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.
- 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)
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- When six days are up, remove the pan from the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.