Monday, March 31, 2014

Homemade Salted Eggs (and Some Uses For Them)

For some reason, I keep noticing eggs recently, even though it is not yet Easter. There was "the case of the mismatched eggs" at a Japanese eatery, and at a wedding I went to recently, I was treated to a custardy-soft 62 degree sous vide egg. I have also been running around the city, looking for the giant eggs in The Big Egg Hunt. So it makes sense that I should do something to do with eggs this month.

Golden egg with a bowl of ramen.

Actually, I had the idea of making my own Chinese salted eggs several months ago, which is why I can write about them now. Rather than using a fancier recipe with star anise, Sichuan peppers and Shaoxing wine, I found one that corresponded to what my parents told me they did: simply make a saturated salt water solution by adding salt to the water until it won't dissolve any more, put your raw eggs in, and leave them to soak for a month.

Boiled salted egg (left) and normal egg (right): not much difference on the outside, but the colour of the yolk and the texture of the white gives the game away.

Sounds easy, except that I put the raw salted eggs in the fridge after soaking, and promptly forgot about them... until now. I can't tell you if it was due to the time delay, or something else I did wrong, but what I made did not look anything like the beautiful creation below. When I cracked them open (admittedly months after they were ready), there was an undefined lump of golden orange, but mostly, the yolk had become combined with the white, turning everything into a thick orangey mess (not pictured to spare your sensibilities).

Beautiful salted egg (left) and normal egg (right), both raw.
Fortunately, my parents had also made salted eggs, and they turned out perfect, so I could carry on and make the things I wanted to try. I am also reminded of the time when we went on holiday, and our house-sitter threw out an entire batch of salted eggs (again gifted from my parents), no doubt after receiving a shock from seeing a solid yolk rather than the usual consistency.

Lau Sar Bao (流沙包), or Molten Custard Bun

One of the greatest recent dim sum inventions is the lau sar bao (流沙包), literally "flowing sand bun". Unlike the standard custard bun, this variation is generally made with salted egg yolks, and has a more liquid filling that flows out when hot (or in some cases, explodes in your mouth).

I basically followed the recipe from Bake for Happy Kids, while taking a few liberties such as just using milk instead of milk powder and coconut milk, due to what I had in the kitchen. As it was not specified how the salted egg yolks were to be cooked, I took (what I thought was) the easy path, and simply microwaved them. As you might have guessed, this was not the correct technique, as the yolks burst and splattered everywhere. For some reason, I didn't think this would happen because the raw yolks looked so solid.

Salted egg yolk: raw, microwaved, and cooked and broken up.
Because I had a very liquid filling (perhaps I should have replaced the missing milk powder with something else), some of my buns started leaking even before I began steaming them.

Steaming the buns.
They also didn't look very pretty, because the water droplets from the steam made little pockmarks on the surface of the buns.

My molten custard buns didn't have the right texture, with the bread too chewy (even though I deliberately purchased low gluten flour) and the filling too runny when hot, but the flavours were good.

Filling too liquid when hot.
The custard was a better texture once cooled to room temperature. I may need practice, but I am definitely keen to try this again!

Better consistency when cooled.
Egg White Fried Rice

There are plenty of recipes for using salted egg yolks, but not so many for using up the whites. I was tempted to chuck the leftover whites into some kind of egg drop soup, but as we had old rice in the fridge, we made fried rice with it instead. We mixed the salted egg whites with a bit of fresh egg in case everything was too salty, but we actually ended up adding some salt back in. Not that different in taste from standard fried rice, but using whites gives it a paler colour.

Fried rice with salted egg white.

Steamed Three Colour Egg (蒸三皇蛋)

Literally "steamed three emperor egg", this version of Chinese steamed eggs makes use of three different kinds of eggs: fresh eggs, salted eggs, and century eggs. Not only do the colours look amazing, but it tastes great too, with the fresh eggs mellowing out the other flavours.

Three colour eggs before steaming.
I thought I was clever for substituting some fresh eggs with salted egg white, but I forgot to add water to the mixture, so my custard was too firm. Still, we enjoyed this dish. It was a bit too salty, but was great with rice.

Three colour eggs after steaming.
Other Uses

Many Chinese families will eat slices of cooked salted egg with congee for breakfast, but if you wanted to cook with them, here are some other ideas.

Whole Salted Eggs
Salted Egg Yolks
Salted Egg Whites
These tend not so much to be dishes in themselves, but are modifications of recipes to use up the egg whites.

This post is part of Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event aimed at inspiring us to try new things. This month, it is hosted by Medha from Mimi’s Mommy blog.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: Bánh Mì Càphê, Hamilton (or, Searching for a Lost Love)

[Added 4 February 2015: Since a month ago, there has actually been amazing banh mi available in Auckland!]
[Added 24 February 2015: See also my post B is for Bánh Mì, where I go around eating it at various places.]

