Duck eggs are just as tasty and versatile as farm-fresh chicken eggs, but need to be cooked differently to maximize their flavor.
Ducks are wonderful creatures that add value and resilience to any garden, plant scientist Carol Deppe writes. In her practical and thorough book The Resilient Gardener (Chelsea Green Publishing 2012), Deppe explains the joy of raising ducks for self-reliant food production and garden pest control. Fresh duck eggs from your resilient garden flock are healthy additions to breakfast, baking and sauces. Learn how to cook duck eggs to increase the resilience and independence of your garden-grown goods with this excerpt from “The Laying Flock,” a chapter of The Resilient Gardener.
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Most people don’t know how to cook duck eggs. Even some duck raisers and authors of duck books speak of leathery or hard whites or fishy or off flavors, or of using duck eggs for baking only, or of mixing them with chicken eggs—all signs of improper feeding of laying ducks or of cooking the eggs wrong. To have great duck egg dishes we need to start with prime duck eggs, then respect their uniqueness. To get prime duck eggs we avoid feed that contains fish meal or forage areas where ducks eat too much fish. To respect the uniqueness of duck eggs, we cook duck eggs like duck eggs, not like chicken eggs. Properly cooked free-range duck eggs taste just like free-range chicken eggs, only more so. Duck eggs are a little richer and have a more intense flavor.
Duck eggs need to be cooked more gently than chicken eggs. Anything you can do with a chicken egg, you can do just as well with a duck egg once you modify the cooking methods appropriately. However, there are some things that you can do much better with duck eggs than chicken eggs. I think egg-drop soup was invented by people who had laying ducks, not chickens. Chicken eggs don’t have enough flavor to taste like much when dripped into a simmering soup. Only duck eggs have enough flavor to make a great egg-vegetable hash. And the extra richness and succulence of the duck egg makes it supreme for hard-cooked eggs served plain with just a little salt and pepper.
Correcting recipes for egg size. Unless stated otherwise, large chicken eggs are the standard in cooking. If you use an equal number of jumbo or super-jumbo eggs, you’ll have way too much egg, too much protein, and too much fluid in the recipe. Generally, I go by volume of eggs instead of number. A large chicken egg is equivalent to about 0.2 cups by volume.
Baking. Use duck eggs just like chicken eggs.
Meringues. Duck egg whites or whole eggs beat up as nicely and equivalently to their chicken egg counterparts. Duck eggs make fine meringues, sponge cakes, and angel food cakes.
Fried eggs. Use a heavy pan not much bigger than the layer the eggs form when broken into it. I start the cooking on medium-high but turn the burner to medium-low right after the eggs go into the pan. Cover the pan and take it off the heat during the last part of the cooking. The white should be tender and succulent. If your fried egg has a dry or leathery white, you’ve overcooked it. (Try a lower temperature, a shorter cooking time, a smaller pan, or covering the pan or taking it off the heat for a greater part of the cooking.)
Scrambled duck eggs. I use a heavy pan, which is covered and off the heat for the last part of the cooking. I scramble the eggs, adding a little salt, cayenne pepper, and oregano. (You can add milk if you want. I don’t.) I start the cooking on medium-high and stir the eggs with a spatula a few times initially until they start chunking up. When I have mostly big chunks of egg dispersed in some remaining liquidy egg, I turn the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook 2–3 minutes—until the eggs are lightly brown on the bottom. Then I use a spatula to turn the eggs over in spatula-sized sections, then cover the pan, remove it from the heat, and leave it for 3–5 minutes to finish cooking the other side of the eggs. I end up with sort of hamburger-patty-like slabs of eggs. These make great leftovers, hot or cold, and make good sandwiches or finger food. If you want the eggs classically looser, go a bit further with turning the eggs in the pan initially, until there is not enough excess liquid egg to form the slabs. Then turn the eggs and finish the cooking with the pan covered and off the heat.
Hard-cooked duck eggs. One of the most delicious things to do with a duck egg is to simply hard-cook it and eat it with a little salt and pepper. It took me more than a decade to learn how to do that—that is, to hard-cook a duck egg properly and actually separate it from the shell afterward. Duck eggs have thicker shells than chicken eggs, and the membrane in between the shell and the egg holds more firmly to both than does the membrane of chicken eggs. Most ways of shelling chicken eggs don’t work for duck eggs.
