Green Eggs Sans Ham. Thousand Year-Old Egg - Sam Woo BBQ. Van Nuys, CA.
Sam Woo BBQ. Van Nuys, CA, LA Chinatown and various locations.
His mark sat busily scanning the newspaper but was hardly reading it; the paper’s black and gray pages were flipped and turned with such frenzy that it sounded like two bush creatures were savagely scuffling over the usual food, female or turf. His mark appeared very much preoccupied and unsuspecting of what was about to happen, but one can never be too sure. So for the tenthteenth time or something like that he went over his checklist and made sure all his props, devices and confederates were in place and at the ready. He felt good. His confidence had returned after an unfairly prolonged dormancy. His pulse suddenly quickened. This time he came prepared and practiced. This time he recruited help. This time he wouldn’t screw it up.
His only purpose in life was to remain steadfast, to keep a fierce focus, not to be diverted by anything. He’s always had some sort of problems with discipline and staying on track. He’s improved though. It wasn’t easy, of course, but years of training and that mother of his helped. That mother of his raised him and his three sisters largely on her own. It wasn’t exactly a happy household but she managed to keep them all alive and get them into the world to do what they will. “And that’s why I was put on this earth,” she would crow.
He was always the smallest, meaning in age and stature. He never knew his father, but he does have a ghostly reverie of him probably from an early residual memory, and it wasn’t from trauma or anything of the sort. His father seemed confused and resentful like he was abruptly extracted from his ideal life and hurled into the unfulfilling actual one he was living. Like his son he also wasn’t very tall. That is basically the recollection.
Everyday, in order to be true to his purpose, he first and foremost needed you to notice him, which is not easy due to his aforementioned short stature, next he needed a bit of your time, not too much, not too little, but just enough to do what he had to do. Lastly, and this was always the challenging part – to close the deal, to win you over, to have you let go of your fears, to make you trust him – he just needed you to put it in your mouth. That was all. But the extremely awful and sad truth was that he had yet to convince a single you to do so and thus not satisfying his purpose in the slightest.
How he decided to make this his life’s work is still largely a mystery, for he never seemed to have much interest in anything let alone having an interest in having any interests at all. He lived the cliché life of an uninspired underachiever, which is to say that he knew a lot about many things but didn’t know what to do with anything he knew, like the cutesy motto he printed on his clumsy, homemade, business cards – “Jack of all trades. Master of none. 555-5869.” He also liked to hang out at cafés and appear relevant, which he did by surrounding himself with stacks of books and periodicals, none he read, and also by fervently jotting down pretend notes and sketching pretend pictures in his secondhand, wide ruled notebook. He never got the attention he craved from these elaborate stagings so he finally decided to do something authentic with his young life; surely this is something we can all appreciate and maybe even empathize with to a very painful degree.
Months had past and after many dark weeks of despair and uncertainty, things snapped tightly into place. On the morning of his twentieth year, he decided to put the plan that had been swimming around in his brain to action. He put on his smart, new, red hat, and quickly fashioned a couple of signs with the thickest tipped permanent marker he could find, and he oh-so-carefully secured the two perfectly prepared green eggs cooked sunny side up and the green leg of ham to a homely yet sturdy platter. It was his birthday but the world was about to receive his generous green gifts. He held up one of the signs and read it aloud, “Sam-I-am.” He smiled with immense satisfaction and thought, “Who can resist if I simply persist?”
That tenacious twerp in Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book Green Eggs and Ham, Sam-I-am, only ever wanted to spread the gospel of green eggs and ham. There’s no arguing that he was a bit of a zealot when it came to his obsession for a certain emerald shaded breakfast combo, but, hey, some people dress up as Bilbo Baggins and get piss drunk at renaissance fairs. Different strokes. To each his own. It’s the passion that counts anyway. And Sam-I-am’s passion was green eggs and ham and he wanted the world to understand. I understood and I was only in the first grade. But I was desperately alone in this sentiment. Like a Prius driver at a tractor pull, I kept this passion a secret lest I suffer the traumatic taunts of my puny peers. The first grade can be a cruel and punishing arena if you stand out. And, my friends, believe me when I say that eating green eggs at the age of six is standing out…in a bad way.
Back in the day my mom regularly dished up steaming bowls of rice porridge brimming with tender strips of boiled pork and topped off with a sprinkling of chopped green onions. (Sometimes the meat was chicken depending on what was on sale at the market.) However, the pièce de résistance was the coronation of the porridge with thousand year-old eggs – this act she performed at the table. Like a great cook she was well aware that a meal was part sustenance and part spectacle and she knew how to dazzle her audience. There would be four one-thousand year-old eggs already peeled (note: there is no such thing as four-thousand year-old eggs…yet), their ashen shells, speckled haphazardly with tiny dark spots, lay in spiral swaths on the butcher block. What used to be the whites of the egg is now a shiny, dark, amber congelation, as if fossilized by Mesozoic resin. Then Mom, with a very sharp blade, smoothly cleaved one green egg in half revealing a very otherworldly scene. Its yolk had morphed into a gray-green color scale going from a light grayish-green outer layer to the deep rich forest goop in the core. She continued to carefully cube all the eggs taking care not to spill any of the pungent syrupy center – the heart of the thousand year-old egg. The cubed eggs are then portioned and dumped into the rice porridge making complete this hearty, protein rich meal.
