THE EGG YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU NEED – PART I, CARBONARA 2.0
I understand what it’s like. It’s totally okay. Happens to everyone.
We venture into unfamiliar, “exotic” markets coming from strange corners of the world, seeing bewildering ingredients for the very first time of our small existence, feeling intrigued, curious, excited even, and then at the end of a good thorough lap we walk out of the markets with our sparkly eyes wide open and our shopping bags, utterly empty. Hey, I do it all the time, like last week in an Indonesian grocery store, and then again yesterday in this “sports goods” shop? It’s no fault of our own, actually if anything, only human nature, to take caution with unfamiliarities. It’s survival instinct 101. As far as I know, no one has ever died from tomato sauce in a jar or freezer-section pizzas, right? I guess I’m just trying to say, I can relate.
NESTED WITHIN, IS A JEWEL, DENSE AND COMPRESSED WITH THE ESSENCE OF ITSELF, HIDDEN TO BE EXCAVATED FROM THE BLACK SALTED EARTH
A RED DIAMOND
But growing up from two distinctively different backgrounds and cultures also means that, I too, relate to the other side, perhaps from your perspective, the scary side, the side that is teeming with strange and unfamiliar ingredients, flying pig-parts and deeply rouge sauces that hurt. Being a Taiwan-born, Canada-fed then New York-aged piece of mind, one foot half-in half-out on all sides for as long as 25 years, naturally, you know for my thighs’ sake, I want to find ways to close the distance between each, a distance that is all but illusions and narrower than anyone thinks. Because I’m also from the other side that knows stuff that you don’t. The other side that tries to shout “Hey there’s good stuffs here, really good stuffs, and you should try it!”, but often times in inaudible volume with a world that is too busy to investigate.
It’s not anyone’s fault. We didn’t shout loud enough.
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A couple months ago, I picked up a signal that the world is ready to take eggs to another level, to cure egg yolks for its more intense and compact texture, but what most doesn’t know is, as convenient as the mediocrity of jarred tomato sauce or freezer-section pizzas, this level of sublimity, as in cured egg yolk, is also available and sold at your nearest Asian food-market, also known as, salted duck eggs.
You’ve probably seen it, then walked away, which is okay, because it doesn’t look all that. The duck egg is cured in whole, still inside its shell, in a mixture of salt and sand that slowly extracts its moisture, condensing flavors, in a span of two weeks or longer. They are sold either as raw, still encased inside the black, crumbly wet sand, or as cooked, usually vacuum-packed inside what looks like a normal eggs-carton. Either way, extremely easy to be overlooked, the cured eggs sit in front of your eyes as ordinary, if not unseemly, as anything can be, and you may have crossed its path for years without knowing the preciousness for your taking. Because it is, indeed, precious, because what nests within, is a jewel… dense and compressed with the essence of itself, hidden to be excavated from a layer of black salted earth.
A red diamond – the cured duck yolk.
One can describe that it still somewhat tastes like an egg yolk, but again, far from it, more like an upgraded reincarnation from another life. It is, I guess, yolk 2.0. Which in my opinion, is one of the most underrated Asian ingredient yet to be discovered, with so much to say that through its opaque and porcelain-like shell, it radiates a faint but glowing hue of deep burning orange, as if a secret beating flame, beautiful, mesmerizing… and you haven’t even gotten to tasting it yet. You should. Because it will change how you cook, with eggs at least.
This is the part where I say, even Asians, or us, sometimes don’t do cured duck yolks justice. There are, of course, already some ingenious applications, oh yeah, for sure, like placing it inside sweet pastries to give them that pop of salty and intensified core of flavors, or blending it with butter as a molten filling inside steamed buns, or crumbling it to be stir-fried with vegetables. But, there’s more to it than that. For the next couple of posts, I will be sharing my ideas on how to expand its horizon in your own kitchen, using cured duck yolks as an egg-booster if not the new MSG, as in every time when you think about an egg-dish, think how much more it can be with a shot of adrenaline, an egg-dish… like the classic Italian signature – carbonara.