Duck eggs should be at least three weeks old for hard-cooking. Younger eggs don’t shell out easily, no matter how you do it. (Chicken eggs need to be at least a week old.)
Any hard-cooked duck or chicken egg that has a dark ring between the yolk and white is overcooked. The dark ring represents precipitated sulfury compounds that don’t taste good. It takes much less cooking to overcook a duck egg than a chicken egg. To cook duck eggs gently enough, I bring the eggs just barely to a boil, then remove the pot from the heat and allow the rest of the cooking to take place off the heat. I use unsalted water. Eggs and water can either be at room temperature or straight from the refrigerator. I cover the pot with just an open vent or crack to release steam and turn the burner on high. I watch the pot as the water comes close to a boil and take the pot off the heat when one area of the water (but not all the water) produces big bubbles and a rolling boil. When I remove the pot from the heat I close the vent or crack so the pot is covered completely. I time the off-heat cooking and drain the water off or dip out the eggs at the right time.
You need a large enough volume of water for the cooking off the heat to work. I usually cook 22–26 eggs at once in my biggest pot, in 11/2 gallons of water. For this volume of water, the right amount of time for the cooking off the heat is 16 minutes. If I want just a few eggs (1–8), I use a 2-quart pot with 11/2 quarts of water. For this volume, the right amount of cooking time off the heat is 20 minutes. (For amounts in between, you can extrapolate.)
(If you live at high altitudes, you may need to modify the recipe to provide a little more heat, since water boils at a lower temperature at higher altitudes. You might need to bring the water to a full boil and even let it boil for a minute or so. Experiment. For reference, I live near sea level.)
In order to get the shells off the duck eggs, avoid ever dumping the hot cooked eggs in cold water (with or without swishing to break the eggs). That works with chicken eggs but makes it impossible to remove the shells from duck eggs. Instead, either shell the duck eggs hot or let them air-cool naturally, after which they can be refrigerated cooked and in the shell and will still shell out fine.
To shell a hot hard-cooked duck egg, I use a flow of cool (not cold) tap water to chill the egg just enough to handle. I use more cool water on my fingers than on the egg. I usually eat a couple of each batch of hard-cooked eggs hot. I let the rest continue to cool slowly to room temperature on a tray. Then I refrigerate them and peel them as needed.
Here are some of my favorite duck-egg recipes:
This is a variant of a scrambled eggs recipe. I use a pound of good locally grown pastured-pork sausage and 2 cups of duck eggs. This is enough to make a slab about 1/2 inch thick in my heavy 12-inch frying pan. A thickness of up to about 3/4 inch is easy to cook properly and to shape so that it makes the nice burgerlike slabs I like.
First I fry up the sausage. Then I add the unseasoned scrambled duck eggs, deglaze the pan into the wet eggs, and proceed as for scrambled eggs, ending up with slabs, as previously described. These sausage-egg slabs are great either hot or cold.
Make just like Sausage Duck Eggs Supreme, except use a pound of grass-fed hamburger instead of the sausage. Work a tablespoon each of chili powder and cumin and a little salt and pepper into the meat before cooking.
Make just like Taco-Burger Duck Eggs Supreme, but use grass-fed ground lamb, and as seasonings to work into the meat, use a tablespoon each of cumin, curry powder, chili powder, and a little salt, pepper, and cinnamon. (This “Moroccan” spice combination goes well with all lamb dishes.)
Season the meat with 2 tablespoons curry powder, salt, and pepper and proceed as for the other “Supremes.”
Put 1–2 cups of cooked potatoes, polenta, grits, rice, or any other cooked grain in a bowl, cover it, and zap it in the microwave long enough to get it thoroughly hot. Then make a little pocket in the rice and break in the duck egg. (I use a fork to break up the yolk a little.) Sprinkle some pepper on everything, recover, and zap the bowl for two minutes or so, just enough to cook the egg. Then run a fork through the egg to separate the egg into chunks and mix everything together. Add salt or wheat-free tamari sauce, butter, or other oil, and sometimes a few drops of toasted sesame oil, to taste. Sometimes I add a little gourmet light vinegar or lemon juice.
