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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/

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Marinated Dehydrated Tomatoes

Got a dehydrator and some tomatoes? Make these marinated dehydrated tomatoes! They are easy, delicious, and so satisfying come winter.

marinated dehydrated tomatoes in ziplock bag

The first summer I had a dehydrator, I dried everything I could get my hands on. I did peaches, apples, herbs, citrus, tons of fruit leather and buckets of small tomatoes. I kept that round unit running for days at a time, and found that I missed its constant drone when it was finally unplugged and put away.

sliced tomatoes for marinated dehydrated tomatoes

Since that first heady season, I’ve narrowed down the things I regularly dehydrate. It is still one of my favorite methods of food preservation, I just have learned more about which dehydrated things that work best in my kitchen and have stopped doing the ones that I didn’t manage to use up as well.

herbs and spices for marinated dehydrated tomatoes

Top on my must-dry list each year are tomatoes. I do them a couple of different ways. I always do two or three dehydrator loads of small tomatoes like grape and sungold to use in salads throughout the year. And I always (ALWAYS) make some marinated and dried tomatoes.

marinade for marinated dehydrated tomatoes

I first learned this trick years back from Kristina McLean’s blog Mouth From the South. She is an avowed tomato lover and takes the growing and preserving of tomatoes very seriously. So the first time I made them, I knew they’d be good. I just didn’t realize quite how life-changing.

pouring dressing into marinated dehydrated tomatoes

If you have a dehydrator, these marinated dehydrated tomatoes are incredibly easy to make. You slice up about five or six pounds of tomatoes and heap them in a bowl. Then you puree together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh parsley, rosemary, garlic, salt, red chili flakes, black pepper, and the juice and zest of a lemon.

marinated dehydrated tomatoes

Once the marinade is smooth, you pour it over the tomatoes. Using your hands, gently give it all a good stir and then let it sit. Because I rarely have enough space in my fridge, I only marinate for a couple of hours. You could also cover the bowl and tuck it in the refrigerator overnight if you’ve got more cold storage than I do.

marinated tomatoes on trays for marinated dehydrated tomatoes

Then you arrange the marinated tomatoes on your dehydrator trays, stack them up, and set it to 135 degrees F. I typically slice my tomatoes so that they’re a little more than 1/2 inch thick and they take about 18 hours like that. If you cut yours thicker, give them more time.

These days, I’m using the new Excalibur stackable dehydrator that I wrote about here. I particularly love the fact that it comes with the mesh screens that make it easier to remove the finished tomatoes (because they stick like crazy).

finished marinated dehydrated tomatoes

When the tomatoes are dry and chewy, they’re done. Then it’s just a matter of pulling them off the trays, heaping them in zip top bags, and stash those bags in the fridge or freezer (thanks to the oil, they really need the cold storage).

I often eat a few while thinking about what to make for dinner. They’re nice as a garnish on a bowl of soup or a grain salad. And for fancy times, I like to chop them and fold them into softened butter for tasty bread.

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Preserving Ramps and Dehydrator Thoughts

ramps - Food in Jars

Ramps are members of the onion family that grow wild throughout the eastern US and Canada. They are one of the first fresh, edible things that appear each spring, and in recent years, have developed something of an obsessive following among the foodie set. (They’re so popular that we’re now facing issues around overharvesting.)

ramp roots - Food in Jars

Traditionally, people would forage their own ramps, but these days we urban dwellers can often find them at our local farmers markets and farmstands. Several vendors at my local market had them for $16 a pound and I treated myself to a precious $10 worth.

excalibur dehydrator - Food in Jars

I had a pair of plans for those ramps. I wanted to pickle the root ends, and dehydrate the leaves so that I could grind them into powder. The dehydration plan came to be thanks to my recent obsession with the Bar Tartine cookbook (thanks to Karen Solomon for making sure I understood its greatness) as well as the fact that the folks from Excalibur sent me one of their stackable dehydrators to play with this season.

dehydrator trays with ramps - Food in Jars

For years now, Excalibur dehydrators have been the gold standard for both home and commercial dehydration. Part of their appeal has long been the fact that their trays slide in and out (rather than stacking) and they didn’t require a central hole for air circulation. The downside of these models has been their high price point.

More recently, they brought to market a stackable model that is more affordable, but still incorporates their vast dehydration expertise.

crisp ramp stems - Food in Jars

It’s this more price accessible model that they sent me to use. While I still long for one of their fancy models that allows you to do things like make fruit leather without working around the hole and move trays without needing to stack and readjust, this unit is a very large step up from the Nesco dehydrator I’ve been using since 2009.

ramp roots in jars - Food in Jars

So far, I’m really pleased with this unit. It comes with non-stick protector sheets and two trays for making fruit leather. The squared shape means that you can get a goodly amount on the trays (even working around the central hole). It runs far more quietly than my old model. And while it sounds like a silly thing, I so appreciate the on/off switch (you turned on my old Nesco by plugging it into the wall).

crisp leaves in blender - Food in Jars

Now, let’s talk a little more about my ramp pickles and powder. The pickle is a basic one. I didn’t do anything more than trim the roots off, and tuck what remained in a pint jar with small pinches of red chili flakes, black peppercorns, and mustard seeds.

ground ramp leaves - Food in Jars

I combined 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup of water, and 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt in a measuring cup and microwaved it until the salt was dissolved. Then I poured the hot brine over the ramps stems and let it sit on the counter until it was cool enough to go into the fridge. Done.

ramp leaf powder - Food in Jars

Once the leaves were totally crisp, I put them into the container for my Vitamix and blended until they were mostly powdered. A perfectionist might have sifted out the larger pieces and run them through the a spice grinder, but I was happy with imprecise textural mix.

ramp powder jar - Food in Jars

My plan is to use this funky, oniony powder to enhance vinaigrettes, dips, and sauces (I’m planning on stirring some into plain yogurt this weekend to eat with hummus and pita). The pickles will be diced and stirred into grain salads all summer long.

What have you been preserving lately? Any late spring favorites?

Disclosure: As I mentioned above, Excalibur sent me the dehydrator you see above. I will be featuring it throughout the summer and fall. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own. 

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