Cooking with Ostrich, Emu and Rhea Eggs
An Enormous Task
Photos and Story By Janice Cole, Minnesota
Having raised a variety of chickens from bantams to the larger breeds, I am familiar with a range in the size of my eggs and can readily adapt recipes to compensate for extra-small or jumbo-sized eggs. Even so, I was not prepared as I opened the carefully wrapped package of ratite eggs and suddenly felt as if I had tumbled down the rabbit hole and into wonderland. These eggs were ginormous! The eggs were also gorgeously colored, extremely heavy and surprisingly sturdy and solid, which I learned they have to be to withstand up to a 400-pound bird sitting on them!
Ratites refer to the family of flightless birds with small wings and flat breastbones. The most commonly known are the ostrich, which is native to South Africa; the emu, proclaimed the national bird of Australia; and the rhea, which are native to the grassy plains of Argentina. These ancient birds have been around for 80 million years. The ostrich is the world’s largest bird, standing seven to eight tall and weighing 300 to 400 pounds. The emu stands about six feet tall and weighs about 125 to 140 pounds, while the rhea measures up to about five feet tall weighing in at 60 to 100 pounds. Most of these birds in the United States are raised for meat, oil, leather, feathers and breeding. They are efficient to raise, as 95 percent of the bird can be utilized. These birds hardly qualify as suitable for backyard poultry, although emus are the ones most likely to become pets. They’re easy to raise, have a nice disposition and the males are the ones to sit on the nest hugging and turning the eggs. You’ve got to love that.
Ostrich, emu and rhea eggs and meat have been consumed for centuries, with mention of their appearance at banquets by the Egyptians and Phoenicians. Today, however, ostrich, emu and rhea eggs for eating can be difficult to find. Their shells are prized by crafters and decorators and are relatively easy to purchase, but obtaining eggs that are edible take a little more effort. They are rarely found in the grocery store, although some upscale markets have been known to occasionally carry them, and, if you’re lucky, you can sometimes find them at a farmers market. However, if you’re interested in trying a few of these eggs your best bet is to use mail order. That’s how I received my large package that arrived priority mail from New Mexico. The eggs arrived promptly and were literally wrapped in newborn baby diapers surrounded by miles of bubble wrap. There was no chance of breakage.
I was quite in awe as I unwrapped these beauties. The rhea egg was totally new to me with its delicate sunny yellow color and pointy ends. This medium-sized rhea egg weighed one pound, six ounces, and contained about two cups egg, equivalent to about 10 to 12 medium chicken eggs. The medium emu egg was similar in size to the rhea but totally different in appearance with a forest green color that reminds me of the malachite stone used in cathedrals and palaces. It weighed one pound, five ounces, and contained a scant two cups liquid and is also equivalent to about 10 to 12 medium chicken eggs. The ostrich egg was the most striking for its size and the beauty of its shell. The pure off-white heavy shell has the look of Italian leather and it was so unblemished I hated to crack it. A hefty three pounds, two ounces, it was only a medium-sized ostrich egg. They come much larger. This single egg measured 3 3/4 cups and was the equivalent of about 24 medium chicken eggs.
How to Cook
The next question, of course, is how to cook them. These unique and exotic eggs can be cooked the same way chicken eggs are cooked in that they can be fried, scrambled, hard or soft cooked (ostrich eggs will take up to 1 1/2 hours to hard-cook) or used in baking.
Emu eggs have a large yolk-to-white proportion making them very creamy and luscious, perfect for custards and creamy baked things.
Rhea eggs have a more equal proportion of egg yolk to white and they cook up light and fluffy, making them a good choice for omelets or melt-in-your mouth baked goods.
Ostrich eggs are filling and very heavy. A cooked whole ostrich egg has a slightly different look and appearance than a chicken egg. While the egg yolk looks and tastes exactly like a chicken egg yolk, the ostrich egg white has a grey sheen and is very thick and heavy. The flavor tastes like a chicken egg but because the consistency and color is slightly different, many prefer to beat these eggs and use them in a baked dish or to make scrambled eggs or omelets.
All of the eggs can be beaten, covered and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week using small amounts at a time.
As with all eggs, the flavor of these eggs reflects the diet of the bird. Ratite birds that have been raised with good quality feed and healthy roaming areas produce eggs and meat that are excellent in flavor. The eggs are fresh-tasting and should have absolutely no strong odor at all, just as you would expect from a good chicken egg.
