About Alex Jones

Author Archive | Alex Jones

Mastery Challenge: Cured Duck Egg Yolks

Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is back, this time with her February #fijchallenge project. These cured duck yolks have me itching to work up a batch myself!

As soon as I saw the focus of February’s Mastery Challenge, I got excited. A focus on salt curing for the month of February would give me a reason to try preserving a food I had read about but never attempted, nor tasted, myself: cured egg yolks.

The curing process transforms yolks — already the coveted portion of the egg in most preparations — from runny, fatty richness into a solid form, a concentration that calls to mind umami-rich Alpine cheese.

Slivered onto a salad, grated over a simple fresh pasta dish, or stirred into a soup, it’s a way to add lots of flavor and richness (plus a pop of gorgeous golden color) to all kinds of dishes.

I was even more excited to try out this preserve with one of my favorite farmers’ market finds: pasture-raised duck eggs from Livengood Family Farm, a multigenerational diversified vegetable and livestock farm in Lancaster County, my source at the Clark Park Farmers’ Market here in West Philly.

This recipe from Bon Appétit seemed straightforward enough and quick, eschewing the slower method of wrapping each cured yolk in cheesecloth and hanging it to dry in favor of a few hours in a low oven or dehydrator.

Since I was using 12 instead of four yolks and they’d be larger in size, I planned to triple the amounts of salt and sugar. Once I had my kosher salt and sugar mixed together — the Bon Appetit recipe calls for roughly a 60-40 ratio — it was time to get cracking.

A note on cracking eggs: If you’ve worked with duck eggs before, you know that the membrane beneath the shell can be much tougher than that of a chicken egg, making a clean break (and an unbroken yolk) harder to achieve.

So while I’d learned to crack chicken eggs on a flat surface to prevent shards of shell from being driven into the egg, I carefully tapped the equator of each duck egg on the rim of my bowl in hopes of a clean break.

I wish I could tell you that this worked perfectly, but a full half of my dozen yolks got the better of me and broke, either during cracking or separating. This happened even when I switched to separating the eggs by letting the whites flow through my fingers rather than passing the yolk from shell to shell.

If you plan to make this recipe with duck eggs, you may want to stock up on a few more than you think you need — and plan to cook some egg dishes with the whites and broken yolk you may accumulate.

If you use chicken eggs, it’s still important to treat the yolks very gently, but I imagine you’ll have a better unbroken-to-broken yolk ratio.

All told, I ended up with six intact yolks — a bummer considering that I could have gotten away with using half as much salt and sugar if I’d known I’d have half as many to work with. Consider separating your yolks first, then mixing your salt and sugar based on how many you’ll separate intact to help prevent waste.

The rest of the process is pretty straightforward: lay about half of your cure mixture in a shallow pan, then make gentle depressions with the back of the spoon in which to gently nestle your yolks. (I’ve also seen lots of photos in the FIJ Community of the salt and yolks in the cups of muffin tins, an ingenious idea that makes thriftier use of the curing ingredients.)

Cover with the remaining cure, wrap the dish tightly in plastic, and chill for four days. (Due to life happening, mine stayed in for an extra two days and were perfectly fine.)

When it’s time, pull the pan from the fridge and carefully excavate the yolks from the curing bed with your fingers, or scoop gently from the bottom with a slotted spoon.

No need to worry about breakage now — the yolks will have solidified considerably — but they’re still quite soft and jelly-like.

If you’ll be drying your yolks in the dehydrator, prepare a clean rack by brushing the screen with vegetable oil or applying nonstick cooking spray. For oven drying, grease up a metal rack set in a sheet pan and preheat the oven to 150 degrees.

Give the yolks a quick rinse under cool tap water, then pat them dry with a paper towel. Work quickly, because at this stage, they’re very sticky. Lay out your yolks on the oiled rack, taking care to leave space for airflow in between.

Dry the yolks at 150 for one and a half to two and a half hours, until they resemble hard, grate-able cheese in texture. (You can also let them dry in your unheated oven for two days if, like mine, yours doesn’t go that low.)

If you have the space and a nice warm kitchen, wrap and tie each yolk in cheesecloth and hang to dry for about a week. Once dried, wrap or store your yolks in an airtight container and chill for up to a month.

There you have it: your own personal stash of culinary gold dust.

Use it to boost the richness and savory factor of just about any dish. I’m looking forward to grating my yolks over pasta carbonara, steamed or sautéed veggies, and tempura-fried mushrooms.

