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Salted egg yolks are the most delicious addition to any meal.
Story and photos of Kelly Bohling. I hadn’t heard of salted egg yolks until last year, when I dove deep into cooking shows. Raising quail, I naturally wondered if salted quail egg yolks were possible. I was then surprised to find that very little information is available on salted quail egg yolks, so after researching methods of salting chicken eggs, I set out to experiment with a few different approaches and compare the results.
The hardening process is essentially a dehydration process. A food is coated or buried in a curing medium, and this medium extracts moisture from the food, often also contributing to the flavors of the food through the natural curing process or by including herbs or other aromatics in the medium of salting. Salt is a very common curing ingredient because it does a great job of drawing out moisture and naturally inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. It has played a vital role in food preservation over the ages, and many fermentation traditions also rely on salt for its bacteria-inhibiting properties.
Salt and Sugar
I guess I would exclusively use salt to harden the egg yolks. However, while some methods I have studied use only salt, others use a combination of salt and sugar in a 1 to 1 ratio. I was surprised to see the use of sugar – and such a relationship to salt! I found that sugar is implemented in the cure to balance out the extremely biting flavor of pure salt and to enrich the overall flavor profile. I had stumbled upon the first fork in the road of my egg yolk adventure: I would make one batch of quail egg yolks with salt and another with salt and sugar.
I’ve also found that some recipes call for grinding the hardening medium in a food processor before using, creating a finer, less grainy texture. Others leave the salt or salt-sugar combination as is. I opted for the latter, to only use the salt and sugar right out of the bag.
There are two basic steps in the egg yolk hardening process. First, place the yolks in the curing medium and let them sit in the refrigerator for about a week. Second, remove the yolks from the curing medium and dry them in the oven on low or hang them in cheesecloth to dry in the refrigerator (an equally cool place). With this information, I decided to split the two batches of yolks (one salt, one salt, and one sugar) into two sections: one would be oven-dried and the other refrigerator-dried. In total I had four batches to compare how the methods can affect the flavor or consistency of the yolks. To harden egg yolks, it is important to use a non-reactive dish. (Glass, ceramic, enamel, or stainless steel will all work.)
Nestle Yolks in their pans
I used two 9×5 inch glass loaf pans. The dish should be large enough to evenly distribute the yolks without them touching. I aimed for about 1-1/2 inches of space between the yolks. I mixed my curing medium first, whisking the salt and sugar until they were even. To harden eight quail egg yolks in a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, I used about 3 cups of hardening medium. A quick note on salt: It is important to only use pure salt, free of iodine or anti-caking agents, otherwise the curing process will be hampered by these additives. As for the sugar, I used unbleached cane sugar, since that’s what I had on hand, but feel free to use regular table sugar.
You can use the curing medium as is, but I gained experiential insight into this later in the process. After the first drying stage, I noticed that the egg yolks inevitably accumulated granules during the hardening process, crystallized in an outer layer covering the surface. I realized that grinding the middle would probably result in a better looking yolk, as the granules on the surface would be smaller and therefore less prominent in flavor when eaten. In the salt batch, the whole crystals brought a noticeable zing, which wasn’t necessarily unpleasant. I believe my results would be improved by briefly grinding the curing medium in a food processor. The consistency should not be a fine powder, but ideally should not consist of whole crystals.
Whether you use the curing medium as is or have it ground in a food processor, pour about half of it into the dish. Shake gently to create an even layer on the bottom, aiming at least an inch deep. Then, gently press the large end of a clean quail egg into the middle, creating small wells where you want the yolks to be. (Remember to keep generous spacing between them.) Once all the wells are made, it’s time to separate the eggs.
Fresh eggs are better
Make sure your eggs have been washed and are as fresh as possible. Use the float test to choose your eggs. You only want the best of the best for this project. Separating the eggs can be the trickiest part of this process, but I’ve discovered a useful technique: while holding the egg, make a restrained “blow” with a sharp knife to pierce the shell and membrane forward. base end. With the tip of the knife, saw around a circle in shallow strokes to create a small cap that you can remove. Pour the egg yolk into the cork. The white should overflow, and I’ve found it more effective to gently scoop the egg white out as it hangs, rather than transferring the yolk back and forth between the shell pieces. The fewer cap-to-shell transfers, the less chance there will be of breaking the yolk.
It is important that the yolk remains intact and completely intact, without white. If the yolk or white looks unusual, discolored, or has a noticeable odor, discard it. When you have separated a yolk, transfer it to one of the wells in the dish and repeat until all the wells are filled. Gently sprinkle the hardening medium on top of the egg yolks until they are completely coated. You should not see any yellow. (Again, aim for at least an inch of filling.) This is important, as the hardening medium will absorb moisture from the egg yolk, and generous depth and filling is ideal. Avoid shaking the medium to even it out at this stage, as this may damage or dislodge the yolks from their spots. Cover them tightly with plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator for seven days. We just want a cool place for the yolks to harden, so if your fridge tends to freeze items backwards, like mine, don’t place them too far away. Check the yolks after a few days. If you notice yellow, add more curing medium on top.
Drying after curing
After seven days in the fridge, it’s time for the next step in the drying process. Looking at the egg yolks, I was surprised to find that the yolks in the salt and sugar mixture seemed to firm up a bit more than those in the salt, although that didn’t have much of an effect on the final results. The drying times suggested for the chicken egg yolks worked well for the quail egg yolks, although I had anticipated that they might require less hardening and drying time. At this point, the yolks won’t be rock solid, but a bit sticky and firm.
For oven drying, set your oven to 200 degrees F and fill a small bowl with cold water. Carefully remove a yolk from the curing medium and brush off the excess with your fingers. Soak it in water, then dry it gently with a paper towel. They will appear somewhat translucent (image below). Place them on a drying rack set in a baking sheet and keep the yolks from touching while you repeat this step with all the yolks. Put them in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes. The yolks should be firm and no longer translucent. Let cool.
For air drying, dig up the yolks and gently brush off the excess. We will not rinse the yolks for air drying. Cut a length of cheesecloth, estimating about 3 inches for each yolk. I used butter muslin, which is a finer weave, but either fabric will do. Unfold until there are only two layers of fabric. Place the yolks, evenly spaced, down the length of the fabric in the center, then tuck them in by folding one side then the other side lengthwise over the yolks. If the strip of fabric is still much wider than the yolks, roll it into a long “tube”. With cotton twine or kitchen twine, tie the fabric at each end, and between each yolks. No yellow must touch another. Hang them in the fridge somewhere they won’t freeze or be disturbed for another 7-10 days. The yolks are done when firm to the touch.
Whichever drying method you choose, the yolks are now ready to eat. Enjoy them grated or thinly sliced over pasta, salads or soups, or give a fancy element to a charcuterie platter! Salted egg yolks are a great alternative to filling with hard cheese. Store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator, nested on paper towels, for up to one month.
In the end, I preferred the texture of air-dried egg yolks. They became firm and were easier to grate and slice than the oven-dried yolks, which seemed slightly gummy. I also liked the taste of the dried yolks with sugar and salt compared to the pure salt batch. The sugar helps reduce the salty taste and provides a richer, more complex taste. I’ve tried them over pasta and salad, and really appreciate the extra flavor. I can’t wait to continue making salted quail egg yolks and try them in more of my favorite dishes!
Kelly Bohling is from Lawrence, Kansas. She works as a classical violinist, but between concerts and lessons she is in the garden or spending time with her animals, including quails and French Angora rabbits. Kelly also turns the angora fiber from her rabbits into knitting yarn. She enjoys finding ways for her animals and garden to benefit each other for more sustainable urban ownership.