If I want to serve a number of people, I put a suitable amount of cooked potatoes or grain in an 8-inch Pyrex bowl, cover it with a lid, and zap it long enough to heat it. Then I make several depressions in the heated carbs around the edge of the bowl, and proceed as before, cooking just long enough to cook the eggs.
This is basically just stir-fried vegetables, with or without meat, scrambled with duck eggs. If there is meat, stir-fry and brown it first. Then add a little water to deglaze the pan and stir-fry the vegetables. With ground meat, I work seasonings into the meat and also add some to the longest-cooking vegetables. After the vegetables are cooked, I add back the meat, add the scrambled eggs, and proceed as for scrambled eggs, except I stir the cooking eggs so as to end up with loose vegetables and browned meat chunks all lightly coated with cooked egg, not slabs. I sometimes add a little ketchup to the cooked hash. Sometimes my hash is taco-flavored, or Moroccan-spiced, or curry-flavored, using seasonings as described with various versions of “Duck Eggs Supreme.”
Egg-drop soup is one of the joys of having duck eggs. You can turn even a can of commercial soup into something really special with a duck egg or two. Heat up the soup. Then stir the liquid so it is swirling and gently drip in the egg(s). Drip the white of each egg in first, then the yolk, stirring so as to get attractive separate white and gold strings in the soup. The egg cooks within about thirty seconds in the hot soup. I add the egg just before I’m ready to serve the soup. For a big bowl of soup for one person, one egg is all you need. (If you turn the whole soup into a soup-flavored custard you’ve added too many eggs.)
I scramble two jumbo or super-jumbo eggs in a small bowl, cover with a paper plate, and zap in the microwave for two minutes. The egg puffs up into a uniform foam that cooks into a solid spongelike disk. Remove the disk from the bowl promptly to prevent overcooking and slice it into bits. I use these bits in soups, salads, and stews. Sometimes I add 1/4 teaspoon of tamari sauce first to get a kind of protein-bit flavor. The texture of the cooked foam and the fact that it cooks perfectly without overcooking depends upon the small volume. Scaling up doesn’t work. The egg bits have a bland, neutral taste, and don’t particularly taste like eggs. So I use them for adding nutrition to dishes where I don’t want the flavor of eggs.
Duck-egg herring paté is delicious as a spread for crackers, in sandwiches, or as a main course. I use a little 3 1/2-ounce can of Brunswick kippered seafood snacks (salted herring) with the juice, one hard-cooked duck egg, and a touch of some alliums (finely diced garlic, scallions, shallots, or onions). I mash the eggs and herring with a fork, mix them together, and add the alliums to taste.
The yolk of a properly hard-cooked duck egg is so rich and tender that it disperses readily in fluid and can be used as the basis for delicious salad dressings or dipping sauces. The yolk replaces any oil that you would otherwise have used in the dressing or sauce. I strip off the white and mash the yolk of the hard-cooked egg with a fork. Running a fork over the egg yolk once gives a series of thin slices. Then I use a spoon to mash and disperse the yolk slices into a little water and add the paste to the rest of the ingredients. Use the dressing the same day you make it. (Once you have completely dispersed a duck-egg yolk like this and exposed it so thoroughly to air, the omega-3 fatty acids oxidize rapidly.) Here are a couple of examples of dressings or sauces:
Duck-Egg-Yolk Russian Dressing: Fork-mash the duck egg yolk and disperse it into a smooth paste with water. Mix in Heinz ketchup, balsamic vinegar, a little sugar, pepper, and Italian seasonings (or oregano). Then add a bit more water to get the desired consistency.
Duck-Egg-Yolk Steak Dipping Sauce: Just mash a yolk from a hard-cooked duck egg into a little water to make a paste, then add your favorite steak sauce. I use, for example, about half Heinz 57 sauce and half Texas Original BBQ sauce. The one egg yolk gets mashed into about three times its volume of sauce. Then I slice the steak into portions and add all the hot juice that flows out into the sauce as well.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe and published by Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012. Buy this book from our store: The Resilient Gardener.
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