Of the fowl I coddled recently on a two-week farm stay, I became a duck supporter. Go Ducks! I had heard that ducks have a presence that chickens lack, and it’s true. Their soft, smooth heads and facial expressions just charmed the pants off me. And they don’t have roosters who insist on pecking me and they’re not geese, period. Seriously, a plus.
I was helping out some family farmers who needed livestock coverage in nearby Cottage Grove, a bucolic little rural town of covered bridges, plant nurseries, bookshops, and great breakfasts. Part of my daily job was to process dozens of eggs from 24 chickens, a single egg a day from the horrible four-goose thug team, and whatever eggs the six ducks saw fit to lay. I also had to milk two goats, an endeavor I enjoyed quite a bit, and one I’ll write about later.
So I suddenly found myself in the middle of the road of my life, surrounded by eggs. I’ve been experimenting quite a bit. I was reminded how delicious a classic béarnaise sauce is with a ribeye steak. I learned that, despite a promising concept and the heart willing, leftover béarnaise sauce does not a good scrambled egg make. I’ve made a glorious caramel duck egg bread pudding, a single goose egg chilaquiles (above), frittata, aioli, and Alice B. Toklas’ tricolor omelette with spinach and saffron layers, draped with tomato sauce.
And, my friends, I made this.
Duck egg leche flan with blood orange. Doesn’t look like much, does it? But o o o o that simple appearance belies a rich, deep, exquisite flavor of almost savory sweet egg custard, and the whole thing is bathed in caramel. It’s a Filipino specialty, and traditionally relies on creamy water buffalo milk and a sour lime called a dayap (similar to a calamansi), but now uses pantry ingredients. I opted for the “traditional” version with evaporated milk and condensed milk, managing to source some organic varieties of both. For some thoughts on the rich variety of recipes using different kinds of dairy and eggs or whole eggs, click here. I may still try it with cream and honey, but I present you with my first go, which was absolutely delicious.
The recipe uses 12 duck egg yolks. If you ever find yourself in duck egg heaven, you won’t regret making it, since duck eggs are noticeably richer than their chicken cousins, but farm-fresh chicken egg yolks would work too. It just wouldn’t be as rich. And I hate to be a snob, but I wouldn’t bother making this with grocery store eggs and their pale yellow, tasteless yolks.
The traditional mold, a llanera, can be replaced by a cake or pie dish or ramekin. A ramekin will give you less caramel on top, so screw that. I found it much more reliable to bake the flan in a water bath versus steaming it (also more traditional).
What to do with the duck egg whites? Well, they’re thicker and richer than chicken eggs, so they don’t work the same way in cakes and pastries. I suggest beating them to soft peaks and making chiles rellenos out of them, which is what we had for dinner the night of the flan. Yes, it’s decadent, but hey, I’ve got farm work to do.
Duck Egg Leche Flan with Blood Orange
Serves 12, very rich.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 12 duck eggs, yolks and whites separated
- 1 blood orange
- 1 can condensed milk (best quality), 14 oz.
- 1 can evaporated milk (best quality), 12 oz.
Prepare a waterbath for a 10-inch cake pan or deep pie dish using a roasting pan or similar that will allow you to fit the dish in the pan and add hot water.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Place your cake pan next to the stove. In a light-colored skillet, melt and caramelize the sugar on low heat. As it melts, gently push the unmelted sugar into the melted sugar to help keep the heating constant.
Watch the skillet constantly, especially near the end, as burning is quick and fatal. You want a medium-dark brown color, but dark brown will impart a bitter flavor, so take it off the heat immediately when done, and pour it into your reserved cake pan, tilting the pan for a thin layer and ensuring that the caramel goes on the sides as well as the bottom.
Place the pan in the roasting pan, and add very hot water to about midway up the side of the cake pan.
Zest the orange and squeeze about a tablespoon of juice. Add to egg yolks in a medium bowl, and whisk. Reserve whites for another use. Whisk in condensed and evaporated milk, then pour batter into caramelized cake pan. Place pan into water bath prepared earlier, and cook until just set, about 1 hour. A knife inserted in the middle should come out almost completely clean (the caramel will make the tip wet). Don’t overcook.
Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for several hours. Carefully slide a thin spatula around the sides of the pan, then invert onto a dish quickly. Be sure the dish is large enough for the liquid caramel on the bottom.
Serve with whipped unsweetened cream, berries, or supremed blood oranges, grapefruit, and limes tossed with a little Grand Marnier.