The old fashioned coffee shops in Malaysia produce a kind of buffet lunch, in which they line up big trays of all kinds of different prepared foods. There can be literally dozens of different dishes and you just go and load your plate of rice with whatever you fancy, pay what will probably amount to less than 10 ringgit and eat your fill. It’s called “Economy Rice” and that’s exactly what it is. A delicious, freshly prepared meal for less than US$3.
One of the dishes that will often feature is steamed egg. It’s smooth and creamy and light, a bit like a savoury custard, which is exactly what it is. It’s simple and like many really simple dishes, it is difficult to get right. Too much heat and it bubbles up like a soufflé, only to fall back full of holes and water logged when it cools. Too low a heat and you’ll end up with a thick, rubbery skin on your eggs and no one wants a rubbery skin on their eggs.
But if you follow a few simple rules and use my tried and tested proportions, you will get it right first time around, I promise. And believe me, it will be worth it! There’s just one more thing… You will need the right equipment for steaming. There’s unfortunately no two ways about it. So here’s what you need:
A bowl that will hold 500ml in a shallow layer. I use a Le Creuset ceramic dish I bought in the sale for far too much money, but you can use literally anything at all and it does not need to be oven proof. Just make sure it doesn’t leach deadly chemicals when it heats up. Glass is safe, ceramic is safe, but I wouldn’t go anywhere near plastic.
As for the steamer, you can go completely classic and use the bamboo steamer basket and lid. It looks great, works extremely well and has the added advantage that the lid does not drip water into your egg.
Or you can inherit a glamorous stainless steel AMC steamer pot from your mother-in-law who bought it from the direct selling lady in the 1970’s, when pots were still made of thick, durable no nonsense material, so that no handle has chipped or corner dented.
So now we are all set, let’s begin!
Chinese Steamed Egg
- 150ml strained egg (you’ll need 4 eggs)
- 350ml chicken or other stock
- 2 drops sesame oil to line the bowl
- NO salt, NO pepper!
- about 2 Tbsp chopped spring onion
You absolutely need to measure your egg and use only 150ml. Whisk the eggs just to break them up and stir them through a fine strainer into a measuring jug. Top up with 350ml stock and stir to mix. Do not salt or in any way flavour your eggs. The topping sauce will be highly flavoured and more than enough to make this a delicious dish.
If you don’t have stock, you can easily replace it. Here are two options:
Flavoured water – mix 350ml water with 1 tablespoon oyster sauce and 1 teaspoon soy sauce.
Quick stock – Soak 1 handful of ikan bilis (dried anchovies) in a bowl of water for 10 minutes, dry on paper towels, fry 2 slices of ginger in 1 tabespoon oil, add the ikan bilis and fry for 3 minutes, then pour in 500ml water. Simmer for 15 minutes, strain and you’re ready!
For the topping sauce:
- 1 Tbsp duck fat, lard or shallot oil
- 1 Tbsp caster sugar
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp Tamari
- 1 dash Maggi Seasoning
- ½ Tbsp Chinese rice wine (optional)
You can make this perfectly well without the Tamari or Maggi Seasoning, but it will be so much better with it. The rice wine is really optional. I use it if the other dishes I make are lightly flavoured, but if it;s something strong, like sweet sour pork, I leave it out. (Eddie’s recipe for what I consider to be the very best sweet sour pork is coming soon, so watch out for it).
Heat the water in your steamer, whether that’s a wok or a stacked steamer. Put two drops of sesame oil into your steaming container and oil the container with this oil. Place your steaming container into the steamer and pour in the egg mix. This way you won’t spill any on the way to the steamer. Cover the lid and don’t look at it for 5 minutes. Now gently open the lid, tilting it towards the edge of the steamer, so that any water condensed in the lid will drip past the steaming eggs and not into them.
Wriggle your top part of the steamer or your bamboo basket to see how your eggs are doing. The steaming time depends very much on the temperature of your water, the temperature of the eggs and the stock and a myriad other things, so don’t trust a timer, or the time it took the last time you made the eggs, so keep opening the lid and wriggling the steaming eggs. If the eggs seem not to be sticking to the sides, it means you are no where near done, so keep steaming. Don’t lower the heat, you will need a good steam. Just open the lid carefully every minute and check on your eggs. Do not slacken, or you may find a bloated mess in your bowl.
Once the middle is properly wriggly, your eggs are done. Now the good news is that you can take the whole steaming contraption off the heat and just leave the eggs in there while you finish whatever other dishes you are planning on serving. It will stay nice and warm and not overcook.
Just before serving, reheat the sauce if necessary (I don’t usually bother) and pour it all over the steamed eggs, sprinkle the spring onion over and serve. When you take the first scoop of eggs, you will think there is too much sauce, but once you’re on the last scoop, you will be thankful for it.
There are many variations to this steamed egg dish:
Salted Egg and/or Century Egg: You can chop some salted eggs, or century eggs or both into the bottom of the bowl before pouring the egg mix in. In this case, reduce the soy sauce in your topping sauce to just one tablespoon.
Dried Prawns: Soak a handful of dried prawns in hot water for 15 minutes, drain and sprinkle into the bottom of your steaming bowl before pouring in the eggs. Again reduce the soy sauce for the topping to one tablespoon and use only a half tablespoon of duck fat. If you want to be fancy, you can fry half of the dried soaked prawns in duck fat and top your egg with them.
Minced Meat: This is going to turn the dish into a bit of a main course, if you serve it with rice. Mix 100g minced pork or minced chicken with half a tablespoon soaked dried prawns, add your topping sauce mix to the minced meat and prawn mix and spread this in the bottom of your bowl. Pour as much of the egg mix over as will fit and steam. Serve topped with chopped spring onion and fried shallots.