The other day, I got an email from acclaimed author, winemaker, viticulturalist and duck expert Geoff Heinricks—subject line: ‘Fashionable Duck Eggs’.
“Where are you folks located? I have some goth duck eggs I could drop to you, when I’m out delivering to a few restaurants later today.”
Interested was a hard understatement. When you live in the city, farm fresh eggs are such a novelty as to be a luxury—a gift received with reverence and awe, without any expectation or hope for your next dozen. When you move to the country you begin like that too, but soon you start craving them with increasing frequency and eventually, nothing else will do. You contemplate keeping your own flock and many do go down that path, while others, like me, get up earlier and earlier to beat the tourists to local stalls or cultivate meaningful relationships with local egg dealers.
“They are from some young Cayuga ducks,” the email continued “that just started laying the past few days—the breed is the only North American domestic duck and is in the Slow Food USA: Ark of Taste [a living catalogue of delicious and culturally significant foods in danger of extinction.] It’s a black duck with a beautiful green shimmer to it…and the first few eggs of the season often start coal black, and gradually fade through the laying cycle to light grey and plain white.”
Basically, Geoff was telling me that I was on the brink of receiving six pretty special eggs. I charged up my camera, pored over recipes, and promised to pick them up at the Picton Farm Supply, so he wouldn’t have to run the ‘horn trip’ out to my place.
The eggs were more beautiful than I could have imagined, with dense shells that looked like stone and finishes that ranged from charcoal to concrete to marble. Geoff followed up with another message, subject line: Eggses
“These dark Cayuga eggs only come for a few days, when a duck starts laying or laying again after winter—usually, they are a light grey. The rest of the flock are primarily Saxonys (a beautiful heavy duck that lays large white eggs) and Silver Appleyards (a similar rare heritage large duck.) A few Rouen and Blue Anconas add to the three-dozen or so eggs a day. I have some endangered Aylesbury, VERY heavy ducks (some people mistake them for geese) the famous English meat duck…but all those eggs go to the incubator, so I can build up the flock.”
I’ve always loved ducks. And duck. And duck eggs—so this line of country wisdom had my full attention. I wanted more intel and Geoff obliged.
“When you feel it is time to eat them, duck eggs have some differences to chicken eggs. They are sublime poached (old school, not the bowls or dishes), and they are phenomenal in pasta. Mayonnaise or hollandaise are amazing because of the large, rich yolks.” He continued. “Boiled works too, though the large size changes timings a bit. Egg drop…of course, brilliant. And crème caramel, brûlée, or anglaise all are very rich as well because of the yolk.”
I was literally drooling by this point, but read on.
“Frying or scrambling takes a lighter hand, as the protein is denser and different than chicken eggs. The heat has to go down quite a bit, to avoid over setting it. A trick for frying is a very low heat, and then covering, to let the moisture cook rather than evaporate.”
Low heat. Cover. Let moisture cook. Check.
“Oh, and they are harder to crack than chicken eggs, because of the thicker shell and inner membrane. Those who pride themselves on a one-hand crack-and-open are going to meet a challenge. Also the white is glacier melt clear…and the poached eggs are almost blindingly white. If you compare to fine fresh chicken eggs, you’ll notice how much yellower the chicken white actually is.”
Some friends recently hosted an off-the-hook crêpe party and the batter was all duck eggs. The flavour was unbelievably decadent. I asked our very own Kirstyn Mayers (culinary queen of Outlet Food Co. and Pochette) to fill me in on baking with these beauties.
“Duck eggs are so crazy rich and indulgent.” She confirmed. “The freshest chicken eggs can’t even compare. The yolks are deep orange—almost golden—and they’re larger, so substituting them in a recipe can be tricky and you may need to reduce the number of eggs you’re using. But the result is so incredibly tasty and luxurious. One of my favourite recipe hacks is taking a basic brownie recipe and swapping in duck eggs and high quality butter (Stirling is local and delicious.) Bake it in a round pan and it’s decadent enough to pass off as a chocolate torte.”
Oh my god: duck eggs for the win. The problem was, I couldn’t bring myself to eat them. They were too beautiful and I couldn’t find it in my heart to treat them casually, no recipe seemed special enough—so when I got Geoff’s next email a few weeks later, the whole half dozen were still intact.
“Hi Lonelle. County asparagus is up, I see. If you want something really indulgent, try a fresh duck egg gently poached atop local asparagus. The richness of the egg and sweetness of the local green is pretty County.”
Fresh duck or chicken eggs are best for poaching, though, because they have less loose or watery whites.
