The Incredible Edible Duck Egg: Bigger and richer than their better-known cousins, duck eggs are all they’re cracked up to beI’m looking at a duck egg in the barn, and all I can think is owww. A duck egg is 40-percent larger than a chicken egg. Laying one must feel like giving birth to a VW. I try to high-five my duck sisters. The ducks do not reciprocate.
Ducks are divas. They only lay when it’s warm. Every other day. If they feel like it. Which means a limited laying season and an even more limited egg supply. Despite the inconsistency, duck eggs have an ardent fan club among local chefs.
Thanks to his long-standing relationships with local farmers, chef David Kirkland is able to feature duck eggs on Café Osage’s warm-weather menus. He likes to juxtapose the eggs’ big, rich flavor against local microgreens and light, in-season produce. Using what’s freshest, he roasts vegetables to make a hash and then dresses them with a gently poached duck egg and a brightly colored pesto.
On the other side of Forest Park, Five Bistro’s Anthony Devoti pairs his hearty duck eggs with an equally robust entree. Auspicious diners will find them smoked and served atop succulently braised pork belly. But for those not lucky enough to land a seat at The Hill’s all-local eatery when these beauties adorn the menu, Devoti has an idea for wowing your own dinner guests this spring and summer seasons: “[Serve] smoked eggs with some ribs and potato salad and everyone will love you!”
Thinking chef Devoti was onto something, I bought a dozen duck eggs to experiment with at home. Starting with the basics, I poached one. The difference between these eggs and their chicken counterparts became apparent even before the water bubbled. You have to really whack the shells to crack them open. Hit ’em harder than you think you should. Duck eggs aren’t for those with low muscle tone.
Once my little ball of sunshine hit the water, it behaved just like any other egg, though it needed an extra minute in the hot water. In fact, when poaching, soft boiling or even hard boiling these big guys, you’ll need to add extra cooking time to your usual schedule. Desiree Rutherford, a duck egg farmer and avid home cook, makes her deviled duck eggs by cooking the eggs a full five minutes longer than she does chicken eggs. She also boils them in heavily salted water to make those rock-hard shells easier to peel.
Even without salt and pepper, the poached egg was indescribably divine. Some say duck eggs taste “stronger” than their chicken counterparts, but a more accurate description is “awesomely eggy.” They have the flavor of highly concentrated chicken eggs – times a zillion. On its best day, a free-range, organic chicken egg tastes bland and rather watery by comparison.
And the yolk. The beautiful, vivid, sunset-over-the-ocean yolk. It didn’t ooze over my bread as much as it lazily coated it; a luxurious, velvety sensation that tasted so creamy I looked for a pound of butter hidden in the shell. There was nothing that could improve this egg. Except bacon.
Carbonara is one of those bewitching pasta dishes that calls even ardent dieters back for seconds. I was eager to see what would happen if I used my new favorite ingredient. But my enthusiasm was tempered by a family history of heart disease; a single duck egg has 206-percent of an adult’s daily cholesterol allowance. Employing my diet-soda-with-fries philosophy, I substituted whole wheat pasta for the white stuff. Mistake. The pasta’s nuttiness overwhelmed the dish. Any health-conscious modification would have to come from reducing the amount of bacon, which competed with the egg’s flavor anyway. For good measure, I decided to use appetizer-size servings.
Now it was time to see what these eggs could do on the sweet side of my palate. I avoid custard, since, to me, “flan” is just Spanish for “slimy.” But duck egg whites have more albumin (protein) than chicken egg whites, which makes them more sturdy when cooked. So, I set aside my prejudice and made a duck egg custard by substituting one duck egg for two chicken eggs, a rule that can be applied to most baked-goods recipes.
The custard was, without exaggeration, the best thing I have ever baked. Creamy and silky. Gently sweet yet still mild. If you make only one duck egg dish, make this the one. And (Bonus!) the same protein surplus that makes the custard dreamy will also make your meringues taller and your soufflés lighter.
Yolks for taste and color. Whites for protein and structure. Everything is better when you use duck eggs. Which is why, once you try them, you may forsake all others. At least until the ducks retire in the fall.
Ducks lay only in warm weather, typically from mid-March through mid-September. Once the eggs hit the shelves, they’re swooped up quickly. It’s a good idea to reserve yours by calling or emailing your supplier in advance.
4219 Virginia Ave., St. Louis, 314.353.4219,
Scott Harr, Harr Family Farms
Soulard Farmers Market,
St. Louis, 618.779.3055
Elizabeth Parker, Kuhs Estate & Farm
13061 Spanish Pond Road, Spanish Lake, 314.226.0709, firstname.lastname@example.org
Desiree Rutherford, Rutherford Family Farm
Ellisville Farmers Market, Ellisville, 636.279.5350, email@example.com