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How to Make
Duck Eggs
in 100 Days

Eggs of a Different Feather
Venturing Beyond Chickens

Chickens were domesticated for egg production about 4,000 years ago in China. By the time of the Roman empire 2,000 years later, chicken eggs were old hat. Ancient Roman epicures favored the eggs of peacocks, ostriches, quails, ducks and geese, explains Jeff Smith, in The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Through Three Ancient Cuisines. "The more exotic they were, the more they were desired."

An ancient Roman would be quite happy shopping for eggs at California’s farmers markets. The eggs of quails, ducks and geese can be found at the larger markets. (Even ostrich eggs--albeit empty shells--were on sale for $15 each alongside ostrich meat at the Santa Monica farmers market recently.)

Apparently enough Southern Californians have broken out of the chicken-egg rut to keep these farmers coming back with more. To be sure, purchasers of the odder varieties aren’t necessarily eating them. Ken Arno, of Kendor Farms, says most of the customers for the quail eggs he sells at eight markets in Los Angeles County buy the cute, little mottled things for their kids. But there are plenty of other ways to use them. One customer won a potato salad contest, thanks to the hard-boiled quail eggs she tossed in, Arno says. Alternatively, they can be used "raw on sushi," or they "are the perfect size for egg shampoo," a sign at Kendor’s market stand attests.

Homer Willess, of Rancho Costa Fortune in Valley Center, had sold out of duck eggs, and had a lone goose egg left, less than an hour after opening time at the market in Vista one recent Saturday morning. People who like a stronger egg kick than chicken eggs provide gravitate toward the duck variety, using them the same way, Willess says. Most customers for the much larger goose eggs buy them for ornamental purposes, putting a pinhole in both ends, blowing out the insides and decorating the shells.

Paul Hong, of Triple J Farms, sells duck and goose eggs at the Palos Verdes and Torrance markets, among others. Most of his customers actually eat them, he says.

Perusal of half a dozen Chinese cookbooks yielded these suggestions for preparing duck eggs. Craig Claiborne recommends simmering them for an hour, then cutting them into quarters, shell and all. For a more exotic-looking variation, try "tea eggs." Cook the duck eggs for 8 or 10 minutes until hard-boiled, carefully crack the shell without peeling it off, then simmer them in tea for an hour. The result: a dramatically spider-webbed, hard-boiled egg that makes it clear to all who see that these aren’t just any old egg.

For an even more exotic version, simmer the duck eggs in a solution of 8 cups water, one-half cup soy sauce, a tablespoon of honey, a piece of tangerine peel, a leek stalk, a couple of cloves of garlic and a pinch of salt for 2 hours.

For the truly intrepid, you can make your own "1,000-year-old" duck eggs--in just 100 days. Pack the raw eggs in a paste of tea, pine needle ash, charcoal ash and salt. The alkali in the ash turns the shell an amber color and gives the egg white a petrified look that accounts for the misnomer.

One other thing. Elizabeth Chong, in The Heritage of Chinese Cooking, warns: "Tradition dictates that whoever prepares the eggs must not gossip or the eggs will not mature properly."

Copyright 1997 Seasonal Chef