“Pretty County” would be the perfect treatment for these little beauts. I shot off a sheepish reply implying I still had the original six to work with and he wrote back quickly,
“Duck eggs do last…especially when starting fresh (not in the traditional food distribution network, where eggs are at least a few weeks old before hitting shelves), but all eggs have a ‘fit for purpose’ life. Fresh duck or chicken eggs are best for poaching, though, because they have less loose or watery whites. As they age, more of the white becomes fluid, and you end up with a lot of ‘veil’ in the poaching liquid. Fresh eggs stay together in a way that will make you vow never to use anything but freshest.”
Close call. And apparently, older eggs are better hard-boiled. They’re much easier to peel because of the “increased air space and less binding to the inner membrane, so the shell doesn’t adhere to the white, causing those tears and divots.” This man really knows eggs.
I asked Geoff to give us his recipe, published here for us all to hang on to forever.
Poached Duck Eggs, County Asparagus, and Duck Egg Hollandaise Sauce
Serve the poached duck egg on a generous serving of County asparagus spears. The yolk will flow onto the asparagus when pierced. It may be so rich that the hollandaise sauce may be neglected, but have it at hand, and let each person decide what they want or require.
Poached Duck Eggs
1 per person
(Using the freshest eggs available helps keep the wisps of egg white from streaming from the poaching egg.)
Two methods work well for presentable eggs.
Elizabeth David’s key first step was to boil two pots of water. In the first, put the egg in the shell in the boiling water for about 30-seconds. Retrieve, cool under running water so you can handle it, and then crack it into a small bowl or ramekin. This tends to lightly set the watery white in the shell, which will otherwise form wisps in the poaching water. (A good technique if you haven’t the freshest eggs.)
Repeat to get all the eggs you need ready.
In the other boiling pot (E. David method) or just the single pot, you can add a teaspoon of vinegar, and then swirl the water to form a whirlpool. Remove from the heat, and drop the egg from the bowl or ramekin into the centre. A large duck egg should take about 3 to 3 and a half minutes. Retrieve with a slotted spoon and, if desired, place quickly into an ice bath (which helps stop the cooking, and removes any vinegar taste) and set on a plate with paper towel. Replace the pot on the burner for the next one. Repeat until you’ve cooked what you require to serve.
Personally, I never bother with the vinegar. Once you’ve cooked a few batches of poached eggs, you should be able to do two eggs at a time (wait a few seconds, before pouring in the other, after gently moving the first out of the centre of the pot). Or, if you want perfect looking poached eggs, run two separate boiling pots, to get your whirlpool and a single poaching egg. Trim any wisps or veils from the egg.
- 2 duck egg yolks
- juice of ½ a lemon
- 6-8 Tbs. butter
- pinch fine salt
- an optional pinch of cayenne or smoked paprika
Gently melt the butter over low heat. Just warm…don’t get it too hot. Put the melted butter aside. Pour the duck egg yolks and lemon juice in a hand blender container or bowl, with a pinch of salt. Blend for about 30 seconds. Drizzle about 2 tsp. of the melted butter into the bowl or blender cup, and blend well, adding more melted butter in small lots until it is all incorporated. When sufficiently thick, taste…adjust the salt if needed, and add the cayenne or smoked paprika if desired.
Tender Boiled Asparagus
Fill your pot of choice with water, and set on high heat; get a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes ready. When the pot is boiling well, add the asparagus, and cook for just 2-3 minutes. The asparagus should be tender and (at least County spears) just still barely sweet at this point. Collect the spears with tongs, and put them in the icewater for 10 to 15 seconds. Retrieve the spears from the ice bath, and set on and wrap with paper towel to dry.
Oven Roasted or Grilled Asparagus
Wash and dry your asparagus. Dry with paper towel. Using a large bowl, place the spears and drizzle with olive oil, and a pinch of sea salt, and toss or use your hands to see the asparagus is coated and glistening.
Then you can roast them in the oven, or grill them.
In the Oven:
Lay the spears in a single layer on a pan, and place them in a pre-heated oven at about 400 f. Roast them for about 15 to 20 minutes, rolling them a few times to cook evenly. Serve.
On the Grill:
On a medium-high hot grill, put the spears on. Close the lid for 2 to 3 minutes. Then open the grill, and use the tongs to roll them and cook evenly for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the char appeals to you. Serve.
In season, you can buy eggs direct from Geoff or any number of County sellers. Look for stalls across PEC offering all sorts of eggs, fresh from the farm—you can’t go wrong.
And if you’re not quite ready to hit the kitchen, but the duck-egg-life is calling, peep this: I just had fresh, smoky County asparagus and a perfectly poached duck egg at Flame + Smith. Spoiler alert: It was everything I dreamed and more.