The most nostalgic egg dish for me is the big bowl of steamed savoury egg custard my family would make as part of dinner.
My love of eggs has been well documented to my friends and family over the years. Eggs in all forms – boiled, fried, scrambled, over easy or poached – are delicious, and only once have I eaten an egg treated with so much disrespect that I couldn’t finish it. When I was picked up from kindergarten by my grandfather, my snack of choice on the walk home was a hard-boiled egg, boiled within an inch of its life. I would happily dive into that slightly crumbly egg in the way people eat an apple.
However, the most nostalgic egg dish for me is the big bowl of steamed savoury egg custard my family would make as part of dinner. This was mainly done for my benefit since I was a picky eater as a child, with an affinity for beige food. I once even constructed a paper sign in front of my dinner bowl that said, “no greens or seafood past this point”. Naturally my parents were pretty concerned with my nutritional needs. Eggs, at least, possessed some nutritional benefit. And this may just be a Chinese thing, but my family were convinced that eating them would also make me smarter. The jury’s out on whether that worked, but I was happy with the encouragement to eat more.
The beaten eggs would be mixed with water, seasoned and steamed into a wobbly custard. I loved to spoon large portions over my rice and mix it all together into a slurry porridge. Even though I am the biggest proponent of texture in foods today, there’s something comforting about a mushy, starchy dish. Soy sauce and sesame oil would make it delightfully umami and fragrant – and as I got older, a bit of black bean chilli oil or spicy pickled mustard vegetable were also fantastic accompaniments.
When my brother was young, my great-grandmother would make a “loaded” version of this dish for him, enriched with mince and very finely chopped vegetables. I used to clamour to be the one to feed him so I could sneak mouthfuls when no‑one was looking. She was always the one who made this dish and after she passed away, no-one else in the family could ever match the perfection she achieved. And even though any steamed egg custard I make probably won’t live up to my childhood memories, it does take me back to that time.
CHINESE-ISH BY JOANNA HU and ROSHEEN KAUL IS OUT NOW.
Steamed Savoury Egg Custard Two Ways
½ cup warm everyday stock (or use a good-quality shop-bought stock)
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
Chinese Everyday Stock
500g chicken wings or carcasses
4cm piece ginger, skin on, sliced
2 spring onions, halved
To make the stock, place the chicken in a large saucepan or stockpot and cover with 12 cups water. Slowly bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Skim any scum or impurities from the surface and add the ginger and spring onion. Partially cover the pan and simmer for 2 hours, skimming occasionally. Allow to cool, then strain the stock, discarding the solids.
Chill the stock overnight and remove the layer of fat that forms on the surface. You can keep this fat to cook with later. The stock will keep in the fridge for 5 days, or for up to 3 months in the freezer.
To make the custard, thoroughly whisk the egg, warm stock and soy sauce together and then drain into a small heatproof bowl.
To cook in the microwave, cover with a lid and microwave at 50 per cent power for 2 minutes. Check the consistency after 2 minutes and wipe away any water droplets that appear on the lid. From here, microwave in 30-second increments at 50 per cent power until the custard is just set.
To steam, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and pierce holes in the plastic to allow steam to escape. Place in a bamboo steamer and steam over a gentle heat for 10-12 minutes, or until just set.
NOTE: The suggested microwave times above are for a 1100 watt microwave.