How the humble cured egg can recharge your cuisine
As the sun positions itself higher and higher in the sky, an age old ritual plays out in backyards, cul-de-sacs, and sun cracked decks across the city. Backyard cooks emerge from their winter slumber and perform the ceremonial unveiling of the grill. This custom is usually followed by an elaborate arrangement of utensils and accoutrements that form a personalized shrine dedicated to the seasonal foods soon to be kissed by the holy open flame.
As with many long held sacraments, it’s easy to begin to just “go through the motions.” You’ve memorized the catechism—“Peace Love and Barbeque”, the operators at Lafrieda Meats know you by name, and you’ve opened both your heart and your grill to all manner of fish, poultry and even vegetables, but deep in your heart you know there’s more. You know there is a taste, a flavor, an ingredient that has continued to elude your yearning taste buds. And you would be right.
There is an ingredient so simple, so ubiquitous, but yet so powerful in its ability to add depth and breadth to almost any dish it almost borders on sorcery. But yet it sits in our refrigerators, unpretentiously awaiting its moment to shine.
I’m talking about that glorious staple of everyone’s pantry, the rock star of the cold chest, the one, the only—egg.
I know that seems a bit anticlimactic. But for all the beauty a fried egg adds to a hamburger or a sublime poached egg adds to a perfectly cooked steak, these have become a part of the standard quiver of ingredients used by all great burger and meat cuisiniers. Nothing new to see there.
I, however, am proposing a process that transforms the already magnificent egg yolk into something even more powerful, an act of transubstantiation that makes the yolk a potent tool in the fight against the evils of culinary monotony. I call upon all devotees of the grill to explore the wonder that is the salt cured egg yolk.
Salt curing is one of the oldest food preservation techniques known to man and is easily adaptable to egg yolks. Covering the yolks in a curing mixture of salt and sugar extracts moisture and transform them into a soft, jelly-like disk with highly concentrated yolk flavor. Variations on the technique and time cured can produce a gratable, but pliable, texture similar to Parmesan cheese with a flavor that’s sweet, rich and deeply eggy with just a hint of salt.
The quality that makes salt cured egg yolks particularly suited for grilled items is the near magical metamorphosis that occurs when tiny bits of shaved or grated yolk melt in your mouth or dissolve on a cooked dish to form a sauce that coats every delicious morsel you’re eating.
Aside from obvious uses, such as sliced atop a freshly grilled burger or shaved across a juicy steak like magic sauce disks, they can be used as an umami blasting flavor booster, adding dimension and a memorable richness to almost any grilled dish.
Crumble over grilled veggies like bok choy or asparagus; shave thin slices across shrimp or fish just as it comes off the grill; use a still runny, short-cured yolk atop grilled brioche with white beans and smoky sausage; grate a generous dose over pulled pork or chicken sandwiches just before topping them. I would certainly never tell you how to live your life, but if I were you, I would grate these all over everything.
Cured Egg Yolks
Combine one cup of sugar and one cup of kosher salt in a mixing bowl and evenly spread half of the mixture into a glass baking dish. (pro tip: add flavorings such as herbs or spices to the curing mixture for an added flavor kick) Make five small indentations in the mixture and slide five yolks into them, being careful they don’t touch each other. Cover the yolks completely with the remaining curing mixture, wrap the dish in plastic and place it in the refrigerator.
For runny, poached egg-like results, remove the yolks after 75 minutes, carefully rinse off the curing mixture and use immediately. For a firm, gratable result leave them in the fridge for 4 days.
After four days, the yolks will be firm, translucent and look kind of like dried apricots. Remove them from the cure, carefully rinse with water and gently dry with a paper towel.
Then wrap the yolks in plastic and refrigerate until you’re ready to use them—they can last up to three months!
Longtime food writer and professional chef Mike McJunkin is a native Chattanoogan currently living abroad who has trained chefs, owned and operated restaurants. Join him on Facebook at facebook.com/SushiAndBiscuits