Thursday, January 17, 2013

"We could call it Chuck." "Or Dick."

Last week our Food Industry Tour class went to Balut Pateros, a small blink-and-you'll-miss-it store in Westminster that produces and sells chicken and duck eggs. Among the items being sold are pickled eggs, chicken and duck balut, salted duck eggs, and fresh poultry eggs. During our tour of his small facility, the owner, Mr. Dam, told us that he wants to start making and selling another kind of egg. The century egg. He claimed that the U.S. would stop importing them from China come June due to China's lack of food safety and regulation laws.

Long story short, each one of us was given the task (shall we choose to accept it) of producing a century egg using only US ingredients, and the person who comes closest to what he is looking for is awarded a prize. Mr. Dam was kind enough to supply us with a finished example of his desired product as well as a dozen fresh duck eggs.

 Inside the century egg given to us.
It just so happens that I love century eggs. Introduced to me as pei dan, (literally "skin egg"), it was always served diced in congee or sliced into wedges with a side of oyster sauce for dipping. But I've never had a duck egg in any form other than pei dan. Luckily, I have a dozen fresh ones in my refrigerator right now, thanks to Mr. Dam, which allowed me to explore the differences between duck and chicken eggs.

The first difference I noticed was that the duck egg had a more oblong shape than the chicken egg.

Chicken egg on the left, duck egg on the right.
Then I cracked open each of them into a dish to examine them in their raw state. Notice how the albumen of the chicken egg has a slight yellow tint to it whereas the duck albumen is clear. Unfortunately, after a number of Google searches, I still haven't found the reason for this difference.

Chicken egg, left. Duck egg, right.

I debated which method of cooking would best display the flavor of the eggs. Sunny side up is always visually pleasing since you can see the yolk clearly, but I don't really like runny yolks unless they're oozing over a pile of hot fried rice. My current favorite style is poached with the yolk left slightly runny since I can cook it in the microwave, eliminating the chances of me overcooking it and reducing the dishes I have to wash.

After microwaving the eggs separately for one minute and ten seconds, I tasted the whites first for any textural or flavor differences, and there were none that I could tell. But visually, the whites of the duck egg were much more appealing, as you can see below. The chicken egg produced an uneven result while the duck egg white was much smoother, which may be the due to the fact that duck albumen has a slightly higher protein-to-water ratio than chicken albumen. As for the yolks, the chicken yolk was your regular run-of-the-mill yolk. I didn't use anything fancy like "super-open-free-range-organic-insect-and-kelp-only-diet" eggs since I'm on a college student's budget. These were conventionally grown and came from Trader Joe's ($1.79/dozen). I know that how poultry is raised and fed can affect egg quality and nutrient content, but even if I did use the aforementioned fancy eggs, I still wouldn't be able to fairly compare it to the duck eggs since I do not know how the ducks were raised and fed.

Poached chicken egg

As for the duck yolk, there was definitely a difference. Simply put, it was yolk-ier, richer than the chicken egg, with a creamier texture and a flavor similar to the chicken yolk. On average, a duck egg yolk has about 3 more grams of fat than that of a chicken, including mono- and poly unsaturated fat, not just saturated fat. The higher fat content also means that the micronutrient content is higher than chicken yolks, especially iron and B-12 levels.

Poached duck egg
During my research on these eggs, I read that the higher fat and protein content of duck eggs makes them ideal for use in baking since baked goods tend to rise better and taste richer than when chicken eggs are used. If I have any leftover duck eggs after trying my hand at Mr. Dam's challenge, I will definitely test their abilities in a cake or souffle recipe and report back the results.