Many would tell you that a dish like carbonara is as much about the pasta as it is about the quality of the eggs that, literally, is the sauce. They are mostly people from regions with exceptional eggs, the kind with orange yolks squeezed out from the asses of happily worm-fed, Tuscany-roaming hens who don’t have a boyfriend problem. We hate them. So what we don’t have the best, sexiest, Beyonce of eggs? We can still make an extraordinary, perhaps even more perfect, and all at the mean time, available and economically feasible carbonara, simply by blending the cured duck yolks into the custard. I’m not going to elaborate too much on the technique of making carbonara, which is everywhere on the internet and that’s not my point today. My point rests purely how this humble ingredient injects seasoning, depths, and an indescribably richness to the sauce that is as luxurious in texture as it is in flavors. The difference is subtle, but firm. Relax, it’s not going to taste like carbonara from Mars. Still on earth, just better. Richer, creamier, with more… compressed souls, it’s carbonara 2.0.
Really, for my thighs’ sake, you should try this.
- 2 cured duck eggs, raw
- 3 large fresh eggs
- 2 oz (55 grams) pecorino romano or parmigiano, cut in small cubes
- 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 8.8 oz (250 grams) dried spaghetti
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 oz (30 grams) pancetta, cut into small cubes
- 2 loves garlics, minced
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- plus more pecorino romano or parmigiana for grating
- TO MAKE CUSTARD: Wash the black sand off of the cured duck eggs under running water. Crack the eggs and remove the yolks (discard the egg whites). Place the cured duck yolks, large fresh eggs, cured duck yolks, pecorino romano (or Parmigiano) and freshly ground black pepper in a blender, and blend until smooth. Can be prepared a couple hours ahead of time.
- TO COOK: Bring a large pot of generously salted water to boil and cook the spaghetti until soft but still with a bite. Meanwhile, heat extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the diced pancetta until slightly browned, then add the garlics, thyme and freshly ground black pepper, and cook until just fragrant. TURN OFF THE HEAT while you wait for the pasta to cook. Once the pasta's ready, drain well and transfer into the skillet. Add the custard and unsalted butter, then return to medium-low heat. SWIRLING CONSTANTLY with a tongs, moving the skillet over and away from the flame for just enough heat, until the custard start to thicken into a creamy and mayo like consistency. DON'T RUSH IT. It's better to take longer for the custard to thicken than ending up with scrambled eggs.
- Re-season with sea salt if needed (I added about 1/4 tsp), and shower with tons more grated cheese before serving.
This recipe will require cured duck eggs that are still raw. You can tell the raw ones from the cooked ones easily from the way they look. The raw ones are still encased in a layer of black, salty sand (the curing agent), whereas the cooked ones are cleaned, steamed, then vacuum-packed. But if you can't find raw one, you can also use the cooked. (I haven't tried yet but theoretically) Scoop out the cooked yolks and blend it as instructed.
The star of the cured duck egg is obviously the yolk. The cured egg white is extremely salty with a rubbery texture. It can be eaten when it's steamed whole to go with congee, or crumbled to be used as salt in stir-fries, but in this case, we are not going to use it.
MatthewMay 31, 2016 at 7:53 PM
I love salted duck eggs, thanks for the recipe. I usually chop up the whole egg and eat it over rice with tomatoes.
Emily Clifton | Nerds with KnivesMay 31, 2016 at 11:53 PM
This recipe looks incredible. One question though, I’ve never seen cured duck eggs by me but I cure my own chicken egg yolks all the time. Would that work the same way? I usually cure them in soy, mirin and sesame oil. Do you think it would work?
Thanks Mandy! I adore your blog :)
LauranJune 1, 2016 at 1:26 AM
Carbonara might just be my favourite dish of all time, so this grabbed my attention right away. I’ve always balked at the idea of salted duck eggs, but you know what? I’m excited by this. I’m going to do it! Thanks again for your inspiring posts Mandy.
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 1, 2016 at 1:29 AM
Lauren, the cured eggs are made with only duck eggs that are higher in fat and thus more flavorful. You can cure egg yolks with salt which I’ve tried, but it’s not as good as the duck eggs :)
KatApril 9, 2018 at 2:22 AM
Try curing them in miso. Very good.
JessicaJune 1, 2016 at 1:28 AM
This recipe looks amazing! Definitely going to try it out this week! (P.S. My husband and I love your take on cooking; we were looking for recipes that were a step above the food we were raised with and you never disappoint. Thank you for sharing your genius!)
AnnaJune 1, 2016 at 1:43 AM
I too make salted chicken eggs, but I cure them in salt water flavored with spices (anice, black pepper corns, cinnamon stick, cloves etc.) I have the same question as Ms. Emily, do you think salted chicken eggs would work, perhaps increasing the number of egg yolks per recipe?
