Cosmic Eggs and Kitchen Gold
One Hindu explanation of the beginning of the world started with a cosmic egg. At first there was nothingness but then a giant egg appeared. It incubated for a year and then split open, one half being silver and falling to form the earth and the other half being gold and rising to form the sky. The outer membrane grew into mountains and the inner became mist and clouds. The veins became rivers. The fluid white became ocean, and the yolk rose and became the sun.
It’s no wonder that they (and many other cultures as well) viewed eggs as a self-contained universe, for inside their external shells eggs contain everything that is needed to sustain a new life until the moment of hatching. Sometimes it feels as though we, too, exist inside a giant egg. Though we know the earth is round and the universe stretches far beyond our own atmosphere, does it not feel as though the sky is a big dome above us and our world is sitting in a giant cupped shell?
Perhaps because of this feeling or because of their ability to miraculously sustain life, eggs became universal symbols of life and resurrection for ancient cultures all over the world. In some, the egg hatched a god-like figure who then created the universe. In others, the egg itself cracked and expanded to form it. This motif is found all over the world in a large variety of different cultures, from Sanskrit scriptures, to the Greek orphic egg, to the Finnish Kalevala, to the Chinese myth of Pangu. Eggs are likewise used in many rites and rituals all over the world. They remind us of the circle of life and are often associated with mourning rituals as a reminder that death leads to new birth. They represent fertility and resurrection, part of the reason they feature as such a big component of many springtime celebrations (besides being in season right now as well.)
While it feels sometimes as though eggs contain the whole world, we’re going to create a special treat where we put the whole world into an egg. Okay, not quite, but we’ll be using a variety of ingredients from land and sea to infuse cured egg yolks with deep flavors and intentional magic. These salt-cured eggs are representative of those ancient myths and legends, with rich umami-filled flavors adding depth to a wonderfully delicious new condiment.
These cured yolks are a representation of kitchen magic if I have ever seen one. The transformation is noteworthy; ready-to-burst fresh egg yolks are cured in salt and sugar, leaving them firm and slightly chewy. The flavors deepen and become incredibly toothsome and savory - almost like a fine hard cheese. They are a symphony of umami, the mysterious 5th flavor beyond sweet, sour, salty, and bitter… a rich depth that can be found in foods such as parmesan, tomatoes, and bone marrow. I’ve incorporated some other natural sources of this delicious flavoring into my recipe as well, from chanterelle powder to seaweeds. These can be omitted from the recipe and it will still yield delicious results, but including them adds an even greater complexity and depth. These cured yolks are truly the gold of the kitchen and can be added to just about any savory dish to boost the flavors up a notch. Try grating them into soups or over the top of salads or pasta. You can even serve them in thin slices on a charcuterie tray as a pre-dinner treat or luxurious picnic.
At its most basic, egg yolks are placed into a mixture of salt and sugar to cure. Generally, I prefer a 3:1 ratio of salt to sugar, but you can use any ratio you prefer (even pure salt or pure sugar.) The mixture below is big enough for 12 egg yolks, but you can also just mix a little bit up to cure a couple of leftover yolks from another kitchen project.
1 1/2 lb. kosher salt
1 lb. smoked salt (medium sized)
1 lb. sugar
2 Tbs. seaweed flakes
2 Tbs. powdered mushrooms
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. black peppercorns
edible gold leaf, optional
- In a food processor or spice grinder, blend the bay leaves, black peppercorns, and a little bit of the salt until only small flakes of the bay and pepper remain. Add the rest of the salts and sugar and pulse briefly to combine and to break down the size of the salt grains just a bit. Add the seaweed flakes and powdered mushrooms and mix well.
- Pour 2/3 of the mixture into a small pan and gently pat down, then poke 12 indentations into it with a whole egg. Carefully separate the yolks from the eggs one-at-a-time, placing them very gently into each indentation. Reserve the whites for another use.
- Gently sprinkle the remaining salt mixture over the egg yolks, being careful not to break them. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 4-5 days.
- After the curing time, dig your yolks out of the salt mixture and gently brush off any salt that is clinging to them. Rinse them off in cold water, then place on a wire rack over a cookie sheet. Place them in a low heat oven (170F) for 2-3 hours to dry the surface, turning halfway through.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Brush on a little edible gold leaf if desired. To serve, grate the cured yolks over foods such as salads and pasta.
- Dry out the salt mixture by spreading it in a thin layer on a cookie sheet at room temperature. This mixture can now be re-used for another batch of cured yolks.
Option: You can also leave the yolks to cure for only 1 1/2 - 2 hours to form a thicker skin but remain runny on the inside. Very gently remove them from the curing mixture, brush off any excess salt, and serve on toast for a unique and delicious breakfast or snack.
Happy Saint Patrick's Day! I hope you find your own pot of gold today.
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