old eggs, pidan, horse piss eggs, or “pine flower” eggs.
This is a quite common dish in China, most often served as a starter. It goes down well with beer, a side of steamed rice, or just by itself.
This particular version does not adhere to any particular Chinese culinary tradition, but it is most influenced by the food of Hubei province, which borrows liberally from Sichuan, Shanghai, and Hunan.
NOTE: I’m doing something a bit different here in that I’m bundling two versions of the same dish in one recipe. There are no differences in the ingredients or taste of the two versions, only the presentation and texture. The main recipe will result in the version you see in the image up top; the alternate steps will result in something a little different (details in the Recipe Notes).
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Total Time 15 mins
Servings 6

Ingredients
  

Primary ingredients

  • 1 lb Silken tofu You can use other textures of tofu, but they will have a very different texture and will absorb much more sauce.
  • 2 pcs Century Eggs You should be able to find these in your local Asian market. Also, as much as it pains me to say this, there have been issues with unscrupulous producers, especially Chinese ones, in the past. If you’re concerned about that, look for eggs produced in Taiwan or Vietnam.

Infused oil

  • 1/3 cup neutral tasting vegetable oil Extra virgin canola oil would be traditional; I usually use avocado oil
  • 4 stalks Green onion / scallions Finely chopped
  • 1/2 inch knob of fresh ginger Sliced as thin as you can against the grain
  • 1 to 5 dried red chilis Vary this according to how much heat you like. I find these most commonly and affordably in my local Mexican market. Chiles arbol will do; I prefer chiles japones. In a real pinch, go ahead and use those red pepper flake packets from Domino’s you’ve thrown in your drawer.
  • 4 large cloves of garlic Roughly chopped

Vinaigrette dressing

  • 2 1/2 Tbsp Light soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar DO NOT use black Taiwanese vinegar for this, which is more like Worcestershire sauce. Look for the words “ZhenJiang” or “ChinKiang” on the label
  • 1 tsp Roasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp Sichuan pepper oil This is completely optional, but adds amazing flavor

Finishing touches

  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro Roughly chopped

Optional

  • 1 handful fried peanuts These add a nice crunch and an extra dimension of flavor, but the dish stands just fine without them

Instructions
 

Initial Prep

  • Silken tofu has a high water content, which will naturally start to seep out of it as it sits. So do this step first to let some of the water content bleed out as you get everything else done.
    Remove your tofu from its packaging and rinse it with cold water. Then:
  • TRADITIONAL: 
    Cut the tofu into rough cubes or chunks, and place it in a bowl.
    Peel and rinse your century eggs, then chop them roughly and put them in a separate bowl.
  • ALTERNATIVE: 
    Cut the tofu into roughly 1/4-inch thick slices, and fan them out on a plate.
    Peel and rinse your century eggs, and set aside.

Infused oil

  • Thinly slice your ginger, roughly chop your garlic and dried red chilies, and finely chop your green onions. Keep them separate.
  • Heat your 1/4 cup of vegetable oil in a pan or wok on medium heat.
  • Throw in the sliced ginger. The oil should be hot enough that the ginger starts to sputter.
  • When the ginger starts to brown, throw in your chopped garlic and dried red chilies and mix well to make sure everything’s well coated in oil.
  • Once the garlic starts to brown and the chilies start to get a touch of char, kill the heat and mix in your finely chopped green onions. Make sure everything has good contact with the oil. Leave everything in the pot to let the flavors infuse into the oil as you prep your vinaigrette or sauce.

Make your dressing (traditional) or emulsified sauce (alternative)

  • TRADITIONAL: In a bowl, mix together your soy sauce, black vinegar, sesame oil, and (optional) sichuan peppercorn oil. Taste and adjust as you like; set aside.
    Pictured: the one that you need and might not have. Sorry, this one’s pretty old and gross but I was too lazy to go digging around in our cupboard for our backup.
  • ALTERNATIVE: 
    Drain your infused oil into a blender bowl, reserving the crunchy bits for dressing the salad later.
    Combine your drained infused oil, century eggs, soy sauce, black vinegar, sesame oil, and (optional) sichuan peppercorn oil in a blender. Blend until smooth.
    If these core ingredients sound familiar; oil, eggs, acid, and seasoning — then yeah. You can think of this as a flavored mayonnaise, even though it isn’t one by any stretch of the imagination.

Assemble your dish

  • TRADITIONAL:
    Drain the excess water from your bowl of cubed/chopped tofu.
    Add your chopped century eggs, infused oil (along with the crunchy bits if you like), and vinaigrette dressing, and fold everything together.
    Scatter chopped cilantro over it, and (optional) add your fried peanuts as well.
    Serve immediately.
  • ALTERNATIVE:
    Drain the excess water from your plate of sliced tofu.
    Pour your century egg vinaigrette sauce onto your plate in any way you like; I tried to get fancy here, but plating is not my forte.
    Top your tofu with the crispy bits reserved from your infused oil, cilantro, and (optional) fried peanuts.
    Serve immediately.

Notes

This is an iteration on a well-known Chinese dish with about 500 years of history behind it. Typically it is prepared much more simply than this, but I’ve added a few touches that I believe (and my wife agrees) raise the bar a little.
There is nothing officially “Hubei” about this dish; the only reasons this might be considered “Hubei-style” are that it started as an attempt of mine to make a version of this dish that was as delicious as the first time I tried it in Hubei, and that it borrows from a couple regional variations of dishes like this, namely the “chopped salad” approach of Shanghai, and the numbing spiciness from Sichuan province.
This approach does water down the impact of the century eggs themselves somewhat, but I think the dish as a whole plays better.
I provide the alternative recipe here as a way to include people who might find the texture or appearance of century eggs distasteful or offensive. I’ve tried this approach with a few groups of friends with great success.
Finally, do keep in mind that while this is billed as a salad, it is quite a rich dish with more than its fair share of fat involved, and very heavily spiced.
 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.