Salted duck eggs holds a special place in my heart. Here’s why . . .
Long before my family came to the UK, my maternal great-grandfather owned a business in South Vietnam producing raw duck eggs cured in salt – a food item greatly loved by the Chinese. So successful was he at producing these eggs that they were exported to other parts of Southeast Asia. The money generated was sent back to China to buy land and to educate his offspring at private schools.
So for me, a box of salted duck eggs wasn’t just food. It was the root of the family’s wealth and a food tradition with an ancient history. It is peasant food at its finest, and contain all the right nutrients and protein to keep you well during times of scarcity. Indeed, my grandparents often gave away salted eggs to those fleeing war and destruction in Northern Vietnam.
If you are wondering why duck eggs and not chicken eggs were cured, the answer is that you get more for your money. Basically, duck eggs are superior in taste and nutritional value. They are larger than chicken eggs. The shell is thicker, allowing them to stay fresher for longer. And despite containing more cholesterol than chicken eggs, you get double the nutrients and vitamins. They are also one of the few foods with alkaline-producing properties (i.e. anti-cancer) and have plenty of good omega 3 fatty acids. All essential elements for a healthy body.
How you eat your salted duck eggs is a matter of personal taste but cook them first. Boiled and paired with plain congee is how most Chinese children were brought up, especially when they were ill.
You can also use the salted duck eggs to substitute for salt – frying with prawns, mixing it with minced pork before steaming or simply adding it to fried rice. There’s also mooncakes – or as I like to call them, Chinese pork pies!
In the UK, you can buy a box of 6 salted duck eggs for around £3.60. Personally, I think it a bit of a rip off. They aren’t always the best quality and the yolks aren’t bright orange and oily – a sign of a premier product. Seriously, they aren’t that difficult to produce so I’ve no idea why the manufacturers can’t get their act together.
That’s why I am going to tell you how to cure them yourself!
Yes you will have to wait 4 weeks for them to ripen. But honestly, they will look and taste better that any shop-bought ones. AND come the Apocalypse when food sources are scarce, you’ll be glad I gave you the recipe!
Anyway, before I reveal the TWO methods of curing (yes there are actually two ways), some interesting historical facts to note associated with salted duck eggs:
1.The ancient Chinese probably preserved perishable farm products like duck eggs to solve the problem of breakage and spoilage during transportation over long distances and avoiding hunger in times of scarcity.
2. The earliest written record of salting duck eggs is around 1600 years ago…in book called “Essential Techniques for the Peasantry” (“齊民要術”) Written by Jia Sixie (賈思勰), a sixth century AD governor during the Northern Southern Dynasties (南北朝). I’m sure salted duck eggs were eaten before then but all historical records apart from the said book are now lost!
3. Salt was such a vital part of a peasant’s diet that every successive dynasty during China’s two millennia of imperial rule imposed taxes and state control of its manufacture. It was a nice little earner for the state and even became ingrained in the language. Take a look at the traditional Chinese character for Salt:
This character is pronounced “yen” in Mandarin Chinese and is formed of three parts.
The lower part is made of the character 皿 meaning dish, a tool to hold salt.
The upper right part is made of the character 鹵 meaning brine, water saturated with salt that is used to preserve or pickle.
The upper left part is made of the character 臣 meaning imperial official because salt production was controlled and taxed by the state.
Indeed salt was an expensive commodity more valuable in the ancient world than gold and people fought to control salt mines. Roman armies were often paid with a bag of salt – giving us the origins of the word for “salary” from the Latin word “salarium.” The Latin word “sal” became the French word “solde” meaning pay which is the origins of the word “soldier.”
Okay (yawn) history lesson over, now back to the curing methods.
There are two method of curing: DRY BRINE OR WET BRINE.
Both methods yield the same result so pickle whatever method you prefer. The two key ingredients are top quality fresh duck eggs and sufficient salt. You need to have BOTH to produce a fine finished product.
Curing time is around 4 weeks. If after 4 weeks, the eggs are not ready then you have cocked-up somewhere. Adding more salt won’t make any difference at this stage so take your losses and start again.
BUT how do you know the eggs are ready? Simply boil one egg and then cut into two. The yolk should be a bright orange yielding an oily surface…the more oily, the better! The egg white should taste salty. If this is the case, wash to remove all the salt from the other uncooked eggs as you don’t want the egg to become excessively salty. You can store your cured eggs in the fridge for up to 6 weeks.
Note that there are recipes where star anise and Szechuan peppercorns are added to the wet brine to enhance flavour…try it if you want. But the plain version was the method my family used and it works just fine -if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
There is also no need to buy rock or expensive artisan salt. Plain table salt will do. You can also recycle the old salt to make a fresh batch of duck eggs.
I’ll be posting a recipe for cooking with salted duck eggs in 4 weeks when the current batch I prepared will be ready so check in on my site again.
In the meantime, good luck!
6 fresh duck eggs
60ml white vinegar
150g table salt
Clingfilm (plastic wrap for anyone living outside the UK)
Large plastic container with lid
Label and pen
- Check eggs are in good condition and not cracked. Wipe clean around the shell to remove any dirt.
- Dip eggs into the vinegar to disinfect.
- Dip egg into the salt and ensure the salt encases the entire egg.
- Wrap the entire egg in clingfilm.
- Place wrapped egg into the large plastic container.
- Repeat step 1 to 5 for the remaining eggs.
- Place lid on plastic container and stick a label on the lid. Write the start date and end date. Transfer to cool place dark place and leave for 4 weeks.
- After 4 weeks, test one egg. If the eggs are ready to harvest, remove all the salt from the uncooked eggs by washing under cold running water and store the eggs in the fridge.
6 fresh duck eggs
1 litre water
Large deep pan
Large glass Jar with lid
Clean small plastic bag
Label and pen
- Check eggs are in good condition not cracked. Wipe clean with a damp cloth around the shell to remove any dirt.
- Fill a pan with water and boil on high heat. Now add the salt to the boiling water and stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the salt. Switch off the heat and allow to cool down completely.
- Wash jar and lid to ensure it is thoroughly clean. Don’t use rusty tin lid as the salty water will only erode the lid and you don’t want to contaminate the water.
- Once the salty water is completely cooled, place each of the duck eggs carefully into a large jar and pour the salty water slowly into the jar to completely cover the eggs.
- You will need to make sure that all the eggs are completely submerged in the water. If needed, fill a bag with some salt water or dried beans and place it at the top of the jar to push the eggs down.
- Place lid on the jar and stick a label on the lid. Write the start date and end date. Transfer to cool place dark place and leave for 4 weeks.
- After 4 weeks, test one egg. If eggs are ready to harvest, remove all the salt from the uncooked eggs by washing under cold running water and store the eggs in the fridge.