Warning: some of the images in this post may be disturbing.
One of the eggs I took home started bleeding. Bright red arterial blood that pooled out from an impact crack like a horror-show wellspring from a vampire’s touch. I wish I could say I was surprised, but I wasn’t, not really. Aghast, and intrigued in a kind of art-school-meets-biology class sort of way, but not surprised. Now, I understand, eggs don’t usually bleed, but these were special market mystery eggs, and so expected the unexpected therein, right? The vender who sold them to me had done so with wide eyes and gesturing hands, begged me to take some safe brown chicken eggs, and loosed a flurry of instructions (warnings) that did not nothing to dissuade me from my purchase. Ironically, after all that I was soundly convinced that I needed the two ovoids, heavy as river stones. The surprising part is that I didn’t guess what I had actually bought until the blood came out, considering this is Vietnam and all…
Balut in the Phillipines and Malaysia. Trứng vịt lộn in Vietnam. 毛蛋 Máo dàn – “feathered egg” in China. Pong tia koon in Cambodia. Fertiized fetal duck egg. It’s a kind of protein-rich and slightly gruesome snack that’s about as common as hot dogs around here. Usually, it’s boiled till it’s cooked through, then enjoyed just like it’s regular non-corporeal cousin with a bit of salt and pepper. In Vietnam, they like them pretty developed, too – recognizable as ducks, about 19 to 21 days old.
Here’s what I can tell you about handling them.
1. The taste is pretty normal.
I was expecting a flavour that matched the appearance (Dante-esque?), but it turns out that a half-formed duck tastes exactly like duck. And egg. Some mixture of the two. There’s a kind of guilty aftertaste that no amount of soy sauce can cover, but is it in any way worse than the way we usually treat ducks? Or any other animals for that matter? At least this one never felt pain or fear.
2. The texture is flipping weird.
Everything is flipside down and upways out, texture-wise. The white is nearly solid plastic. The yolk is firm, chalky, and laced with small veins. And the fetus itself is poultry but delicately so. Sacs and membranes abound. This would be easier to take with a large – very large – ice cold beer.
3. Lược means boil in Vietnamese, and it’s good cooking advice.
It really does have to be cooked, lest it bleed all over your counter. Ewwwww.
Granted, I boiled the first one, but the second I cracked straight into a pot of bubbling water, for the purposes outlined in point no. 4.
4. It makes a damned fine soup.
The flavour is intense and nice, and if you chop it up fine, it disperses right away into liquid and you’d NEVER KNOW it was once ever anything weird. I made one of the best soups I’ve ever had by adding some carrot, chayote, fennel seeds, ramen noodles and some meltingly tender pork meatballs laced with fresh mint.
Just for the record, here is the recipe for the meatballs:
Vietnamese Pork Meatballs with Fresh Mint
from the Wishfulchef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 large shallot, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, finely diced
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch (I used AP flour to good effect)
- 2 teaspoons agave nectar or sugar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- a drizzle of vegetable oil if the pork is lean
In a bowl, mix all ingredients together thoroughly with your hands. Roll into about 30-40 meatballs and place on a plate. Bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes or until cooked through and not pink in the middle. Or, have a pot of soup at a rolling boil and drop in the meatballs. When they float to the surface, they’re done.