I found the flavor and texture of these eggs tended toward the rich and creamy side, but otherwise felt they were very similar to chicken eggs. And, in many of the dishes, I wouldn’t have been able to taste the difference, which led me to ask Lesa Floeck of Floeck’s Country Ostrich Ranch, “So, why do people order these eggs?”
Floeck, who has been in the business since 1980, said she gets many orders to be sent as presents and many other orders come from people who are simply interesting in trying something new.
She sends eggs throughout the United States and as far away as Canada. She also supplies restaurants that use them for special events and for a time had a standing order to supply emu eggs weekly to a restaurant.
So for those of you who enjoy trying something new or checking out the wide and varied world of eggs out there, I’d highly suggest taking a chance and cooking up something from the ratite world.
Where To Order Ostrich Eggs
Search out ratite farms in your own area or check out one of the following:
Floeck’s Country Ostrich Ranch: Tucumcari, New Mexico; 575-461-1657, www.floeckscountry.com
Blue Heaven Ostrich, Inc.: www.gourmetostrich.com
Our family’s introduction to ostrich meat came through my youngest son while we were on a family trip in Europe. As we hungrily sat down at a casual restaurant intending to order simple sandwiches, the menu proved a little more upscale than we had anticipated. Before we could admonish our boys to stick to the cheaper items, our 10-year-old put down the menu, sat up straight and very confidently announced, “I think I’ll have the ostrich!”
From that first introduction years ago when we all had a taste of ostrich steak, I’ve learned that although ostrich is poultry, the meat is classified as red meat. It looks and tastes like beef but contains far less fat.
In fact, it has fewer calories than chicken or turkey, but it’s higher in iron and protein. Its heart-healthy properties make it popular with those on restricted diets who fear they’ll never eat steak again. And many vouch that ostrich burgers are far tastier than turkey or chicken burgers.
Farm-raised ostrich meat is tender and perfect for grilling, pan-frying or roasting. It’s best cooked to medium-rare (130°F) and no more than medium (145°F). In fact it’s important to take care not to overcook it or it can become dry.
Ostrich meat comes in cuts similar to beef: steaks, tenderloin fillets, medallions, roasts and ground (so lean they don’t shrink on the grill).
Cracking the Egg
The obvious question as you look at these eggs is, “How to open them?” Simply cracking them on the side of the bowl or the counter won’t do it because the shells are simply too strong. There are several ways you can tackle this, and you may have to raid the toolbox.
If you want to save the shells for decorating, gently pound a large nail into one end of the egg, clean away the membrane and shake the egg out into a bowl. Or, attach a small bicycle pump to the opposite end and gently blow in air forcing the egg out the other end. Rinse the eggshell thoroughly and swirl a little bleach inside to disinfect the egg. Drain and dry thoroughly to save.
If you want to cook the egg whole (like a fried egg), gently use the claw side of the hammer to lightly pound around the center of the egg and gently pry open to release the egg into a shallow plate.
To get a smooth even cut around the egg, use a hacksaw to saw around the circumference using a sharp chisel, if necessary, to gently crack open.
Ostrich Fillet With Salsa Verde
These ostrich steaks are topped with a fresh-tasting piquant Italian green sauce, as the name suggests. The fresh herbal taste starts with an emulsion of olive oil and Italian flat-leaf parsley along with additional herbs, which you can vary to your choice.
1 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves, loosely packed
4 green onions, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh lemon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
6 anchovies, drained
3 large pimento-stuffed green olives
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon capers, drained
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 6 ostrich tenderloin medallions
Place all the Salsa Verde ingredients, except oil, in a food processor and pulse until evenly chopped. With motor running, add the olive oil to emulsify the sauce.
Heat a large cast iron skillet at medium-high heat until hot. Add olive oil; heat until hot. Add medallions; cook for 2 minutes or until browned. Turn, cover, and turn off the heat. Let stand 4 to 5 minutes or until steak is browned on the bottom and medium-rare in center. Serve with Salsa Verde sauce.
Adapted and used with permission from Madeleine Calder, Blue Heaven Ostrich Inc.
