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Preserved Eggs, Chinese Style

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fall Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(3) pages: 23 to 26

Eggs with physical and chemical changes to both the whites or their yolks or both can have changes in color, texture, flavor, or all of these. They look and taste differently. Recorded during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE), Wang Zizhen made his with strong black tea, lots of lime, salt, and wood ashes. His eggs were those of ducks, and they took six months stored under rice hulls to achieve the changes he wanted. They did not need cooking before one could eat them. The next written item found about preserving eggs was from 1918 by Blunt and Wang. Their technique was almost identical. There may be others, but our searching only turned up these two. If you know of any others, we would appreciate hearing about them.

Preserved Eggs Before the above well-spaced references, we did read about eggs preserved, but not how they were preserved other than putting them in a strong brine, some with sodium carbonate and/or lead oxide. Made these ways, the eggs needed some thirty days to change their albumin or yolk textures and tastes.

They are different from the ones written about and discussed. They need cooking before one could or should eat them. One other technique was to put eggs in concentrated salt water. Some had red tea leaves in their liquid. These also needed cooking before eating. Many were kept for long times under rice hulls before cooking them. In general, the Chinese called most preserved eggs pidan.

Preserved eggs are desired most when they do not need cooking. Most often, they have semi-solid or firm yolks and whites, with or without a somewhat pungent flavor and aroma. These can depend upon how long they are stored. They are somewhat salty and can have an aftertaste. Those with very firm yolks can be made with lead oxide, soaked or coated with wax, and include storage with some oleic acid, ammonia water, and/ or boiled water used when cool. Some will need up to two hundred days before they can be cooked and eaten. Any pungent aroma and/or taste often goes away with storage.

There are some made with tea leaves that benefit from the tannins in them as do those made at higher temperatures. Most of these are best prepared between twenty and thirty degrees Celsius, the higher the temperature, the faster the preservation process, and the coagulation.

Salted Eggs the Chinese call xian dan. They are most often sold from jars of salt water or they can be coated with a paste of mud and salt. Made these ways, the eggs usually have more protein, fat, calcium, and iron than those not similarly prepared and coated. They need about one month in a covered container for textural change. Made this way, they also need cooking before eating. Another way to make salted eggs is to put them in cool previously boiled water sealing their container for about twenty-five days before they change textures; and they also need cooking before eating. Eggs made this way have lots of sodium from the salt in the brine.

Pickled Eggs the Chinese call zaodan, and when making them, they are stored in layers of fermented grain mash. Often, their shells are cracked but the membranes under them left intact. When stored, they are sprinkled with salt between the egg layers. More mash is added and extra salt put on the top layer. They are kept for about five months, some of that time in hot weather if it exists, it does speed the process. Pickled eggs can be eaten cooked or not. They have a pleasant aroma and nice taste.

Overall, egg sellers years ago came to the door with their wares in baskets on a shoulder pole. They could be carrying these eggs preserved one way or another, or they might be hard-cooked, or selling freshly laid eggs. Most were duck eggs, a few could be from pigeons or those of other birds; a few might even be turtle eggs or the eggs of other animals.

Pages 24 to 26 have recipes for one or another preserved egg type. Most of them can be made with any type of cooked preserved eggs. Enjoy using and eating them.

Duck Egg, Pork and Mustard Green Soup

¼ pound lean pork slices
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 pound thinly slivered mustard green
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
2 salted duck eggs, peeled and mashed


1. Marinate pork in rice wine and soy sauce for half an hour.
2. Then, heat a wok or stock pot, add the oil, and when hot, add the pork mixture and stir-fry it for one minute before adding the cornstarch and mustard green slivers. Stir-fry this for one minute.
3. Now, add the ginger and mashed eggs and six cups of water. Stir and heat this almost to the boil stirring well, then pour it into a pre-heated soup tureen or in individual pre-heated soup bowls; and serve.

Steamed Salted Eggs

4 raw duck eggs, separated
¼ pound chopped pork
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
2 salted duck eggs


1. Beat raw duck eggs with the pork, three tablespoons of cool water, and the salt and soy sauce.
2. Crack and put the salty duck eggs in the middle of this egg mixture, and put it in a pan of boiled water. Bring this to the boil, and simmer for twelve minutes; then serve.

Steamed Egg Whites

10 large egg whites
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
2/3 cup Chinese rice wine
1¼ cups of honey


1. Strain raw egg whites into a medium bowl removing and discarding any membranes or chalaza.
2. Add sugar, salt, one cup of water, the wine, and the honey, and divide this into individual heat-proof ceramic bowls that come with covers. Do pierce any bubbles seen before covering each bowl with wax paper and a rubber band, then the cover of its ceramic bowl. Steam them over simmering water for twenty minutes, remove them from the steamer, and keep them warm until serving; and before doing that, remove and discard the wax paper coverings.

