I'd like to dedicate this post to the good folks over at Tobacco Avenue. I wrote it just for them.
I've never had a duck egg before — not even a 100 year-old-one like my father-in-law had in China (his verdict: "It tasted like an egg someone had buried in the ground for 100 years").
Polyface was offering them, and I couldn't resist. Neither, apparently, could anyone else at the buying club pick-up. My husband thought the farm guys were kidding when they told them they were handing him duck eggs (his duck eggs) until everyone around him started clamoring for theirs. When I came home there was lots of eye-rolling and little comments like, "You actually bought duck eggs when we have chickens pumping them out for free every single day?" Easy to ignore.
I'm not sure if they were expensive or not because I don't think I bothered to look before I ordered them. I just saw DUCK EGGS and clicked "ADD TO CART" reflexively. Who wouldn't?
Fresh chicken eggs can be a little smudged and sometimes there's straw stuck to them because, you know, chickens know how to excrete, but they just don't know when it's an appropriate time to do so. Fortunately, brown eggshells hide a lot.
The duck eggs I received were white and the shit was there for all to see. They also felt more fragile and a little heavier, too.
I decided to do a taste test to see exactly what the difference was between the two of them. A little caveat: I only learned how to fry eggs recently because up until a few years ago, I never ate them. Then my husband pointed out that I ate poached eggs whenever I could get them, and fried eggs were the same except that they had crackly goodness all around the edges. Plus butter.
My fried eggs so far look terrible, and they're only cooked properly about half the time. Mr. "I've-been-frying-eggs-ever-since-my-older-brother-was-big-enough-to-lift-me-to-the-stove" wasn't available for the photo shoot, so we're just going to have to go with what we've got here.
The egg below is a chicken egg fresh from my secret hen house:
As you can see, the yolk sits up tall and has a nice yellow color, while the thick albumen forms a lovely, firm ring around it and the thinner albumen spreads out. That's how you know it's fresh.
Below is the duck egg:
It behaved a little differently. When I cracked the shell, the thinner albumen immediately ran out, and then the thicker albumen and yolk plopped on top of that.
Now, in the photo above, you have the duck egg on the left and the chicken egg on the right. An almost orange yolk versus a more yellow one. This is because the duck ate a lot more greens than my chicken — who, even when presented with a veritable salad from which to choose, will run over and eat the chicken feed without even giving the greens a second glance. Plus, she's only allowed out in a supervised free range setting because the hawks have been seen circling. At least, I think they're hawks — I definitely can hear owls at dusk, and I'm not taking any chances after all of the really graphic, gory chicken/predator massacre stories I've heard.
So, I'm throwing out color as a factor because it's too variable. What is different is the consistency of the yolk. The duck egg's yolk was thick and creamy while the chicken's was a lot runnier. The duck's albumen was a lot creamier, too.
Sounds like the duck egg might be our winner, doesn't it? Not so fast (doesn't that sound just like Cooks Illustrated article?). The taste was between the two was a bit different, and here the chicken egg won out. The duck egg was pretty bland — in a kind of deal-breaker sort of way. The chicken egg was much more flavorful, and we can't blame that on what the two birds ate, because as a chicken's yolk gets more intensely colorful, the flavor gets better and better. Could it have been because I'm used to the taste of chicken eggs as opposed to duck eggs and can't appreciate the latter's nuances? Perhaps.
Whatever. I'll continue to prefer my usual eggs, but the sticky duck's yolk really made me start to think about sauces. Since both Béarnaise and Hollandaise are strongly flavored with other ingredients like tarragon or lemon, I think these are the eggs for an outstanding sauce. An out-of-this-world sauce, a sauce to remember with nostalgia and satisfaction. Of course, I haven't tried it yet. But I have high hopes. And five more duck eggs.