If you use TikTok, you know about the app’s uncanny ability to show you seemingly exactly what you want to see. So, I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that after 11 p.m. on any given night, post-edible, I am absolutely bombarded with food content. Despite spending the majority of my days thinking about food, when it comes to actually cooking on a daily basis, I’m exceptionally lazy, so I’m well aware I will never, ever try to recreate the vast majority of the dishes I see on the app.
But a few months ago, I saw a recipe so startingly simple that I knew I was going to have to try it. The recipe was for salt-cured egg yolks, which seemed simple enough: Cover egg yolks in a mixture of flour and salt, and let them sit for a couple of days. When the yolks come out of their nest, you are greeted with a salty, umami, almost jelly-like ingredient that can be used in pretty much anything you want to add a savory note to.
When I first tried making my own salt-cured egg yolks, I crumbled them over salads and pasta dishes and was blown away by the color, the consistency and an irresistible saltiness that I never knew I needed in my life. Even anemic-looking egg yolks are transformed into a near-neon orange color once they’re cured, so they add a shockingly bright pop of color to whatever you’re making. But they also offer a richness and a shock of flavor that’s unsurprising given their electric appearance.
In short, I’m now obsessed with salt-cured egg yolks, but it seems like I’m not the only one. There are now countless videos on TikTok showing users how to throw this simple recipe together and keep their fridges stocked with as much salt-cured egg yolk as they can eat. But though this recipe has recently gone viral on the American home cooking scene, it’s nothing new. Salt-cured egg yolks have been used in parts of Asia since the 5th century AD when duck eggs were soaked in brine in China, according to Michelin Guide. They seem to resurface on the internet every few years, leaving new, loyal egg consumers in their wake.
They’re still used widely in modern day cooking as well, both in Asia and around the world. In the Philippines, KFC released a salted egg yolk fried chicken dish. Irvins salted egg potato chips, hailing from Singapore, have gained a cult following, evidenced by Cardi B’s tweet that said she couldn’t “wait to try them.” And salt-cured egg yolks end up in a wide variety of home-cooked dishes too, like mochi salted egg yolk waffles and even desserts like lotus mooncakes with salted egg yolks. (I mean, who doesn’t love a good sweet-salty combo?)
They’re endlessly versatile, and they can be used somewhat similarly to a good Parmesan cheese. Using a cheese grater, you can easily add the shavings to pasta dishes, rice, toast—whatever you think could use a dose of umami saltiness (which, for me, is pretty much everything).
Admittedly, salt-cured egg yolks are not difficult to make, but they do take some time and patience. I’m lucky enough to live only a short walk from an Asian market that keeps salt-cured egg yolks stocked in their refrigerated section, so I have now given up the pretense that I am reliably able to think about what I’m going to eat more than six hours in advance. But now that I know this is an option, whether I make them myself or pop down to the local store to snag some when I’m craving them, they’re an absolute staple in my kitchen.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.