Sunday, January 26, 2014

Steamed Comfort Eggs from Ovidia Yu

Please join us in welcoming first-time guest Ovidia Yu.

Ovidia Yu lives, writes and eats in Singapore. Aunty Lee’s Delights and its sequel, Aunty Lee’s Special Poison (William Morrow, Fall 2014) feature Aunty Lee who loves Singapore and food as much as Ovidia does, but who cooks far better.

One problem with giving ‘traditional’ recipes is that every family has its own traditions. I remember once triggering what almost escalated into a fight at the market because I asked the vendor which vegetables to put around a steamed ‘lions’ head’ (really a giant steamed pork and mushroom ball). The vendor showed me a couple baby bok choys (“See so pretty. Organic some more!”) her old mother pushed her and them aside in favour of full grown pale green bok choy saying large vegetables would bring better luck. Another customer said in her mother-in-law always used napa cabbage and then an old lady in a wheelchair started flailing at everybody within reach with a bunch of snake beans because we ‘young people’ (note: I’m in my 50’s) didn’t see that kailan, with its little yellow flowers, was the perfect ‘mane’ to put around the lion’s head.

So I’m stressing upfront that my Steamed Comfort Egg is not ‘traditional’ dish. It’s a comfort food my amah jie made for me when I was ill or as a special treat and that my father makes for my brother’s children. At its most basic it is simply a mix of egg and water with a pinch of salt and sugar for each egg. For children it is usually made with the same amount of water as egg, the water measured into the bowl in half eggshells which rinses the shells while adjusting water to the size of the egg. After steaming, soya sauce and sesame oil are trickled on top.

More sophisticated versions use chicken or pork broth instead of water, at a broth:egg ratio of up to 2:1 and may have minced meat, half prawns and shredded ginger embedded in them, with spring onions scattered on top. If you use dashi and mirin for the liquid and immerse sliced shitake mushrooms, lily root and crab cake in it then you have made Japanese chawanmushi and if you are watching Korean dramas while eating it you can call it Gaeran Jim. But once you have the basic recipe, what goes into your steamed comfort egg depends on what is in your fridge or freezer. I have seen curried versions with strips of ham and chicken meat and topped with crab meat and pork floss.

(Basic) Steamed Comfort Eggs

Ingredients: Eggs, Water, pinch of salt, pinch of sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil to serve

Utensils: Bowl, Sieve (if straining), Steamer with boiling water/Rice Cooker with an inch of water set to ‘cook’ for 5 minutes (or a big pot containing water up to half the level of an upside down bowl that forms a DIY steamer base).

Crack eggs. Add water and stir to mix. Try not to have as many bubbles as I have here.

My father, cooking for his grandchildren, always strains the egg mixture through a fine sieve. I use a coarse sieve. My always busy amah didn’t strain (“what for waste”) the egg unless company was expected. So straining the egg mixture is optional—but it does look better without bubbles on top

If using a narrow cup instead of a wider bowl, it is better to pour in the half the egg first, steam it for about three minutes then remove and pour in the rest. (This is also a good idea if you are include mincemeat or prawns that you want to remain at the bottom and want to make sure are cooked)

But for myself today, the plain egg and water (with pinch of salt and sugar) is steamed for about 7 minutes until it is a perfect soft jelly, then flavoured with soy and sesame oil to taste.

How to steam with the rice cooker: In the days of giant rice cookers when I was young, a little metal dish of beaten egg and water was often placed on top of cooked rice and left to steam while the rice ‘fluffed’ as the family was called to dinner. My current rice cooker (perfect for two people) is far too small for that. I put some water in and press ‘cook’ till it boils. Then my egg mix containing pretty tea cup goes in and the rice cooker is switched to ‘keep warm’. This takes a bit longer (this too almost 15 min) than cooking it in the steamer but the egg comes out softer and it doesn’t need watching as closely as it will stay warm and soft till you want it—just make sure there is water left in the bottom of the rice cooker!


Aunty Lee's Delights was released in September 2013. You can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at independent bookstores.

Ovidia will be giving away one copy of her book to someone who leaves a comment, so be sure to welcome her.  (You'll really enjoy the book!)


  1. Welcome, Ovidia Yu! My Korean mother used to make us a comfort food egg dish we called a "rice egg". It was just eggs beaten with a little water and cooked omelet-style, filled with rice and topped with soy sauce. I still make it for myself occasionally (usually adding some sesame spinach to the rice filling), but it really has to be made by one's mother to get the full comfort effect! I will have to give your steamed egg a try. Thanks for the recipe!

    1. Hi Cee Pluse, I think I know what you mean--when I was living in a retreat near Wonju on holidays when others went home we foreigners sometimes got 'omurice' (probably I've got the wrong spelling) but it was a fried vegetable rice wrapped up in an omelette skin and delicious! I know mothers do it best, but a motherly cook is a close second!

  2. Welcome Ovidia--so nice to have you visiting! Love the idea of the soy and sesame flavors...and Cee, you're right, best made by one's mother:)

    1. Thank you Lucy! I love this site, thank you for having me here today!

  3. Not sure I will be making you dish. I found it fascinating reading. Strange...I do find myself hungry now.:).

    1. Hi cmgren, thanks for that! It's not a fancy dish or a company dish but for me at least it carries memories of loving pampering and feeds all kinds of hunger so... :)