15 June, 2010

Balut: The Most Hardcore, Bad-assed Hard Boiled Egg On Earth.

So, last weekend I finally got up the courage to try balut, which is the Filipino name for an embryonic duck cooked in the shell and served warm.  They're quite a popular "street food" in the Phillippines, where they are sold just about everywhere, and they are equally popular in Vietnam, where they're called hot vit lon and considered quite a delicacy.

My snack began at A. Dong Supermarket in West Hartford CT - the largest and most fully-stocked Asian market in the area.  In the main aisle in front of the cash registers, there is always a case of what they call "Baby Duck Eggs."  Lynnafred and I were there Saturday, and on the way out I bought two duck eggs.  Lynnafred made a gagging noise.  "You're going to make balut, aren't you?  I don't want to be anywhere near the kitchen when you start that shit."

 The next morning I brought a pot of water up to a full rolling boil and eased the eggs into the boiling water.  As I expected, they bobbed around at the top of the pot when they went in - after all, these eggs were "past their prime" for omelets.

Instructions I found on the web mentioned that I should cook the eggs for 20 to 30 minutes.  I set the timer for 20 minutes and moved on to other cooking duties, making breakfast for Maryanne and Lynnafred.

When the timer went off, I removed the eggs with a slotted spoon and set them in a small bowl to cool a bit.  But I couldn't quite wait to see what they looked like inside, so I tapped the side of one of the eggs and took a peek.  Hmm.  Couldn't see much - just the inner membrane pulled over a kind of lumpy-looking yellowness inside.  Not very unusual looking, really.  I set them aside to cool while the rest of the family finished their standard sausage-and-egg breakfast.

When they were cool enough to handle (but still warm) I peeled off some more of the shell and then carefully tore open the inner membrane to "open" the egg.  I took a sniff.  It smelled - and tasted - like strong chicken broth that had simmered for hours.  Quite delicious, though I admit the glimpse of what was hiding within the egg unsettled me a bit...

I peeled the remainder of the egg and took a look at my delicate tidbit.  This is where cultural conditioning took over and I started to have second thoughts.  North Americans tend to think of developing eggs as "chicks," "babies," or "peeps," not as a munchie to be casually NOMmed with a beer.  Lynnafred, as promised, left the kitchen when I first started cracking open the shell, but Maryanne had stuck it out up to this point.  She took a look at the yellow and white lump in my hand and said, "Eugggh.  That is really...eeww.  Sorry, I can't stay in here any longer."

The grey area at the top of the egg is the neck and head of the developing chick - the fine grey lines are actually partially-developed feathers.  The round white bump on the upper right is the eye socket of the head.  From this angle, you can't see the tiny wing folded against the body.  As I bit my way through the egg, I did find identifiable duck parts - wings, legs, feet, and so on.  The "innards" were cooked pretty uniformly throughout; they looked and tasted like chicken liver.  The yellow parts - formerly the yolk of the egg - was solid and rather waxy, reminding me a little of lobster roe (but without the oceanic taste or crumbly texture.)

Overall, the flavor was quite good - very much like strongly-flavored liver paté.  The only unsettling parts - other than the looks - were some of the textures.  The rib cage of the chick was fairly well-developed and, although the bones were soft, had a kind of "bristly" texture that I found a little unsettling.  There were, though, only three parts that proved more or less inedible.  In the picture at left, top to bottom:

Eggwhite - as hard as a rubber eraser and just as difficult to bite and chew.  I did take a bite out of it, as you can see in the picture.  I've discovered that many regular balut eaters don't really care for the whites, and I understand why.

The "wishbone" - That V-shaped bone in the center of the photo.  It was sharp at the ends and very hard.

The beak - Those two nubby-looking things at the bottom of the picture are the beak.  They were also well-developed, hard, and sharp - especially the "egg tooth" on the top surface of the upper beak.

And then there was that last unidentified bone in there, which was also kind of strange and stabby.  But there was only one of them, which makes me think that I just encountered it at an unfortunate angle and ate the other one without realizing it.

I liked it.  And I'd do it again.


mina. said...

If you encountered bones that hard, your balut was already too old! I love balut though, and I grew up eating it. The liquid on the inside is the best part - I hope you used salt and spicy vinegar to season it!

Dave said...

Mina - I'm sure you're right about the eggs being on the older side. Maybe I should try getting fertile eggs and incubating them myself, so I can catch them at their peak.

Leeanne said...

Dave, you are a brave, brave dude.

I first heard of balut by way of the drinking/travel show Three Sheets, when the host visited the Philippines. I understand it's an Asian delicacy but that didn't stop me from fast-forwarding through the segment.

TomW said...

Hate to admit it, but I'm with the girls on this one. I quit reading after "tastes like chicken liver". I hate liver.


Jen Cheung said...

omgosh. if i found something like this ... it scared me to death. but i hope i wont see an egg like this. its so sad.. i cant even look at the pictures ><"


Michele Hays said...

Dude, you are hard-core! I just got around to trying natto last week (liked it) and have been working my way up to balut.

I wish somebody offered it at a restaurant somewhere - I'd be less concerned if I didn't have to cook it, too...

dvdchris said...

That is just...wrong

Anonymous said...

Seconding Mina here... Next time, be sure to ask how old the eggs are. Your buggers were definitely too far along as there should be very little resistance from the bones.

Since my wife was eating this as a toddler, I can't exactly wuss out on it when offered. It's just a chicken, people. I get more grossed out by the blood in a supposedly unfertilized egg every once in a while.

- Steve

Mark Gregor said...

My first taste of balut was in the PI while in the Navy. The sub I was on was in port for quiet a while, so we had quite a few days to get out and explore.

Personally, I found balut to be quite tasty, especially with a hot vinegar sauce. But I also found the quality varied wildly from vender to vender. Luck of the draw...or duck.

JP said...

That was an interesting read. I'm Filipino and grew up eating what you may call weird foods, they're normal to me, so reading about it from an American point of view was entertaining. I always wondered if balut was ever sold in other countries, or how they're sold. I can't believe you cooked them yourself. Here they always sell it cooked. At least you know you had to cook it and didn't mistakenly open it raw. :O

I ate balut when I was younger, but I stopped for a few years (probably more than a decade) because I was traumatized when I encountered a balut with the duck's skull already formed. (It was already in my mouth and when I took it out to see why it's so hard... I lost my appetite) Haven't tried it again until just a couple of years ago.

I usually eat mine with just salt. I'll try the vinegar next time.

TomW said...

I thought you might like some current news:

-- Championship eaters gobble down hot dogs on New York's Coney Island, but in August, when a Filipino restaurant in Brooklyn wanted a more ethnic contest, it offered plates of "baluts" -- the Philippine delicacy of duck fetuses. Wayne Algenio won, stuffing 18 down his throat in five minutes. Typically, the baluts have barely begun to develop, sometimes allowing a "lucky" diner to sense in his mouth the crackle of a beak or the tickle of a feather. Since baluts are exotic, they are considered to be (as is often the case in Asia) aphrodisiacs. [Huffington Post, 8-27-2012]