It’s somewhat of a joke among my friends that I believe, and have often said, adding an egg to any left-over is a good thing. An egg can transfer almost any soup into a breakfast (I lo-o-o-o-ve soup for breakfast). An egg can elevate some left-over vegetables to a lunch or even dinner. It adds protein to what might otherwise be a thin offering. It adds an eggy richness to almost anything. In my opinion, the egg should be poached or fried when used in this kind of savior role, but scrambled eggs work sometimes too (scrambled eggs and chili anyone?).
But wait, I recently encountered an egg of a different ilk. Salt-cured egg yolks. I saw a mention in one of those upscale cookbooks that line the shelves at almost any bookstore in the run-up to Christmas. Salt-cured egg yolks were not something that was on my radar but when I saw a recipe in a book called Flour + Water by Thomas McNaughten, I immediately swooned. What was this thing – cured egg yolk? It sounded delicious, strange, rich, luxe, umami. I had to find this food.
Turns out the rest of the world seems to already know about cured egg yolks. A quick search of the inter-web revealed numerous sites with recipes, photos and opinions about cured egg yolks. The basic idea is to take fresh (critical information!, FRESH) egg yolks and bury them in a dry cure of salt (and maybe other stuff). Some recipes call for 100% salt. Some use 50% salt and 50% sugar. Many use ratios somewhere in between. Some add other stuff (black pepper, cayenne, fennel, miso, soy sauce). What’s a boy to do. I wanted to try this but I didn’t want to waste a bunch of eggs on an experiment gone wrong. So I trod a middle path of simple, and a second path of “sounds good, let’s try it”.
My two batches (shown below, side-by-side) follow the same basic procedure just the salt mix differs. Each version shown below is enough to cure 4 – 6 yolks.
Mostly Salt Version
2 C. kosher salt
1/4 C. sugar
1 Tbs. fennel pollen
2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground fennel seed
Simple but more Sugary Version
1-1/3 C. kosher salt
2/3 C. sugar
2 tsp. black pepper
For either version, mix the dry ingredients and put a 1/4″ – 1/2″ layer in the bottom of a non-reactive container. Make depressions in the salt mix to hold the yolks. Carefully separate the yolks from the eggs, getting the yolks as free from white as you can. Once separated, carefully place a yolk in the depression. Once you have placed as many yolks as you will be curing, gently spoon some of the remaining salt mix around and over the yolks, covering them by about 1/4″ to 1/2″. Cover the container and place in the fridge for 1 week (7 days).
As I noted above, I didn’t want to end up wasting a bunch of eggs. But on the other hand, if this turned out great, I didn’t want to have to go through all the trouble and have little to show for it. So I prepared 4 chicken-egg yolks for each of the cures and 2 duck-egg yolks which I cured in a mixture of the two salt mixes.
After a week I checked the progress, not knowing exactly what I should be looking for. The yolks seemed like a firm but fragile jelly and a pretty sticky. The instructions I had seen said they would be firmer, more like gummy bears. So, I covered them back up and let them sit in the fridge another week. In hind sight, leaving them buried in the salt but not putting a lid on the container would have sped up the drying/curing but fridge space was at a premium and I wanted to stack the containers so I put the lids on.
Another week later, they’re firmer. So, on to the next step. Carefully clean as much of the salt mixture off the yolks as possible – not easy because the yolks are sticky and still surprisingly delicate.
Once clean, the yolks are swaddled in a strip of cheese cloth, tied off between each yolk and returned to the fridge for another week or two of drying, uncovered.
The end result is a yolk that is about half or less the size of what I started with. The texture is firm, sort of like Swiss cheese.
Now, after all that, what do they taste like? Reports on the inter-web rave about the richness, the depth of umami. One likened grated cured egg yolk to dried mayonnaise.
In my opinion, not so much. They’re salty. They taste vaguely of egg. The added flavor elements of black pepper and fennel are subtle but present. In the end, I think it was an interesting egg-speriment. I’m glad I tried to make them. I find them useful as an umami flavor addition/boost, like anchovy or miso. My favorite use so far is to grate half of one over a simple pasta with an olive-oil, garlic sauce. They’re also nice grated over a green salad or into a simple vinaigrette dressing. Ultimately I probably won’t take the time to cure egg yolks again. But you should! It’ll cost you some time but you won’t be sorry.