Chinese enjoy money symbolism almost as much as nature symbolism in their food. For every “Cavorting Dragon and Playful Phoenix” (an unexpectedly mundane dish of shrimp and chicken), there is a Gold Coin Shrimp Cake, or a Gold Coin Egg. Springrolls thought to look like gold bars are standard at New Year’s feasts, and ginko nuts are cherished for their likeness to silver taels, all in the same spirit.
Put the eggs and salt in the bottom of a large heavy pot. Cover with a generous amount of cold water, then bring to a near-boil over moderate heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, then cook for 25 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 10 minutes. Drain, run under cold water until cool, then peel.
You may hard-cook the eggs a day in advance. Seal airtight and refrigerate.
About 30 minutes before serving, spread the cornstarch on a small plate. Have a large dry plate alongside. Holding the ends of the egg between your thumb and first finger (so as to keep the yolk in place), cut each egg into 5 evenly thick coins with a large sharp knife. Coat each egg coin fully in the cornstarch, pressing first one side then the other, and finally rolling the rim in the starch. Then put the coated coins aside on the plate.
Put the chili flakes, scallion, and ginger in a small dish. Combine the water, sugar, vinegar, soy, and sesame oil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Line a baking sheet with a double thickness of paper towels. Put a round serving platter in a low oven to warm.
Have the eggs, combined seasonings, the paper towel-lined tray, and the oil all within reach of your stovetop.
Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. (If your skillet is less than 12 inches in diameter, you must cook the eggs in two batches. In that case, raise the oven temperature to 250° so you can keep the first batch warm while you cook the second.) When the skillet is hot enough to sizzle a bead of water, coat the bottom evenly with ¼ inch oil. Wait until the oil is hot enough to sizzle a pinch of cornstarch, about 20 seconds, then reduce the heat to medium. Quickly arrange the coins in the pan, close together but not touching one another, ringing them from the outside into the center of the pan. Adjust the heat so the oil sizzles merrily but not furiously.
When the egg coins are golden brown on one side (check the ones in the center of the pan first), turn them over with chopsticks, a small spatula, or a spatula-shaped cheese slicer. Once the second side is golden, remove the coins to the towel-lined tray and put the tray in the oven while you make the sauce.
Return the skillet to medium heat. If the bottom is not slick with oil, then add 1–2 teaspoons more oil. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one bit of scallion, add the scallion and ginger, nudging the chili flakes in last, adjusting the heat so they foam without scorching. Stir until fully fragrant, about 10 seconds, then give the liquids a stir and add them to the pan. Stir once or twice to mix, then remove the pan from the heat.
Quickly arrange the egg coins on the heated platter, then pour the sauce evenly on top. Serve at once, while the coating is crisp. Leftovers are tasty cold, though not memorable.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.