Three Kinds of Eggs

3 thousand year-old duck eggs
3 uncooked salted duck eggs
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 piece of cellophane paper
3 fresh duck eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil


1. Shell the thousand year-old eggs, and the salted eggs, and very coarsely dice them.
2. Beat fresh eggs and mix with the sherry, a half cup of water, the salt, and the sesame oil.
3. Brush oil on a glass bowl or small loaf pan; and line it with half the cellophane paper.
4. Coat it again with the oil, then pour in the egg mixture and cover this with plastic wrap; and microwave it for fifteen minutes on medium in a microwave oven, then remove it from the bowl or pan, cool it somewhat, cut it about half an inch thick, and put it on a glass platter, and serve.

Salted Yolks With Shrimp

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon rendered chicken fat
2 large yolks, mashed
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 red chili pepper, seeds discarded, the pepper minced
1 pound large shrimp, shells and veins removed and discarded
½ teaspoon coarse salt


1. Heat a wok, add the vegetable oil and the chicken fat, and simmer for one minute.
2. Add the mashed yolks, and when they start to froth, add the shrimp and stir well, add the garlic, chili pepper pieces, and the salt, and stir-fry for one minute, then serve in a pre-heated bowl.

Egg Rolls in Soup

1 pound fresh shrimp, shells and veins discarded
½ cup rendered chicken fat
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 pieces six-inch square seaweed
5 chicken eggs
1 salted duck egg
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
6 cups chicken broth
2 pieces six-inch square seaweed


1. Mix shrimp and chicken fat into a paste, then add the egg whites, rice wine, salt, and the bouillon powder.
2. Beat both eggs together.
3. Heat a wok or small fry pan, and make the eggs into individual six-inch omelets. Then put some seaweed on each omelet, then the shrimp mixture, and then roll them from both outsides to the center. Cut them into one-inch slices and set them so they show their twin rolls as seen on page 23.
4. Heat the broth and put two rolls onto the bottom of each soup bowl, pour on some heated broth, and serve.

Bitter Melon, Doufu, and Salted Yolks

3 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
1 to 2 bitter melons, seeded and thinly sliced
4 salted egg yolks, steamed for ten minutes, then mashed
1 pound silken doufu, cut into ten or more pieces
1 red chili pepper, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil


1. Heat a wok or fry pan, add one teaspoon of the vegetable oil, then when hot, stir-fry the bitter melon slices until almost soft. Then set them aside.
2. Add the rest of the vegetable oil, and stir-fry the mashed salted yolks until they begin to bubble, add the doufu and fry tor two minutes before returning the bitter melon slices to the wok or fry pan and the chili pepper pieces and stir well for one minute. Then stir in the sesame oil, and serve.

Duck Eggs With Crab Meat

1/4 cup glutinous rice, soaked over night
1/4 cup long-grain rice, soaked for one hour
2 dried Chinese black mushrooms, soaked for half an hour, stems discarded, then chopped
½ pound crab meat, chopped
2 salted duck egg yolks, mashed
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
3 slices fresh ginger, chopped
1 scallion, thinly angle sliced
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine


1. Steam both rices for half an hour.
2. Put the lotus leaf on a steamer basket and put the two rices mixed into it.
3. Mix the mushrooms, crab meat, and duck egg yolks and have them ready
4. Heat a wok or fry-pan, add the oil, then fry the shallots, ginger pieces, and the scallion for one minute, add the mushroom mixture, stir well, then spread this on the rice mixture.
5. Mix the soy sauce, sugar, and rice wine and pour over the rice-mushroom mixture, and close the lotus leaf package and steam for fifteen minutes, then open on a plate and serve.

Steamed Egg and Milk Custard

2 cups whole milk
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large raw eggs
2 salted duck eggs, mashed


1. Heat milk and sugar until the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat and let cool.
2. Mix raw eggs into this cooled mixture, stir well, then add the mashed salted egg yolks, and stir well.
3. Pour into a heat-proof bowl, cover, and steam for twenty minutes over simmering water; then serve.

Stir-Fried Eggs and Milk

5 egg whites
½ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
dash ground white pepper
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 salted egg yolks, mashed
2 Tablespoons minced Yunnan ham
¼ pound crab meat
½ cup vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons pine nuts


1. Blend egg whites, milk, sugar, white pepper, and cornstarch, then add the salted yolks, the minced ham, and the crab meat, and set this aside.
2. Heat the oil, then fry the pine nuts at a low temperature until they begin to brown, then remove them to paper towels, and discard all but one tablespoon of the oil.
3. Reheat reserved tablespoon of the oil until it starts to smoke, add the set aside egg mixture, and scramble this until it begins to coagulate. Add the pine nuts; then serve.

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