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Balut

I’m a big fan of the Travel Channel show ‘Bizarre Foods’ with host and foodie madman, Andrew Zimmern, where even he proclaimed Balut to have been one of the strangest foods he’s ever eaten. This, coming from a guy who’s eaten bats, lizards, toads, bugs, worms and just about every other, ehem, “edible” creepy, crawly creature you can imagine.

I’ve experienced my share of traveling the world as well, and one of the most important things I learned from the experience, is to have an open mind and respect for cultural traditions, including of course the cuisine.  While I’m definitely not as brave as Andrew as far as trying “extreme” foods — at least to what I think is extreme in my western-trained mind — Balut is one I’ll give a shot at.

I mean, heck, many of us eat commercially produced chicken and eggs, including foods made with eggs such as mayo’, so what’s so bad about having the both of them all rolled into one? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.

That said, this actually isn’t the first time I’ve tried Balut. My first time was about ten years ago when a Filipino friend of mine brought me a Duck Balut to try, which I’ll elaborate more on later.

Balut may seem a bit extreme to me as I’m not Filipino (and even many local Filipinos won’t eat it), and perhaps many of you, too, yet it’s as commonly eaten in the Philippines as hot dogs and hamburgers are here in the U.S.. In P.I., Balut’s cheap, easy and economical to produce and, aside of the “bad” cholesterol, it’s packed with beneficial nutrition, including protein, calcium, phosphorous and iron.

According to Andrew Zimmern, Balut was first  introduced to the Philippines by Chinese traders in the 1800’s, and has since become a signature of the country’s cuisine. The Balut capital of the Philippines is Pateros, a small town just outside of Manila. Pateros is named after the duck that produces the Balut egg.

You buy Balut from any of a number of purveyors aptly named a ‘Balutan’. A Balutan is where they incubate the duck eggs by storing them in a basket between bags of warm, toasted rice. The exact incubation period is 18 days. No more, no less. This is at just the right stage of duck embryo development for Balut. Once the duck embryo, which has now become a fetus reaches the 18-day incubation period, they remove it from the warm rice basket, where it then goes into a steamer and then it’s ready to be sold and eaten.

So a few weekends ago I purchased two Balut from a vendor at the 18th Annual Filipino Fiesta. Although instead of the more traditional Duck Balut, which are a bit larger and light grey in color, these were Chicken Balut, which are smaller and have a light tan color instead.


Chicken Balut. $1.50 each.

I asked the lady working the booth at the Filipino Fiesta how many days these Chicken Balut were incubated,  and she didn’t have the answer, only saying “the chick are very small”. Well that’s comforting to know. lol  So I figured what the heck and bought two just for adventure’s sake and to reacquaint myself with the dish.

Luckily I have Diner C, a native of Manila, who joined me on this latest Balut eating adventure (at least for me it’s an adventure), providing a few tips as she ate one and I ate one.

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT AHEAD. VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED.

Before we crack open the Balut, let’s first look at what parts make up a developing chicken egg…


Illustration graphic courtesy of http://universe-review.ca/R10-33-anatomy.htm#birds

Next, let’s look at the stages by measure in days of a chicken egg’s embryo-to-fetus development…


Photo courtesy of http://happyheartsplaycare.com/id7.html

Looking at that (and we haven’t even got to the photos yet), I’ll say first and foremost, personally the hardest part visually for me to get over are the EYES that “stare” back at you. Secondly is the very principle of eating a FETUS. What?!

Although how much worse can this be than eating a slaughtered, fully-matured bird or animal? I mean really, if I were to look at this from a philosophical perspective, I may as well become a vegetarian to free my conscience.

On that note, apparently some folks in the Philippines believe those who eat Balut become possessed by female vampires of some sort. Mananggal, perhaps?

Anyhow, I’m not going to dwell any deeper on the ethical or spiritual side of it. Gosh darned it, I’m here today to eat the bloody thing! Well, actually, it’s not bloody at all, thank goodness.

O.K., let’s do this!

Here you see we have everything we need: a Balut egg and a shaker of salt. Folks sometimes also add vinegar, shoyu and/or other flavor enhancers/cloaking agents?, but for this occasion simple salt will do.