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 1, 2016 at 12:51 PM
Anna, certainly give it a try at this ratio and see if it works for you. I’m excited to hear about it. Let me know how it turns out!
AnnaJune 25, 2016 at 2:00 AM
Sorry for a late reply…it took about four weeks to make salted chicken eggs at home. Anyway, I made this pasta yesterday, followed your recipe exactly except for using two salted chicken egg yolks instead of duck egg yolks. I think two (rather than three) cured chicken egg yolks were enough since the recipe already asks for three additional fresh eggs. I must tell you the pasta was fantastic! Perhaps the best Carbonara I have ever made. I will probably designate two salted egg yolks for this recipe every four weeks from now on!
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 25, 2016 at 1:04 PM
Hi Anna, wow! Did you cure the whole egg? How did you do it?
AnnaJune 27, 2016 at 11:42 PM
I did cure the whole chicken eggs. I followed “Helen’s Recipes” on YouTube, though I usually halve her recipe.
How did you cure just the egg yolks? I’m interested to hear other methods of curing whole eggs and/or egg yolks.
LaurieJune 1, 2016 at 3:39 AM
I raise my own ducks , so have access to their delicious eggs. How would you cure a duck egg? How long does it take?
BTW, I hope you are settling in to your new home and feeling more relaxed. How is Shrimpy?
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 1, 2016 at 12:53 PM
Laurie, I haven’t tried curing a whole egg before and the research online says it’s encased in a mixer of sand and salt, and takes about 2 weeks. I would try curing just the duck yolks with salt first (instead of the whole egg). We are still getting used to the transition :) Shrimpy is also settling down ok, although he probably miss the big lawn to run around on in Beijing :)
JuliaJune 1, 2016 at 6:20 PM
Found your blog by accident via bloglovin. How great it is! Happy to “meet” you and can’t stop reading as I like your writing as much as your photos and recipes. All the best for Hong Kong. Hope you like it there. And don’t stop blogging! Hugs & greetings from Germany! Julia
KierstenJune 1, 2016 at 7:23 PM
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SteinJune 1, 2016 at 10:40 PM
Those eggs are really good steamed on top of a big cake of minced pork “meatloaf.”
g-tsak@icookstuffJune 1, 2016 at 11:02 PM
oh maaaaan maaaaandy ! too cool … you’ve given me the urge to make my own salt-cured eggs (cuz i’d never find any here i guess) !
otherwise, i was testing out a prawns recipe last night but the prawns weren’t enough for a 2-person dinner so i thought what could i make super fast before the roasted prawns dried out … your super-fast scrambled eggs (don’t know if i followed your ratios but i used 4 eggs, 4 tbsp milk, 2 tsp cornstarch), salt & butter and just PERFECT ! thank-you :)
SabrinaJune 2, 2016 at 2:25 AM
I love carbonara! I actually happened to make it last night, but I would have never thought to add a cured duck egg. How interesting! I’m sure it’s delicious…
J.S. @ Sun Diego EatsJune 2, 2016 at 3:44 AM
This application seems much better suited to the cured egg yolk then wickedly burying it into some flaky, sweet (and decidedly opaque) pastry, only to be discovered mid-bite by an unsuspecting individual (mostly me) who did not anticipate a salty, oily jolt of orange in the middle of a moon cake or what have you.
In short = I think I am sold.
AudreyJune 2, 2016 at 4:37 PM
I love salted egg yolks as batter coatings for prawns and crabs but never thought to make it into carbonara! Thanks for the inspo :)
ClaudiaJune 2, 2016 at 7:44 PM
This looks mouth watering. I actually wanted an excuse to buy more salty duck egg.
Ellie | from scratch mostlyJune 3, 2016 at 7:08 AM
I love your pasta dishes!!!! I made your carbonara a few months ago with uni, and….it was AMAZING. I’m all for trying new and different foods. But you’re right, once in a while I’ll come out like a kid in the disney candy store, all bright eyed with hope for the future, and–empty hands. It’s either that, or I come out with too much stuff that I have no idea what I’m going to do with and cram it all into the pantry. ;)
VickiJune 3, 2016 at 6:27 PM
This is awe-inspiring, cannot wait to try this. Also, love (LOVE) your writing!
