The three major poultry products in the United States—chicken, chicken eggs, and turkey—so thoroughly dominate the economic landscape that the USDA doesn’t even bother tracking the market for ducks, let alone duck eggs.
And that’s a shame, because duck eggs are a phenomenal treat, a ramped-up version of a chicken egg that has a much bigger and richer yolk, a higher concentration of nutrients and more protein than the standard hen’s egg. Here’s everything you need to know about duck eggs.
Are they attractive?
Duck eggs are typically larger than chicken eggs; they vary a bit in size but are usually around 50 percent larger than your standard jumbo chicken egg. They can come in all sorts of colors, varying mostly by breed. The Cayuga duck, a popular blackish-green duck breed, tends to lay ash-colored eggs in shades of grey, right up to a nearly black egg. Other breeds will lay white eggs, light green eggs or brown eggs.
The shell, too, is significantly thicker than that of a chicken egg. This can make it tricky to crack, but generally duck farmers and enthusiasts report that this thick shell gives a duck egg a longer shelf life than a chicken’s egg.
What really sets them apart is inside. A duck egg’s white tends to be nearly transparent, lacking the slight yellowish tint some chicken eggs have. Its yolk, though, is what’s so prized by chefs: a duck yolk is much bigger than a chicken yolk.
Are they nutritious?
Partly due to the larger yolk, duck eggs are significantly higher in both fat and cholesterol than chicken eggs. But they’re also higher in protein and have a higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, making them a favorite of paleo dieters, who seek high-fat foods. Besides that, duck eggs have a nutritional profile similar to chicken eggs.
Are they safe to eat?
Yes, they are as safe as chicken eggs. There have been some salmonella scares over the years, with a recent one in the EU in 2010, but certainly there’s no evidence to suggest duck eggs are empirically more dangerous than chicken eggs.
In terms of inspection, the USDA has the exact same regulations for duck eggs as it does for chicken eggs (and, for that matter, quail eggs and ostrich eggs), so you don’t have to worry about some kind of weird unhealthy loophole.
Are they good to cook with?
Ah, now this is fun. You can cook duck eggs the same way you’d cook any other egg; there’s nothing a chicken egg can do that a duck egg can’t. But because it’s larger and has a higher fat content, a recipe designed for a chicken egg won’t always work with a duck egg substitution. If you want to bake with them, it’ll take a little playing around before you figure out just how much of a duck egg to use.
But in almost any other case, you can cook a duck egg exactly the same way as a chicken egg. They fry well, poach well and boil well, but because there’s so much fat, a good early experiment is a simple scrambled egg. You’ll find them much creamier and richer than scrambled chicken eggs.
Duck eggs are most popular in various Asian cuisines, especially Chinese and Vietnamese. The most popular way to prepare them there is by salting them: the eggs sit in a brine of some sort and cures, pulling out moisture to preserve them and alter their texture. They’re typically added to stir-fries or sometimes as a filling with rice. Serious Eats has a good recipe if you want to make your own.
Are they delicious?
Duck eggs taste like chicken eggs, only more so. Their flavor tends to be more reliably intense than a chicken egg because of the duck’s diet. Farmers tend to love ducks because they prefer to eat bugs, snails, slugs, and other high-protein critters over plant matter, and that diet impacts the flavor of their eggs significantly.
Are they expensive?
Duck eggs are quite a bit more than chicken eggs, but still not prohibitively expensive. Whereas the average price for a dozen chicken eggs is somewhere just north of $2 in the U.S., duck eggs will usually run you anywhere from $6 to $12 a dozen.
Are they readily available?
It’s a good bet that you can find duck eggs at your local farmers market. Even if you don’t see them on display, it can’t hurt to ask a duck farmer if he or she can bring a dozen to the market the following week.
Duck eggs are becoming more and more popular in higher-end grocery stores. Whole Foods often stocks them, as do many other similar specialty stores.
Images (from top to bottom) via Flickr users Eugene Kim and Steven Depolo