I want to share a couple of anecdotes which, while tangentially relevant, have more to do with being an Asian American than they do with this recipe.
Anecdote 1: A lot of conversations in China begin with food. “Chi le ma?”, literally translated as “Have you eaten yet?”, is a standard, casual greeting that really implies “How are you?”. It’s less common now, but it has its roots in China’s history of relative poverty when filling meals couldn’t be taken for granted. This might be why, on my nightly calls with my parents, the first order of business is always the inquiry “Have you had dinner? What’d you eat?” One recent conversation:
Dad: Did you eat?
Me: Yes, I always eat at work.
Dad: We went out to Princeton for dinner.
Me: What’d you have?
Dad: Something called…. Hellish eggs? Do you know what that is?
Anecdote 2: The Chinese language is incredibly complicated, with a set of approximately 400 syllables, four ways of inflecting each syllable (tones), and seemingly endless potential ways to actually write each inflected syllable, all of which carry different meanings. Tones one and four are pretty distinct; one is a flat inflection almost like a hum, while four is drumlike and brisk. Two and three always gave me trouble. Two sounds a bit like a question mark and requires you to scale up a bit at the end, whereas three dips down before scaling up.
Depending on the sequence of tones and pace of delivery, I sometimes find tones two and three indistinguishable. I took one year of Chinese at university, attended four years of Chinese language school on Sundays as a kid, and lived twenty three years as a member of the Yan household without ever realizing that my last name was second-tone Yan and not third-tone Yan. My boyfriend’s parents were kind enough to gently inform me that I had been mispronouncing my own last name my entire life. (To be fair, I’m sure my own parents would’ve corrected me had they noticed. There’s just not much occasion to say our last name to each other at home, particularly not with the added effort of Chinese inflections.) In any case, this particular character of second-tone Yan happens to also be the first character of “yanwang”, or Devil.
None of this was actually on my mind when I was thinking through this recipe – not that one needs an excuse to make soy sauce eggs, deviled eggs, or anything with avocado in my opinion. For my soy sauce eggs, I typically use the soy sauce-based pork/beef/chicken stock leftover from a lu-rou braise. In this reserved stock I’ll steep hard-boiled eggs until they emerge dark, savory, and just a tiny bit slick with the flavorful animal fat. Cutting small slices in the egg white allows for the flavor to fully penetrate. And what a complex array of flavors beyond the robust meaty soy! Star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, scallion, ginger, and garlic are the main contributors, but cloves and sugar cane and tangerine peel and coriander are also part of this gorgeous aromatic tapestry.
So with this in my home-cooking arsenal, it feels like a loss rank with wasted potential to hard-boil an egg and take it no further... hence why I thought I’d mix up the traditional deviled egg. I feel like the yolk generally is where the kick is in the classic recipe, aided by a generous dose of mayonnaise and mustard and sometimes bacon. (When has that holy trinity ever failed any chef?) I wanted the soy sauce egg version to be more about the densely flavored white, so I mixed the yolks with neutral avocado and seasoned with Chinese sesame paste, which isn’t nearly as sharp as mustard. Finally, for color and a little more savory kick I garnished with Chinese sausage.
Hellish eggs, second-tone Yan eggs, whatever you want to call them… aptly named for the imminent sin of gluttony whenever they’re on the table.
Soy-Braised Deviled Avocado Eggs (makes 12)
- 6 hard-boiled (12 minute) eggs, peeled
- 2 cups leftover pork stock (mix of dark/light soy sauce, water, star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, scallion, ginger, garlic and other spices used to braise the pork)
- 1 avocado
- 1 tbsp sesame paste
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 Chinese sausage (lap cheong), sliced and sauteed until completely cooked
Flavor the eggs: Submerge the eggs fully in the reserved pork stock for 2-3 hours.
Make the filling: When eggs have finished soaking and have taken on a deep brown hue, slice them open and scoop out the yolks carefully with a small spoon. Slice the avocado into chunks and place into a food processor with the egg yolks and sesame paste. Blitz until well-combined, scraping down the edges each time. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Assemble: Scoop equal, yolk-sized portions of the avocado/yolk mixture into the cavities left by the egg yolk. Top with lap cheong slices and serve as soon as possible to prevent oxidation of the avocado.