"I'm not a big fan of balut," said Kristine Subido. She remembers liking the fertilized duck eggs—which are incubated until an embryo develops, then boiled and eaten with salt and vinegar—when she was growing up in the Philippines. But after moving to the U.S. at age nine, she didn't eat the traditional Filipino snack again until about 15 years ago, and the egg she tried then was a little too mature for her taste. "There was development of the bones and beaks and webbed feet and things, so there's a little bit of a crack and crunch when you're eating it. . . . That was it, no more balut for me."
Until Edward Kim chose balut as her ingredient for this challenge, that is. "I almost fell off my chair when you told me the key ingredient," Subido said. "This challenge was definitely a challenge."
Still, she was game, and found balut at the fourth place she tried: Uptown's Tai Nam Market. Balut is usually allowed to develop for two to three weeks (it takes duck eggs about 28 days to hatch); Subido tried to find out the exact age of the eggs she was buying but was foiled by a language barrier with the Vietnamese store employees. "All they kept telling me was 'baby,'" she said.
Subido boiled the eggs for 20 minutes, let them cool, then carefully peeled three of them. "There's the eye, some feather," she commented as the shell came off the first egg, revealing the embryo inside. "Oh, my. There's the webbed feet there; it's starting to develop a little bit. There's the beak. It's all very tender."
She also pointed out the yolk, which is still present in balut because the baby duck hasn't finished developing yet. "It's very much like a souffle, like a mousse," she said. "You can definitely taste the duckiness, the duck flavor."
After peeling the last egg, Subido arranged all three on a plate. "They're so cute! Aren't they just cute? Really soft and delicate."
To keep the balut whole, Subido decided to do a variation on a Scotch egg. "I didn't want to take the risk of separating the yolk and the duck, just because I wasn't sure how it was going to hold up," she said. She did, however, forgo the forcemeat that usually surrounds Scotch eggs, reasoning that it was likely to mask the flavor of the balut. A double layer of breading (panko crumbs ground with parsley) protected the delicate eggs when they went into the deep fryer. "If anyone wants to try this at home—if you're brave enough—after you've breaded it you can freeze it and then just fry it when you need it," she said.
To go with the fried balut, Subido made an aioli with pickled peppers and lemon, punching up the acidity to cut the richness of the egg. To that end, she also prepared a micro-arugula salad with garlic oil and grapes.
When the moment of truth came, Subido poked at the fried ball with her fork. "If you're smart, you're going to try to see which is the yolk part." She finally popped a bite in her mouth, looking pained. "Good," she managed to say. "Can I have my water, please?" We pointed out that she'd only eaten the yolk part and tried to get her to have some of the duck, but Subido had already had enough: "I can't do it, guys."
"It's a rich, strong egg taste. Eggy, eggy taste," she said. "It's one of those things where the more you manipulate the ingredient, the stronger the flavor is. I think if we were just to eat it how it's supposed to be served, the flavor would be cleaner."
In fact, she'd tried the more traditional preparation of balut several days earlier when she was experimenting with the ingredient, and didn't think it was that bad. Frying the egg seemed to intensify the flavor somehow, she said. "It's really never prepared any other way but steamed or boiled and served with salt and vinegar." And, it turns out, there may be a reason for that.
Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon
Ariel Bagadiong of Aja, working with haggis, a traditional Scottish sausage made from sheep's liver, heart, and lungs. "I've had it one time, and it's an acquired taste," said Subido. "I'm used to eating innards and stuff like that, but with rice, not so much with oats."
Recipe: Breaded and fried balut with pippara pepper aioli and grape salad
Serves 4 daring people
5 duck balut
2 cups of panko bread crumbs
2 oz chopped parsley
2 eggs (chicken)
2 cups of flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for frying
Pot of water for boiling the balut
Place the balut in a pot of boiling water and boil for 20 minutes. Remove from the water and cool. Crack the shell of each and carefully peel the balut, one at a time. You will find a weird surprise inside.
Assemble your breading station: one bowl of seasoned flour, one bowl with two eggs beaten with a quarter cup of water, and one with the panko bread crumbs mixed with finely chopped parsley. Gently drop the balut in the flour, then place in the egg wash, back in the flour, back in the egg wash, then in the bread crumbs. Repeat the process until every balut is breaded.
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Carefully place the balut in the oil and fry until golden brown. Drain excess oil on paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
Pippara pepper aioli
8 egg yolks
4 oz of pippara peppers or pickled pepperoncini if you cannot find pippara
2 oz baby spinach
4.5 cups canola oil
1 T lemon juice
3 T kosher salt
6 oz of pickled pepper liquid
Combine egg yolks, spinach, lemon juice, and pippara peppers in a blender or food processor. With the blender running, slowly stream half the oil into the mix. When the sauce starts to get thick, add half of the pippara liquid. Slowly pour in the rest of the oil and the pippara liquid and season to taste. Your final product should have the consistency of loose mayonnaise. Note: you can prepare the sauce in advance and set it aside until the balut is ready.
6 oz seedless green or red grapes, sliced into thin coins
2 oz picked cilantro leaves
Juice of half a lemon
1 T olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and season to taste
Spoon a generous amount of pippara aioli on a plate. Nestle the balut on the sauce and top with the grape salad. Serve immediately.