Cured Duck Egg Yolks

Ingredients

  • 1 dozen duck eggs (chicken or goose would work too)
  • 4 1/4 cups kosher salt
  • 3 3/4 cups sugar
  • Oil or nonstick cooking spray (to grease the drying rack)

Instructions

  1. Collect three medium-sized bowls. One will be for your unbroken yolks, one for the whites, and one for any yolks that might break during the separation process. (If you're not worried about keeping whites and broken yolks separate for other uses, you can put them both in the same bowl.)
  2. Separate the duck eggs. On the rim of the bowl you're using to collect the whites, gently tap each egg around its equator, going around until the shell and membrane have both broken and you are able to open the egg with a relatively clean break. You can pass the yolk from one half of the shell to the other as you would chicken eggs, or gently turn the egg into your palm and allow the white to flow through your slightly separated fingers while holding onto the yolk (recommended to avoid yolk breakage). Collect intact yolks in their own bowl (it's OK if a little white clings to the yolk). Drop whites and broken yolks into their own bowls if you'd like to use them on their own in other recipes.
  3. If all your yolks are intact and usable, mix the full amount of salt and sugar together in a large bowl. If more than a few are unusable, cut the amount of salt and sugar by one third. If half are unusable, cut the amount of salt and sugar by half, and so on.
  4. Pour half the salt and sugar mixture into a shallow pan (9"x13" for a full dozen yolks; an 8"x8" would probably work better for a half dozen). Spread the mixture evenly, then use the back of a spoon to create gentle, evenly spaced depressions in the curing mixture, one for each yolk. Carefully pour each yolk into your hand and then place each one into its own depression in the curing bed.
  5. Gently spoon the other half of the curing mixture over the yolks, ensuring that they are completely covered. Wrap the pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to six days.
  6. When six days are up, remove the pan from the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap.
  7. Prepare a dehydrator rack or, for oven drying, a metal rack set inside a sheet pan and grease the rack with vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray. If using, preheat the oven to 150 degrees. (If you plan to use the oven dry method but 150 is too low for your oven, you'll simply place the yolks on the rack and into an unheated oven for 2 days.)
  8. Carefully remove the yolks, which will have become somewhat solid, to a separate dish. Rinse each yolk gently under cool water, then pat dry with a paper towel. Place each yolk on the oiled rack, leaving space between the yolks for air flow.
  9. Place the rack with the yolks into the dehydrator or oven at 150 for one and a half to two and a half hours. You'll know the yolks are sufficiently dry when their texture and firmness resembles a hard-aged cheese.
  10. Remove the yolks from the rack and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month. Grate as desired over your favorite dishes to add a rich umami element.
http://foodinjars.com/2017/02/mastery-challenge-cured-duck-egg-yolks/

Comments { 10 }

Pantry Management: Organizing Your Freezer for the Year Ahead

Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is back again, this time with a post about her goal to get a better handle on her freezer situation for 2017. It has inspired me to do an inventory of my own freezer compartment and I’m with her in resolving to be better about keeping that space in check!

I don’t usually make resolutions, but 2017 so far has definitely been about refining some parts of my life that overwhelmed me in 2016. For me, that’s looked like refocusing my freelance work, getting a better handle on healthy eating habits, setting financial and life goals with my partner, engaging in political activism, and taking time for regular self-care.

Another has been a newfound focus on maintaining my living space, the two-bedroom apartment in West Philly that my man and I have lived in for almost six years now. We’re both the kind of people who can spend days (or weeks) stepping over and working around clutter and messes when other responsibilities take precedence. But more and more, we realize what a positive effect a clean, organized, and uncluttered space has on mood and productivity in our home.

So far I’ve swept the clutter from my desk, deep-cleaned the bathroom, and KonMari-ed my clothes. Now, I’m focusing on the kitchen, and I’ll be sharing some of my cleaning and organizing projects with you over my next few posts.

First, I wanted to reckon with my freezers. I have a 5.3-cubic foot chest freezer in one corner of the big front room that serves as our living room, dining room, and kitchen, plus the freezer compartment of my fridge.

Over time, the contents had become the ice-crusted and mysterious, with plastic tubs of last year’s leftover soup jumbled with big bags of flour and tiny bags of roasted jalapeños. Finding ingredients I’d frozen months before while a hot pan was waiting on the stove had become more and more of a hassle. It was time to excavate and take stock.

If you’re particularly worried about the effects of a brief thaw on your food or have a hoard of delicate freezables like ice cream, you can prepare some coolers with ice packs in which to stash your items before you empty the freezer. I planned to work quickly, so I simply cleared the counter and the dining table and used those as my staging surfaces.

I sorted items by type as I pulled them out of the deep freeze. There weren’t too many surprises, but the biggest shock was seeing all that food set out in one place.

The three gallons of sour cherries I’d picked from neighborhood trees and then stemmed and pitted. The fresh-milled flour I purchased with the intent of starting up a weekly bread baking habit. The leek tops I always tuck away to add to my next stock pot. The expensive foraged mushrooms I’d dried to flavor a future batch of risotto. And so, so many tomatoes—frozen whole, roasted into wrinkles, peeled, stewed, sauced.

Once the chest freezer was empty, I chipped away at the ice buildup around the lid with a metal spoon and used a turner to scoop up the frost (and a few stray blueberries) at the bottom.

Then I stacked my gallon ziptops of precious local fruit one on top of the other by type, so that I wouldn’t wonder what lurked underneath without digging to the bottom, along with my big ten-pound bags of flour. Smaller bags of grains went on top of those, then bags of ginger, leeks, and parsley. I bagged up my cold packs to keep them together.

