All about duck eggs – how to cook, and how they differ from hens’ eggs

I was driving through Yorkshire last year, and I spotted a sign selling duck eggs. I’d never tried duck eggs before (in fact, I’d heard they taste of fish which had put me off somewhat) so it seemed a good opportunity to give them a go – a highly successful experiment as it turned out.

How do duck eggs compare to chicken eggs?

Size isn’t everything

Broadly, a large hen egg will weigh about 50g/2 oz and a duck egg about 70g/2.5 oz, the hen egg being about two-thirds the size of the duck. But there is huge variation – in the image below both the eggs on the left are duck eggs; the one on the right is a hen egg – not so much difference in size to the duck egg beside it. But broadly, if a recipe calls for three chicken eggs, two duck eggs will do.

difference between duck and chicken eggs
The egg on the left is a large duck egg. The egg in the middle is a small duck egg and the brown egg on the right is a large hen’s egg.

However, proportionate to their weight, duck eggs pack a punch

Duck eggs contain, on average, about 620 mg of cholesterol, in comparison to 210 mg in a hen’s egg. Yolks are a deeper orange. Duck eggs have a creamier, richer texture.

Duck eggs contain more Omega-3 fatty acids.

They have more albumin (the protein in the white of the egg), and more fat, which makes cakes and omelettes, for example, fluffier. If you are baking gluten free, the extra albumin in duck eggs helps to bind the ingredients together better and improves the texture.

Duck eggs contain less water (as a proportion). This means that, if you are frying them, or hard boiling them (see below) you need to take care not to overcook them or they will become rubbery.

Other differences – the shell

I had a devil of a job to crack my first duck egg! It requires determination. Because duck egg shells are thicker and harder than hens’ they keep for longer (also because their incubating period is longer – go to Eggs – How To Store Them).

Like chicken eggs the shells vary in colour (See Would Harriet Salt’s Blue Eggs Taste Different to Burford Browns?). The Cayuga duck can lay a nearly black egg!

The Cayuga duck lays ashen-coloured eggs which can be almost black.
The Cayuga duck lays ashen-coloured eggs which can be almost black.

Other differences – the diet

If allowed to range freely ducks will eat all kinds of protein-rich slugs, snails and insects as well as algae. This results in an egg with a richer, more interesting taste. Farmers like ducks because they help keep down pests, and their manure is rich.

Other differences – price

Duck eggs are bigger than hens’ eggs, but even weight for weight, they tend to be more expensive. That is unless to take to keeping them yourself, in which case they are likely to be cheaper. This is because ducks need less food to produce eggs. For a post on the six best duck breeds to raise for eggs go to the Hobby Farms site.

Duck eggs
Duck eggs – more expensive to buy, less expensive if you raise your own ducks.

Bear in mind – if you are allergic to hens’ egg, you may not be to duck eggs.

How to cook duck eggs – easy does it

You can cook duck eggs any way you can hens’ eggs, only bear in mind that because they are larger they will take a bit longer to cook; and because of the lower water content, when you fry them you need to ensure you don’t over cook them or they will become rubbery.

If you are using them to make scrambled eggs, or an omelette you don’t want to overcook them because you will miss out on the superb creaminess.

You don’t want to hard boil a duck egg

You don’t even want to overcook when you hard boil them. In fact, you shouldn’t hard boil duck eggs, you should hard cook them. This way you will avoid the ‘rubbery white’ problem. To do this:

  1. Put them in a saucepan, and fill it with cold water.
  2. Bring the water to the boil.
  3. As soon as the water comes to the boil, take the saucepan off the heat and leave to cool for about 12 minutes for a large duck egg.
  4. Drain the eggs and break the shells (give them a vigorous knock with a spoon) to stop them continuing to cook. Cover with cold water and a few ice cubes. When completely cold, peel them.

Avoid making soufflés, and Yorkshire pudding with duck eggs

Soufflés made with duck eggs are not such a good idea. This is because there is because the whites contain less globulin (which is what causes the egg white to froth). It’s hard work getting the whites to stiffen, and often the soufflé won’t rise as well – instead of being light (the very raison d’être of a soufflé) it may be heavy.

A friend (Frances Jones-Davies – see Welsh Cuisine) comments,

“Yesterday, I was given a small pail of duck eggs, two are now resting in some Yorkshire pudding and three are on their way to a baked (definitely not wanting to eat such eggs raw) chocolate mousse cake.  I looked up meringues with duck eggs, not sure how well they would react as they are so different in their density and richness.   The white did beat to the right degree of stiffness but took much longer than hen whites.

The cake worked well, the Yorkshire puddings not, rather flat, although they tasted good.”

How to make crispy duck egg

Crispy duck egg is popular, especially with chefs. The technique is as follows:

  1. Separate the egg, and poach the yolk only in simmering water for 2-3 minutes. It’ll be set on the outside and liquid in the middle.
  2. Slip it gently into an ice bath and leave it there for about ten minutes – until it’s completely cold.
  3. Drain on kitchen paper, then coat first in flour, then beaten hen’s egg (one beaten hen’s egg will coat about four duck eggs), then a mix of Panko breadcrumbs and chopped herbs. At this stage you can keep them in the fridge until you are ready to eat them.
  4. When you are ready to serve, take them out of the fridge and deep fry until they are crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve.

Things to do with duck eggs

  • In a shakshuka
  • For ice cream
  • Custard
  • Lemon curd – or other fruit curds
  • Hollandaise sauce
  • Mayonnaise
  • Chocolate orange hot cross bun pudding
  • As pictured, below, fried (remember not to overcook) on cheese on toast
  • En cocotte, with wild mushrooms and Gruyère
  • In Asia they salt duck eggs – preserving them in brine – and then add them to stir fries or rice.
  • Egg curries
  • Make the duck crispy as described above then:
    • Try recreating the crispy duck egg, polenta and wild mushrooms at Ceremony, reported by Michael Deacon, writing in The Telegraph, as “oozing beautifully into the polenta”.
    • Or Daniel Boulud’s asparagus with crispy duck egg, chorizo and lovage
    • Or Luke Tipping’s crispy duck egg, white beans, chorizo and black pudding
  • Anything which is improved by extra fluffiness:
    • Cakes
    • Pastries
    • Bread
    • Muffins
    • Omelettes
    • Scrambled eggs – much creamier and richer because of all that fat!
    • Frittatas and quiches
Duck egg fried, and served atop toast with melted Sage Derby cheese.

Where to get duck eggs

Obviously, free range duck eggs will be the best, and most flavoursome. You can get Gladys May eggs from Ocado.

Duck eggs
Duck egg yolks turn even deeper orange when you cook them.
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