Fish Sauce-Marinated Yolks

I'd like to publicly apologize to all the people whom I didn't believe when they told me how good these were.

Every few days, I hear from my relatives, friends, and even former teachers in Thailand who tell me about the Thai dishes they’ve just discovered or some old ones that I haven’t written about that they think I should. And at least five of them, including M (you’ve seen some of his recipes), told me about khai dong nam pla (literally ‘egg(s) pickled’ (in) fish sauce’) back in 2016. I was very busy finishing up Bangkok, so I didn’t do anything about it or even look into what this dish entailed. Well, at least that’s the story I’d been telling myself.

Looking back, I can see now that it was because I didn’t think I would enjoy this dish. It was described to me as the more accessible and budget-friendly version of pu khai dong, pickled she-crabs. And since I remember not enjoying the pickled raw roe-carrying crabs very much when I had one for the first time a few years earlier, I wasn’t open to anything that promised to remind me of those crabs.

But around this time last year, three to four months into the COVID situation, I thought about these marinated eggs where all of the ingredients are kitchen staples, and almost no cooking is involved. So, I made them and came to realize how good they were. And now I’m apologizing to all of the people whom I didn’t believe before.

If you’re familiar with the Japanese shoyusuke egg yolks, which are similar to these, except they’re marinated in soy sauce, you know how the yolks are served: over rice. All you have to do is put warm rice in a bowl, make a little yolk-sized “crate” in the middle of the rice mound, and drop a yolk in there. (I recommend a three-quarters cup of cooked jasmine rice per one six-hour marinated yolk. The yolks get saltier the longer they’re marinated (more details below), so adjust the ratio accordingly.)

First of all, you need to know that you’ll be eating raw eggs here, so please exercise caution. I get my eggs from a nearby farm, so I feel pretty confident eating them raw. However, to be safe, you may want to use pasteurized eggs.

Second of all, the quality of the fish sauce makes a huge difference here. Squid, one of the most commonly found brands outside Thailand, works great for everyday cooking but is not an optimal choice for this application. Tiparos, which has become harder to find in some areas in the US, is better than Squid, but it’s still not a premium brand. For those in the US, I recommend Megachef—either the brown label or the blue label is fine. That said, these eggs would still taste great even if you use non-premium fish sauce; they’re just less than what they could have been.

Lastly, you will notice that this recipe makes ten to twelve eggs. That’s what I did when I made them for the first time last year, and I recommend that you do the same. Why? The longer the yolks sit in the marinade, the saltier they become. Not only that, their texture changes along the way too. After four hours (the second photo from the top), the yolks become jammy on the submerged side and slightly so around the edges. At the six-hour mark and after having been flipped (the second photo), their edges are jammy and sticky, and the centers are soft and creamy. After eight to twelve hours, they’re getting saltier and jammy and sticky all over. Eggs are pretty inexpensive, as are the other ingredients, so making a rather large batch allows you to test one yolk at different stages and find out for yourself which stage(s) you like the best in terms of flavor and texture. The rice: yolk ratio will need to be adjusted along the way, too, as the eggs get saltier the longer they’re marinated.

Most people I’ve talked to like their marinated egg yolks best after eight to twelve hours in the marinade. I like mine after six hours, where they’re still a bit runny in the center (the last photo) and not too salty. The recipe below is just a guideline. Once you’ve found your sweet spot, you can scale down the recipe. Regardless, I still recommend that you marinate the yolks—even if there just two or three of them—in a container that’s wide and just deep enough for them to be half-submerged in the marinade without sitting on top of one another. You want to avoid a small, narrow, and tall vessel, like a small Mason jar, where some yolks float to the top while some are pushed underneath and fully submerged. In that situation, the yolks won’t cure at the same rate.

This is such an easy, low-effort, and high-reward dish to make. I have four duck egg yolks marinating in the fridge as we speak; they’re even fattier and creamier than chicken eggs. If you don’t mind separating quail eggs—it’s a pain in the butt but doable—you can make yourself some pretty cute, Lilliputian marinated yolks to serve with a tiny bowl of rice. I’ve tried that. What I have never tried are ostrich eggs. They’re hard to find around here. But if I had friends from Brogdingnag coming to visit or if I lived in biblical times and some Nephilim dropped by, I might try those.

Fish Sauce-Marinated Yolks

Makes 10 to 12 yolks

1/3 cup premium Thai fish sauce (such as Megachef)

1/2 cup packed grated palm sugar or granulated coconut sugar

1/2 cup water

Yolks of 10 to 12 large eggs, preferably farm fresh and organic

6 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced

As many fresh Thai bird’s eye chilies as you want, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

A small handful of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Warm jasmine rice, for serving

  1. Combine the fish sauce, sugar, and water in a small saucepan. Put the pan on medium heat and stir just until the sugar has fully dissolved. (This should take seconds. The goal is not to boil the mixture but to get it just warm enough to fully dissolve the sugar.) Let the mixture cool completely and pour it into a large, flared soup bowl.

  2. Carefully add the yolks, one by one, to the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.

  3. Use a spoon to flip the yolks over. Add the garlic and chilies, re-cover the bowl, and refrigerate for another 2 hours.

  4. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the yolks, garlic, and chilies from the marinade to a serving plate. Drizzle about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the marinade over the yolks, followed by the lime juice. Top with the cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with warm rice.