Thousand year-old egg is one of the strange foods in my life that went hand in hand with my active childhood imagination. When I was six discovering this food via my mother was really like discovering something undiscovered. None of my friends knew about this thing. It looked neat. It had a cool and mysterious name. It was something (unlike Cub Scout rituals or football) that I knew a little bit about. Actually, I was the only person in my grade that knew anything about it. So naturally I made up all kinds of stories involving thousand year-old egg. Some examples were: only millionaires can afford these eggs, they are as rare as pirate coins, and, of course, they are literally one-thousand years-old, sometimes encasing a baby dinosaur. But I had to remember never to admit eating them, not to mention, liking them.
Thousand year-old egg is not really one-thousand years-old – it only tastes like it. Just kidding. Thousand year-old egg is in essence just a preserved egg. In fact the other name it goes by is preserved duck egg. It really takes only about a hundred days to create a thousand year-old egg. Therefore it’s actually and more accurately a hundred day old egg, but that just doesn’t have the same panache now, does it?
To preserve duck or chicken eggs in this manner requires patience, delayed gratification and a lot of dirty work involving a few varieties of ash, salt, lime, strong black tea, soil, digging up your yard, burying the eggs, waiting about three months, digging up your yard again and cleaning the hundred day crust off of the eggs. If you work for the mob, maybe this is just another day at the office; as for me, I’d rather go to the Asian grocer and pick up a half dozen container for about two bucks. Go ahead and preserve your own if you like to pretend you’re on some ancient Chinese reality show but the practice is pretty archaic and was really necessary only due to the lack of refrigeration. And like smoked meats, thousand year-old egg is now preserved mainly for its very unique flavor.
What could a thousand year-old or even a hundred day-old egg possibly taste like? It depends. The less you do to it, the bolder the flavor. For example, if you simply shell it and eat it like a hard-boiled egg, the flavor can be overwhelming. The former “whites” or the albumen of the egg (now amberish-green) doesn’t have much of a taste, just like if the egg was only boiled. The real impact, however, is in the thousand year-old yolk, a dark green ooze thick with a kaleidoscopic sapor which includes tributes to avocado, sulfur and ammonia. Few people eat it this way.
By far the most popular way to eat thousand year-old egg, preserved duck egg or, in Mandarin Chinese, pee-dahn, is in jook or congee aka rice porridge. The porridge smoothes out the thousand year-old egg’s rough edges resulting in a special and delicious experience. It’s a standard menu item in many Chinese restaurants. I usually slurp it up at the Sam Woo Bar-B-Q branch closest to whichever nightclub or bar I just got bounced from. “Preserved Egg with Pork Porridge” is definitely a healthy alternative to the usual greasy munchies after a rowdy night at the Saddle Ranch. It is also competently and reliably done at Sam Woo. The rice in the porridge, simmered long and slow, is cooked down to the point of a thick, starchy, creamy soup. The tender pork just adds enough meaty broth for flavoring and the slivers of young ginger gives the dish a spicy-sweet glow. The thousand year-old egg is as fresh as you can expect an egg which has been buried for one hundred days to be.
Another wonderful way to eat the egg is my favorite way, the thousand year-old egg salad. You can do it at home. It’s quick, easy and a great dish to have thousand year-old egg for the first time without losing any of the egg’s flavor integrity. It’s very refreshing and also Deep End Dining’s first freaking recipe.
Oh no, lock up your spice cabinets!!!
MOMMA DONNA’S THOUSAND YEAR-OLD EGG SALAD
One (1) thousand year-old egg
12 oz. package of silken tofu
Light soy sauce
Pure sesame oil
One bunch cilantro
One red chile
(Optional chili flakes for a spicy kick)
Carefully cube one (1) thousand year-old egg. Cube a 12 oz. block of silken tofu. Combine both ingredients in a bowl using your hands or wooden spatulas, being careful not to break the delicate silken tofu cubes. Add 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce. Drizzle on 1 tablespoon of pure sesame oil. Carefully mix in the soy sauce and sesame oil. Wash and tear off about twenty (20) cilantro leaves (coriander or Chinese parsley). Add leaves into bowl and carefully mix together. Thinly slice and seed a red chile for garnish. Throw on a couple of cilantro sprigs for garnish as well. Serves 2-3 nutty people.
Eat green eggs,
And let me know,
If you ate it in the snow.
If you had it with a crow.
Tried it as you rode a train.
Ate it on a jumbo plane.
Maybe ate it with my pop.
Or a hungry Irish cop.
Eat it. Taste it.
Green eggs sans ham.
Food blogs are better
Than e-mail spam.
Taste it. Eat it.
You will see.
Sam-I-am is really me!
(With apologies to Theodor Geisel)