Monday, December 19, 2016

Bean curd with pine flower preserved eggs

As the year winds down and 2016 finally comes to an end, All Under Heaven continues to hang out with some really great books. I still can’t believe that this is happening, but here you go:

Epicurious has my book up there with goddesses like Dorie Greenspan, as well as friends like Jeffrey Yoskowitz. Each and every one of these books is now on my Must Have List. I can think of fewer honors that make me happier than sharing a shelf with these great food writers. Please buy their books!

Check out Munchies - it's always good
Munchies reproduced my Mapo Doufu recipe on its website. If you are wondering what to cook for dinner this week, look no further. I am so proud of this truly authentic and very flavorful rendition of a Chengdu classic.

Public Radio station WBUR just published “7 Recipes from Resident Chef Kathy Gunst’s Favorite Cookbooks of 2016.” It shortlists only four titles, but Chef Gunst goes on to note, “If you, or anyone on your list, love Chinese food, this is your book.... The charming illustrations were drawn by Phillips and even though there’s not a photograph in sight, her writing and very clearly written recipes will make you want to cook your way through China, and this book.”
I ask you, could you find better company to be in?

Eat Your Books is having a cookbook giveaway, and that book is All Under Heaven! This contest ends on January 12, so hurry on over, become a free member of Eat Your Books (it is SO worth it!), and join the fun.

And finally, the wonderful Marc Schermerhorn gives All Under Heaven two thumbs up on his blog, Baketard, where he posts my beloved recipe for Dry-Fried Chicken Wings and talks about cooking from the book with his friends, who gave the book super high points: 

Marc's wings
“Recently I invited a group of friends over to explore the book that in my opinion is THE cookbook of the year, Carolyn Phillips’ comprehensive tome on Chinese cookery, All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China. I have a large cookbook library, and Chinese cookbooks, both from the US and around the world, are the second largest section in my collection -- second only to Italian. None of my books come close to covering the breadth of Chinese cuisine explored in Carolyn’s book. Not even close. This book blew us all away. We made 10-12 dishes together, and Every. Single. Dish. Was amazing. Every one! We always rate dishes between 1-10. Nothing was less than a 9. That never happens.” 

And then he says, "You want this book. Trust me. This is THE book of 2016, IMO." Thank you, Marc, for such a great Festivus present!

*  *  *

Today we have a classic East China appetizer – another incredibly simple yet dazzling combination from the Yangtze River area. 

Back in the early 1980's, the one place my husband and I could always count on to do this dish right was a wonderful mid-priced restaurant in downtown Taipei, Fùxīngyuán 復興園. We became such regular customers there that, as soon as we walked in the door, the cook would prepare this dish just the way I liked it — with an extra egg — and it would be set on our table only sec­onds after we’d been poured hot tea.
Snowflake patterns under the shell

Generally referred to as simply pidan doufu, or bean curd with preserved eggs, this dish relies on the quality of the ingredients, the perfect ratio of bean curd to egg, and the proper execution of the tangy sauce that tops it. The bean curd must be the soft, custardy type, and the preserved eggs should be of the pine flower (songhua) variety, meaning that crystalline patterns have formed under the shells.

Preserved eggs get a bad rap because of their appear­ance and the touristy names associated with them: “thousand-year-old egg” or “century egg” or even “mil­lennium egg.” The fact is, they’re not at all old, and they should be enjoyed while they are relatively fresh because they will dry out if left out for too long. When opened, the whites will have turned a clear, dark amber, and the yolks will be runny and grayish green but taste remarkably buttery.

A long-time favorite
I once was at lunch with a good American Chinese friend in Taipei. She had her young daughter in tow, and of course when the pidan were served, the daughter was horrified at having black eggs plunked in front of her. I grabbed a big wedge, stuck it in my face, and made all sorts of yummy sounds before saying, “Ooooh, Jello eggs...” She bought it, and proceeded to devour what remained on the plate.

And that, my friends, is marketing. Happy holidays!

Bean curd with pine flower preserved eggs
Sōnghuā pídàn dòufŭ 松花皮蛋豆腐
Hubei and Jiangxi
Serves 4 to 6

2 or 3 preserved eggs
1 block (14 ounces / 400 g) soft bean curd (see Tips)
2 tablespoons Sichuan pickled tuber
1 green onion, green parts only
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
½ teaspoon sea salt
Get a good brand from Taiwan
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon pale rice vinegar
1 teaspoon black vinegar
¼ cup / 60 ml toasted sesame oil

1. Peel the eggs, rinse them gently to remove any tiny bits of shell, and slice them into thin wedges.

2. Bring a small saucepan half full of water to a boil and slip in the block of soft bean curd; bring the water to a boil again and then discard the water and carefully rinse the hot bean curd under cool tap water. Drain well and place on a cutting board. Cut the bean curd lengthwise in half and then cut it crosswise into thin pieces (⅛ to ¼ inch / 3 to 6 mm wide). Use your knife to gently lift up the fragile slices and fan them out on a rimmed serving plate. Arrange the sliced eggs on top.

Sichuan pickled tuber from my grocer's bin
3. Rinse the pickled tuber and chop it very finely. Thinly slice the onion greens. Scatter the pickled tuber, green onion, and cilantro over the top of the eggs. Boil the salt, sugar, vinegars, and sesame oil in a wok over high heat until they bubble furiously, but not so long that the sugar burns; taste this mix­ture and adjust as necessary, then drizzle it over the greens to wilt them. Serve slightly warm.


You can use either “soft” or “extra-soft” bean curd here. But keep in mind that although the extra-soft kind will taste very good, it might look messier, as it tends to fall apart easily.

The bean curd is quickly blanched in this recipe to gently firm it up (so that it’s easier to slice) and to remove any scent of the packaging.

My go-to brand
Use care when selecting the eggs and the bean curd. Get soft, organic, non-GMO bean curd (aka, doufu or tofu). The taste is so much better. And the eggs should preferably be from Taiwan, which tends to make good quality preserved eggs with tender whites and creamy centers. Poor quality ones will be rubbery on the outside and hard on the inside. 

Check to see that the packages says that "no lead" was used. Unleaded would - in a perfect world - refer only to gasoline. But unfortunately some unscrupulous manufacturers stoop to horrible practices in making their preserved eggs. Good ones do exist, though. This one in the photo with the yellow packaging has always served me well, and I usually find those "pine flowers" underneath the shell. 


  1. this is helpful--I've seen preserved eggs at the market but been unsure about which to mine aren't ready yet!