I made the choice to cut my losses and compost some especially unappetizing items, like stale baguette ends (for the breadcrumbs I’d never make) and batches of green soup (which I love fresh but just turns into runny green mud after freezing and thawing).

Next, I turned to the small freezer. Since it opens from the front, landslides of oddly-shaped items are a common occurrence. Despite its smaller size, so many bags of food covered my dining room table. (I pulled out everything but the gelato and the frozen fish fillets since I was worried about those thawing).

Once again, I sorted by type and had to let go of some dreams. I was never going to turn these two-year-old green gooseberries into something palatable, nor cook the fenugreek leaves I bought for curry shortly after moving into this apartment in…2012.

After wiping out several years’ worth of crud, discarding some of those sad, old items and grouping others (like the bags of aged celery hearts and bunches of parsley I save for stock) in the chest freezer with similar items, I restocked the small freezer.

I decided to keep ready-to-eat foods like recent leftovers, veggies, packages of meat, and small bags of items like nuts, dried mushrooms, and peppers there. I deliberately restocked this freezer so that there would be lots of extra room and easy-to-cook items in heavier rotation would be easy to find. (This is especially a plus with a colorblind partner who sometimes has trouble keeping up with my typically overstocked fridge full of unlabeled items).

As soon as everything was back in its frosty place, I felt much better about my year ahead. Not just because I’d crossed a long-nagging item off my to-do list, but because having a better handle on these ingredients makes me feel more confident about my ability to put some of my 2017 intentions into action.

Now that I know what’s in the freezer, I know what I should be using a little (or a lot) of each week until midsummer comes around, when I’ll start the cycle over again—a little more organized this time.

How do you guys handle your freezers? Are you good about keeping an inventory? And what’s your approach when it’s time to do a big clean-out like this one?

Comments { 35 }

Mastery Challenge: Meyer Lemon Grapefruit Marmalade

Hey folks! Let’s welcome Alex Jones to the blog. She’s a friend and fellow Philadelphian who is coming on board as a regular contributor to Food in Jars (you’ll see her posts a couple times a month). She’ll be participating in the Mastery Challenge and will be sharing preserving tips and recipes from her West Philly kitchen. She’s kicking things off with a batch of Meyer Lemon Grapefruit Marmalade! ~Marisa

four small open jars of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade

Hello fellow canners! I’m Alex Jones, your new FIJ contributor. I write about and work with local foods, farmers, and makers in the Philadelphia area. Over the past several years, I’ve learned to preserve thanks in large part to Marisa’s blog, books, and classes, so it’s especially exciting to lend my voice to the blog.

For January’s Mastery Challenge, I knew I’d be incorporating some of my Lemon Ladies Meyer lemons, which have become a permanent line item on my Christmas wish list. After slicing and drying half my stash, turning some into thick, sliceable fruit cheese, and squeezing a few over seared day boat scallops, I had half a dozen lemons left to make into marmalade.

To fill out the recipe and add a rosy glow to the finished product, I grabbed an organic grapefruit that had been hanging out on my counter. In total, I had a little over two pounds of fruit, just enough to halve Marisa’s Three-Citrus Marmalade recipe and transform it into a batch of Meyer Lemon Grapefruit Marmalade.

I grabbed my peeler and my paring knife and got to work. The methodical process of zesting, trimming, supreme-ing, and chopping my lemons and grapefruit, as the canning pot warmed my kitchen and episodes of Scandal hummed in the background, was the perfect way to spend a cold January morning.

Ingredients in the pot for a batch of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade

I followed Marisa’s recipe as closely as possible — something I admit I don’t always do when in the throes of bulk fruit season — and for the most part, my results corresponded closely with her version. The main difference was around what for me is the most challenging aspect of making fruit preserves like this: achieving set.

I shy away from jam recipes that include store-bought pectin, as I often end up with an unappetizing, too-firm preserve, rather than the desired substantial-yet-stirrable set. But this marmalade recipe makes use of discarded bits of citrus — the seeds and membranes from the sections — as a gentle thickener.

Bubbles on the surface of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade as it cooks down

My Meyer lemon-grapefruit marmalade, cooked over medium-high gas heat in a 4-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven, took 45 minutes to get to 220 degrees, at which point I began testing the set. It took another 17 minutes and 5 degrees before the marmalade passed the plate test. Constant stirring and testing every 5 minutes helped me avoid scorching the marmalade, another potential pitfall.

Four open jars of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade from the top

Before canning, I took care to remove the pot from the heat and stir for a full minute to keep the zest from floating at the top of the jar, a tip I somehow missed till now. It’s already paying off to revisit these techniques with intention!

After the processed jars had some time to cool off, I couldn’t resist popping open a quarter pint jar to check set and flavor. The texture was lovely — standing up on my knife but easy to spread — with tender bits of zest throughout. It tasted bright, sweet and sunny, with a hint of bitterness from the grapefruit to balance.

Finished jars of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade

I might have to reconsider my usual policy of making fruit preserves for gifts only and allocate a jar or three of this Meyer Lemon Grapefruit Marmalade for my own use. That definitely makes the first month of the Mastery Challenge a success.

Continue Reading →

Comments { 19 }