Cured egg yolks have all the richness of fine cheese, along with a salty tang that comes from the curing process. They’re equally at home finely grated on top of pasta or topping a tasty dessert. Salt cured egg yolks are preserved with salt, obviously, but that’s not the end of the story. What if I told you that there was a tiny creature at work inside these tasty orbs of flavor. The same tiny creature that’s responsible for salami, sauerkraut, and yogurt?
No, you say? Too good to be true? That’s like saying bacon, ham, and sausage all come from the same “magical” animal. It’s just not possible. And yet, here we are, with perfectly preserved probiotic egg yolks for the tasting.
A high salt environment inhibits certain spoiling bacteria, which allows other cultures to dominate. It’s not that salt prevents anything from living in the yolks, it’s just that it slows the growth of some types of bacteria until the others can take over and release lactic acid. It’s the lactic acid that actually preserves the food, and the salt just facilitated the whole thing. Good work lactobacillus!
The whole adventure starts with egg yolks nestled into tiny cradles of salt. Pour about 1/2 inch of salt into a nonreactive container, like a glass or stoneware baking dish. Use the back of a spoon to make little indentions for the egg yolks, and then carefully separate the eggs. Be sure that the yolk isn’t punctured, or it’ll just run everywhere into the salt. Carefully set each yolk in its salt divot.
Once your platter is full of egg yolks, it’s time to completely cover the yolks. Add more salt until the yolks are completely covered. They should be totally invisible, covered by at least 1/4 inch of salt on top. All you should see is tiny bumps in the salt where once you could see the bright yellow of egg yolks.
The egg yolks will lie in wait beneath the salt, slowly curing, for about a week. They should be kept cold during this process, to keep things cultured slow. Place the whole tray in the fridge and forget about it until next week. Once the salt cure time is up, dig each egg yolk out of the salt. They’ll be firm enough to remove by hand, but still a bit tacky because they haven’t been dried yet.
The next step is to air dry the salt-cured yolks. I’ve seen recipes that try to speed up the process by placing the yolks in a 200-degree oven for about an hour. That does indeed dry them out, but that’s like saying you can speed up the curing process on prosciutto by sticking it in the microwave.
It just seems wrong to me, to spend all that time trying to cultivate a living food full of flavor, and then take a shortcut right at the end. You’ve already had them curing for a week in salt, surely you’re patient enough to see the whole process through?
Dust any extra salt off the yolks, using a damp towel if necessary. Place them on a length of cheesecloth, and then wrap the cheesecloth around them like a burrito. The yolks should stay separated to ensure good airflow and allow for even drying. Tieing a bit of butchers twine at intervals between the yolks will keep them separate, while at the same time holding the cheesecloth firmly around the yolks.
The whole thing will look a bit like a string of caramel candies. Each yolk tucked into its own little chamber, all in one neat string.
At this point, it’s time to air dry the egg yolks. Hang the string somewhere cool for 7 to 10 days to allow the yolks to air dry. The fridge is a good spot, or a cool dark back closet. Ideally, it’d be below 50 degrees.
If you’ve ever made any salt-cured meats, this whole process is looking pretty familiar. It’s was the just about the exact same process when we made duck breast prosciutto and guanciale. The seasoning is a bit different and the cure times are different, but all the steps are the same. Once you’ve done one salt cure, it’s just the beginning. Think of salt-cured egg yolks as a bit of gateway charcuterie.
At the end of the drying process, the yolks should be firm but not rock hard. If you allow them to dry too long they’ll be tough like egg yolk jerky, which is still edible, but it’s much harder to grate. We use a small micro plane to grate tiny bits of the salt-cured egg yolks for use on foods.
At this point, you have a rich, salty, tangy topping that can be used just about anywhere. Many people consider it a great dairy-free parmesan cheese substitute, but it’s very versatile. Chefs are grating it on top of desserts for an exotic touch, and salty sweet is downright delicious, especially mixed in with the richness of the yolks.
In the cure, you have the option to use all salt, or change it up and use half salt and half sugar. The sweet and salty cure creates a distinctly different result, and that one is even more suited to use in a dessert. I like the idea of putting a bit of the salt/sugar version as a salad topping too.
At this point, they’re used without any drying time, they’ll be firm but still spreadable. That makes an interesting addition to a charcuterie plate, for dipping or spreading, but those “soft cured egg yolks” aren’t fully cured preserved eggs.
More Egg Preservation Techniques