NinaJune 3, 2016 at 9:53 PM
Yes, can’t wait for your next salted egg yolk ideas, hope there will be your version of salted egg yolk steamed bun! Hihi.
IsabelJune 3, 2016 at 10:13 PM
Mandy you’re an inspiration! I grew up terrified of salted duck eggs, because they were, well, just salty as heck. (Whites were served as well, cos, who throws away anything..) Your goal to bring underrated Asian ingredients to the forefront, while bringing a contemporary vibe, is noble and admirable and I say shout, shout, keep shouting! :)
LevyJune 4, 2016 at 3:30 AM
Oh man, I love love love salted duck eggs! I used to eat probably too much of them as a kid!
Ironically in Malaysia, the salted duck egg sauce craze is starting to die down.
suzieJune 4, 2016 at 6:49 AM
thanks for sharing! never thought you can use duck egg yolk into a carbonara!
PaigeJune 5, 2016 at 11:27 AM
Julia, I know, we know not eachother, but I felt compelled to respond to your comment. I found this BadAss Chick the same way. She is freaking amazing. Her blog is just absolutely brilliant! I can tell you feel the same. I loooove the photography also! Chick is FUN NEE!! Enjoy her recipes & jokes. She just makes me feel happy! Paige
ariannaJune 7, 2016 at 2:37 AM
Just beautiful! This looks delicious! I am so happy I found your page. As a relationship & lifestyle blogger seeing recipes like this make me feel inspired and I love sharing recipes like this on social! Thank you for your beautiful photos and delicious recipes!
Cassie BJune 7, 2016 at 4:51 AM
You are probably the only woman in the world who would make/instruct us to make carbonara for the sake of her thighs – one of the many reasons why you + your blog are the best.
AngelaJuly 12, 2016 at 1:16 PM
I couldn’t get my hands on any raw salted duck eggs, but I can confirm this dish works great with cooked salted duck egg yolks. There is however, a grainy texture from the cooked yolks. No matter, because the flavours were fantastic.
kimithyJanuary 24, 2017 at 11:57 PM
OK, I’m commenting for the weirdest reason ever here, but: how do you like your blender?
I was nodding along (per usual) with your comments about unknown-flavor-avoidance and empty-basket-walkout-syndrome and happy someone put that into words, scrolled down, and saw you have the SAME DAMN BLENDER that I just bought yesterday and haven’t unboxed because I’ve been unsure if I should have paid more a “Pro” version or a Vitamix or something fancy, despite the fact that I am neither a pro or fancy and don’t have a pile of money lying around for those purposes. Given the massive amount of cooking you do I’d super-trust your recommendation – are you liking that Kitchenaid blender? :)
mandy@ladyandpupsJanuary 25, 2017 at 12:33 AM
Kimithy, yes I do like it! I think it does the job well. I’ve never had a vitamix so I can’t compare, but for blending liquid things, this one works well for me. i don’t know if it can make “nut butter” or anything like that though.
CristineJune 25, 2017 at 10:08 PM
This recipe was a success at my home last night. The egg yolk was cured in salt and dried. The whole process took two months. The pasta was hand crafted and then you bet, the dish was unbelievable! This sets the standard to pasta and it seems like we will never order pasta in a regular restaurant anymore. Ever!
Julie HongAugust 17, 2017 at 3:38 AM
Just discovered your blog and your recipes are amazing! What camera do you use to take such crisp photos? Also, where did you get that pretty plate for the pasta?
mandy@ladyandpupsAugust 17, 2017 at 12:00 PM
Julie, I use Canon 5D :) And the plate was bought from China.
JenniferMarch 3, 2018 at 9:55 AM
I could not find uncooked salted eggs so I used the cooked version. Like a previously commenter mentioned the texture was gritty with the cooked cured eggs. I tried straining the cured egg + fresh egg mixture through a fine sieve which helped some but in the end the flavor and texture was still not something I enjoyed. If I ever find fresh salted egg I’ll have to try this again maybe.
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NhiJuly 15, 2022 at 11:13 AM
There’s this cute Taiwanese cafe here in sunny Brisbane, Australia and they serve up salted egg and spaghetti. Instead of pancetta, they add curry leaf and king prawns, sweetened with grated pumpkin and zucchini. It’s not carbonara, but it’s equally epic and right up your alley. Cheers for this recipe. It is unapologetically yum!