Shelling out sound advice from mother

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 December, 2002, 12:00am

My mother, who is an excellent cook, used to slave long and hard in the kitchen, preparing labour-intensive foods such as char siu and Chinese roasted sausages until she decided they were too much trouble. One time, she decided to prepare haam daan (salted duck's eggs).

She boiled up a heavy salt water solution, let it cool, then poured it into a large jar and added the raw duck's eggs. They bobbed around on the surface of the water, but gradually through osmosis absorbed the salt and became heavier, eventually sinking to the bottom of the jar about a week later. She cooked them and they tasted exactly like commercially available salted eggs. So, like the char siu and roasted sausages, she decided it was a lot easier to buy them.

These eggs are usually sold caked in a thick ash. Leave them like this until you're ready to use them, then scrape off the ash with a knife (it comes away easily) and rinse the eggs in cold running water. When you crack them open, the white is thick and opaque and the yolk is firm and not runny. The simplest way to enjoy these is boiled - put the whole eggs into a pan of water, bring it to the boil, lower the heat and let them simmer for 10 minutes. Cut in half through the shell, scoop out the egg and eat it with white rice.

A classic home-style dish is steamed minced pork with salted egg. It tastes best if you hand-chop the pork. Take a piece of pork that has quite a bit of fat and chop it with two cleavers - it should have some texture, so don't chop it too finely. Mix the pork with soy sauce, rice wine, sugar and cornstarch, then press the mixture into a shallow dish. Crack open the salted duck eggs - cut the yolk into pieces and press into the surface of the meat. You can drizzle a little of the egg white onto the meat, but don't add it all or it will be too salty. Steam over high heat for about 20 minutes.

I love a dish that uses three kinds of eggs - fresh, salted and preserved 'thousand-year' eggs. Whisk the fresh eggs with an equal measure of water and season with white ground pepper, a little salt and soy sauce. Dice a preserved egg and add it to the fresh-egg mixture, then stir in the diced yolk of a salted egg (discard the white). Bring the water in the bottom of a tiered steamer to the boil. Add the top part of the steamer and put in the dish of eggs. Cover the steamer, lower the heat and cook until only the centre of the custard is wobbly. Sprinkle with chopped spring onions and fresh coriander and serve immediately.