Gruyere, Greens and Cheese Egg Puff
I originally planned to do a fluffy cheese souffle showcasing the elegant emu egg; however, I soon realized it’s not always easy to separate the white from the yolk with such a large egg. This egg puff therefore is my simplified version of a souffle. It rises modestly but boastfully showcases the creaminess of this yolk-rich egg.
1 emu egg (or 10 to 12 chicken eggs)
1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
6 cups kale, collard or mustard greens
3 tablespoons water
2 cups (4 ounces) Gruyere cheese
Heat oven to 350°F. Coat 6 to 8 cup baking dish with cooking spray.
Beat the egg in a large bowl until blended. Beat in sour cream, milk, salt and red pepper. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add garlic; saute 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add greens; increase heat to medium-high and cook 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly wilted. Add water; cover and let steam 2 to 3 minutes or until wilted and tender. Uncover and cook, stirring, until all the water has evaporated. Place greens in bottom of baking dish. Top with half of the cheese. Pour egg mixture over the top and sprinkle with cheese.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned and knife inserted in center comes out moist but clean.
Huevos Rancheros to Feed a Crowd
Part of the mystique of an ostrich egg is being able to serve 12 people with just one egg. So go ahead and invite a group of friends over for brunch to enjoy these Huevos Rancheros with gusto and a pitcher of hot and spicy Bloody Marys. All of the components of this dish can be done the night before, so all you have to do is assemble and bake in the morning.
12 to 14 corn tortillas (depends on the size of the baking dish)
1 tablespoon oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 (15.5-ounce) can chili beans
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained, rinsed
8 ounces chorizo links, chopped or ground chorizo, cooked
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
8 oz. shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese 1 medium ostrich egg (or 2 dozen chicken eggs)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
chopped tomatoes, avocado, lime, fresh cilantro, chiles
Heat oven to 350°F. Coat a large rimmed baking sheet or extra-large deep casserole with cooking spray. Heat tortillas directly on stovetop 30 seconds or until hot and lightly charred, turning once. Arrange in the bottom and partway up the sides of the baking sheet, completely covering the area.
Heat the oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook onion and bell pepper 3 to 5 minutes or until soft, stirring occasionally. Stir in chili beans, black beans, chorizo, cumin and paprika. Cook 5 to 10 minutes or until hot. Spoon over tortillas; sprinkle with half of the cheese.
Beat the ostrich egg in a large bowl until blended; beat in cilantro, salt and pepper. Pour over the mixture, sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes or until lightly browned and egg is set, covering with foil during the last 15 minutes if browning too quickly.
Cooking Tip: I tested this recipe using a 12-inch casserole dish and while it worked okay, I think it would bake better in a large rimmed baking sheet. The egg would spread out and cook quicker on the larger surface.
Caramel Apple Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce
The delicately yellow rhea egg transforms bread pudding into a light, luscious and creamy dessert. These larger eggs can be a little more work to beat than a chicken egg so if you’re not up to several minutes of hand whisking, you might want to pull out your electric mixer to thoroughly whisk the eggs and sugar together.
1 (1 lb.) loaf artisan-style bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large apples, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (such as Braeburn, Gala, Fiji)
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon plus 2 teaspoons pie spice (divided)
1 rhea egg (or 10 to 12 chicken eggs)
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
Salted Caramel Sauce:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt plus extra for sprinkling
Heat oven to 350ЉF. Coat 13×9-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange bread in baking dish.
Melt 3 tablespoons butter in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add apples; stir in 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of the pie spice. Cook 3 to 4 minutes or until the apples are tender. Spoon the apples over the bread cubes in the baking dish. (Reserve skillet.)
Whisk the egg, sugar, remaining 2 teaspoons pie spice and vanilla together in a large bowl until blended. Whisk in cream and milk. Pour over mixture in baking dish. Let stand 15 minutes.
Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until lightly browned and puffed and knife inserted in center comes out moist but clean.
Meanwhile, melt 6 tablespoons butter in reserved skillet (no need to clean the skillet). Add brown sugar, cream and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil 2 to 3 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stir in sea salt. Pour 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the caramel sauce over the bread pudding; serve with remaining sauce, lightly sprinkling each serving with sea salt if desired.
—Recipes Copyright Janice Cole 2016
Janice Cole writes and cooks from her home in Minnesota, where she raises chickens and other fun animals. She is a longtime writer for Backyard Poultry.