Ever since we've been to Vietnam, we've been bemoaning the lack of herbs in the offerings here. Where we were spoiled with side plates piled high with greenery overseas, we are lucky if we even get a single sprig of Thai basil in Auckland, let alone sawtooth coriander, rice paddy herb, or any of the other distinctive Vietnamese herbs you can find at the market. We'd even be happy with just coriander and mint, if only they were served in sufficient quantities, but no. The one exception I have come across is Cafe Hanoi (there's also a little place in Wellington, but that's so far away), where you can purchase a small herb tray for a price.

Herbs in Vietnam Exhibit 1 - with phở/noodle soup.
Herbs in Vietnam Exhibit 2 - with bánh xèo.
Herbs in Vietnam Exhibit 3 - with freshly steamed rice rolls.
Why don't restaurants serve herbs like these with their Vietnamese meals?

There was however one item we have had, which we actually enjoyed more in Auckland than we did in Vietnam*: the bánh mì Vietnamese sandwiches from a restaurant on Dominion Road which no longer exists, called Banh Mi Bale.

* Actually, there was a bánh mì which we really liked in Vietnam. Unfortunately, it also made us really sick.

Pictures of the old shop from Student Foodie: Auckland.
Picture of Vietnamese sandwich from Chinese Town listing.

I can see why the owners of Banh Mi Bale wanted to shift—the Lorne Street location they moved to in 2009 is much more central—but I don't know why they changed their menu. In 2011, they rebranded their restaurant to Saigon BBQ. Chinese roast meats were in; bánh mì were out. Cue sadness and despair. Later that year, they brought back the sandwiches in a new shop called Pho Saigon in the Viaduct, but that too is now gone (though when I rang up to ask about it, they said they had hopes of running it again).

Selection of Vietnamese sandwiches from the original Pho Saigon in the Viaduct.
In 2012, the Lorne Street shop was again renamed, this time also to Pho Saigon, and Malaysian cuisine was introduced. Again, no sign of bánh mì. The Westernised versions of the sandwich we came across at places like Miss Ping's just weren't the same. [Added 5 February 2015: the Lorne Street shop is long gone, and the Viaduct branch of Pho Saigon has re-opened, but without these amazing sandwiches. The business has also recently announced a new branch in Mount Eden.]

Bánh Mì Càphê

When I came across a Waikato Times article about a new eatery in Hamilton called Bahn Mi Caphe, where the baguettes arrive each day from a bakery owned by the parents of the chef's Vietnamese wife, we just had to give it a go.

I'm not sure we would drive out all that way very often, but we did have a good bánh mì there. Maybe not quite as good as the ones from the depths of our memories, but certainly a cut above some of the other sandwiches we have tried at various places. The baguette had a thin crust on the outside, with a soft inside, and the filling was flavourful.

Banh mi from Banh Mi Caphe.
We also tried a phở, which was light and refreshing, although it suffered from a lack of herbs, as with most Vietnamese eateries in this country. It was served with a wedge of lemon and slices of fresh chilli, as well as hoisin and chilli sauce, which chef and part-owner Pat explained we could either dip meat into, or scoop into the soup bowl.

Pho with condiments but not much in the way of herbs.
Perhaps it was because we were taking pictures of the food, but after serving prawn crackers and bún noodle salads to the next table, he brought us a massive portion of bánh flan to share, on the house. Although we were already full, this caramel custard was not very sweet, and we ended eating more than we intended. We also ordered a chè to take away. The term can refer to any number of desserts, and in this case it was a barely sweetened sticky rice pudding served with mango sorbet.

Delicious custard called bánh flan.
Pat told us of plans to introduce a dinner menu, once his parents-in-law arrive in a few months' time. New dishes might be the Vietnamese omelette bánh xèo, as well as a cơm tấm broken rice dish. To generate a bit of a buzz, he is considering serving fried scorpion skewers too! I hope he also manages to enhance the menu by including bánh mì with slices of chả lụa (Vietnamese pork roll) and pâté, which he mentioned was a possibility.

The restaurant tries to capture some street atmosphere.
Banh Mi Caphe has a casual atmosphere which is based on a typical Vietnamese street scene, with phone numbers spray-painted onto the walls, stools around tables (though the stools in Vietnam were often much lower to the ground), sauce bottles on the table, a Chinese chess set. There was even a bike in the front window!

The food is inexpensive and tasty, and has the potential to be even better. We would love to have the opportunity to eat here more often. If only it were closer to home!

Panda Recommends

I don't normally write about places we've only been to once, but given the distance from our house to Hamilton, we can only say that what we had was good, and keep your eyes on the restaurant's Facebook page for new offerings!

Menu - page 1

Menu - page 2

Restaurant Details

Bánh Mì Càphê
198 Victoria Street, Hamilton, New Zealand
(07) 839 1141

Opening hours:
Tuesdays to Wednesdays 11am - 4pm
Thursdays to Fridays 11am - 9pm
Saturdays to Sundays 11:30am - 4pm
Mondays closed.

Banh Mi Caphe shopfront.

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