Sunday, 20 October 2013

Duck Eggs

I'm fairly open-minded when it comes to food. Although I'm not crazy about offal, I've eaten a lot of things other people might turn their noses up at. Fermented fish guts, for instance (shiokara in Japanese),  raw onions, inago, or fried grasshoppers (by mistake, but they weren't that bad), and my mother's infamous peanut butter and mustard sandwiches.

So the other day, when I got home from shopping and discovered that we'd bought duck eggs instead of the usual hens' eggs, I wasn't upset. I told myself that duck eggs would be just as tasty in egg salad sandwiches, perhaps even better. As I popped the eggs into boiling water, I marveled at how different they were from conventional eggs: larger, sturdier, and oilier, somehow. It wasn't until I broke one open that I discovered just what we'd bought: preserved duck eggs, the color of dark chocolate.

Unlike chocolate, however, the eggs smelled strongly of sulfur and were intensely salty. They weren't anything I wanted to make lunch with.

I gave up on making egg salad sandwiches, packed the eggs into a bag, and took them to work.  I put them on a counter in the office, wrote Bought by mistake, free to a good home on a piece of paper, and pasted it to the carton.

"Why are you giving these away?" a colleague asked incredulously when she saw the eggs. I explained what had happened.

"I hate to waste things," I said. "And we couldn't possibly finish them ourselves, not even if we had weeks." I grimaced. "And they're not going to last weeks, are they?"

"Yes they will-- they'll keep forever!"

This shouldn't have surprised me--'preserved eggs' must be like other preserved things, after all--but it did. "Really?"

"Absolutely. Just keep them until you need them. Then slice them into wedges and serve them with some pickled ginger." She nodded approvingly. "Delicious!"

In fact, one of my writing pals had said the same thing. Try them with pickled ginger, they're great. And yet at the time, this advice was hard for me to take in. Because I hadn't want pickled eggs when I bought them; I'd wanted eggs for egg salad sandwiches.

Expectations are everything, especially when it comes to food. Years ago, when I lived in Japan, I dropped a clove of raw garlic while I was cooking. I searched everywhere for it, but finally gave up, thinking it must have fallen behind the stove. A few hours later, I was eating sweetened popcorn when I bit down on the clove of garlic. Although I'm a huge fan of raw garlic, on this occasion, it was hardly a welcome treat. My mouth had been expecting carmelized popcorn, not a big clove of raw garlic.

Now, free from my dreams of egg salad sandwiches, I saw the duck eggs in a different light. Not as disappointments that couldn't be mixed with mayonnaise and white pepper, but as potentially tasty appetizers. I could picture them sliced onto a bed of thinly-sliced cucumbers with a garnish of pickled ginger and spring onions, or tossed like anchovies with cold noodles and sesame oil. My mouth even started to water.

Those duck eggs are sitting on my shelves, waiting for their chance. They won't go to waste. Besides, there's always April Fools Day.


A.T. Post said...

In the desert we had a neighbor further up the hill who had a veritable menagerie: donkeys, horses, goats, dogs, cats, ducks, geese, chickens, and even a pot-bellied pig. She used to lade us with eggs of all shapes and sizes. The duck eggs were rich and delicious and the goose eggs even more so--and so large that you could make a one-person omelet with one of them!

You made my mouth water. I keep seeing the blackened preserved eggs in the supermarkets in Seoul but I never figured they were fit for human consumption...

Mirka Breen said...

I love this essay, Mary. It is all about perception.
As creators, we are told to forge beyond standard expectations, and carry our audience with us.
BTW- of all the things you listed, it was your mother's mustard addition to peanut butter that rubbed me the most wrong, so I just made one of those and will try it as soon as my courage meets the next hunger pang.

Marian Perera said...

The bit about April Fool's Day made me grin.

I was way up north last year and tried raw beluga blubber and raw seal meat, though I drew the line at the seal's eyeballs. Not that any of the locals offered me one; they ate those themselves, like gobstoppers.

Lisa Shafer said...

Love your ending line.

I had fermented goose eggs while in China. They were one of the few things in my life I haven't been able to gag down. I was being filmed for a documentary at the time, and we were in the famous Peking Duck restaurant. I recall how tricky it was to spit the nasty stuff into my napkin without letting anyone see.

I did manage to eat duck tongue (both stewed and deep fried versions), camel hoof soup, and a few other things one doesn't find at McDonald's. But not the fermented goose egg.

Anonymous said...

That last line is a doozy ;)

I've never even heard of preserved eggs, such is the sheltered life I lead. I'd be willing to try one though, esp as you're describing serving them.

Mary Witzl said...

Postman -- We once knew a woman who kept geese and sometimes gave away the eggs, but I don't remember that we ever got any. I want to try one now!

I used to see preserved eggs in San Francisco, in Chinatown, but I had no idea you could buy them in a carton just like normal eggs. That was what threw me.

Mirka -- It's a neat trick, isn't it, getting past those hackneyed expectations, but not being so off-the-wall that nobody wants to read what we write.

My mother could make many tasty things, but those peanut-butter-and-mustard sandwiches were not among them. You're braver than me if you can eat one. :)

Marian -- The irritating thing is, my kids will probably read this, so the trick won't work on them. And they're sort of too old for Easter. Such a waste!

Raw beluga blubber? Grasshoppers and fermented fish guts PALE by comparison.

Lisa -- Aieee, camel hoof soup? I'm trying hard not to judge, but it's hard. One thing I believe: if anybody can make that tasty, the Chinese can -- they've got a knack. But I'll bet camel hoof soup is still a tough call.

Eryl said...

How does one preserve an egg? I think I'll have to google.

Dave got all excited when I mentioned your mother's peanut butter and mustard sandwiches. He eats peanut butter and marmite most days, and I guess he felt the presence of a kindred spirit.