Sitting down with Filipina Diner C for our Chicken Balut eating session, the first question I asked her was which side to first crack the shell from. To which she instructed me to place the egg on the (flat surface) table and watch for the side that tips upward. This is the side that has an air pocket, making it easier to peel the shell away where there’s enough space inside to add salt and drink the “soup”, which is the amniotic fluid. Mm-mm-mm, doesn’t that sound delicious?  “Hey Pomai, what did you have for lunch today?” “Oh nothing special. Just the usual Chicken Fetus and Amniotic Fluid Soup”. lol

So I crack open the wider round end of the egg (opposite the pointed end), where sure enough I discover inside there’s a slightly open, void space…

There you can clearly see the amniotic fluid “soup” surrounding the yolk. This is where you add a light sprinkle of salt and slurp away!

So how does a semi-developed, cooked chicken egg’s amniotic fluid “soup” taste? Ang sarap sarap! (really delicious!) Simply said, like chicken soup! Nothing surprising or strange at all about it. I seriously could go for a whole bowl of the stuff, I kid you not! Of course it would take a whole lot of Balut eggs to make up one bowl of amniotic fluid soup. lol

Now that the soup’s been slurped up, I begin to peel more shell off…

Once inside, one of the hardest things to look at besides, well, EVERYTHING, are the dark-brown colored blood vessels that snake all over the yolk , making it appear like a prop straight out of a sci-fi horror film.

This is the point where most folks familiar with eating Balut would add more salt and already start biting into it. But I wanted to get a better look at what’s in there, so I decided to remove all the shells first before going at it…

Notice how, similar to the illustration,  the yolk sac envelops the chicken fetus.

It smells pretty much like a hard-boiled egg, albeit with a hint of chicken meat aroma, but not by much.

Let’s look at the other side…

That white part on the left side is the albumen, which was formerly what would be the egg whites. Come to find out the albumen is rarely eaten in Balut, as, in this stage and cooking process, it’s very hard like cartilage. Diner C calls this part the “rock”.

Taking it apart, here’s where it gets really interesting…

You’re probably thinking right about now that I should change the name of this blog from ‘The Tasty Island’ to “The Island of Horrors”.

This, and the following sequence of photos are the main reason for the disclaimer warning stated above, which I think you’ll agree with me was a necessary thing to do.

Seriously though, here we have three major parts of a typical Balut: the albumen, a.k.a. the “rock” (egg white) on the left, the yolk (what the developing fetus eats from) in the center in yellow with beautiful dark-brown blood vessels enveloping it, and the the chicken fetus on the right, in what appears to be far earlier in stage of development than the 18-day Duck Balut. Referring back to that incubation chart above, I’d say this Chicken Balut is at about day 7.

Remember earlier where I said the most disturbing part from a visual aspect is the EYES? Well there it is. And that’s the only discernible feature I can make out at this stage of development. Notice the feathers around the eye are still just “hairs”…

As you can see (no pun intended), the wings, legs, beak and feathers haven’t developed yet. Neither have any bone structure. Which believe it or not, actually made it easier to eat than 18-day duck Balut, which has all the aforementioned features.

Before I eat the “main part” (we’ll name it that from now on), first let’s try the yolk…

It really looks like a “regular” boiled egg yolk, save for them lovely blood vessels wrapped around it. Cutting it in half reveals the same thing…

What, are we in med school here or what? lol

As always, the million dollar question is, how’s it taste? As it appears, it pretty much tastes like any other boiled egg yolk. Except! Except those blood vessels surrounding it add a subtle element of “innards” to the flavor profile. Still, mostly like a good ‘ole egg yolk, and really not bad at all.

Next, on the other end is the albumen, or egg white part, also known as “the rock”…

Like most folks, Diner C doesn’t eat this part, but I decided to at least try it and see what’s it’s like. It tastes basically like the white part of a boiled egg, except much more firm, with the texture of cartilage. Some older folks think this part is rich is calcium, although I have yet to research any factual evidence to back up that claim.

Finally we get to the “meat” of it, the “main part”…

Oh my. My-oh-my, oh-my. This has got to be so wrong on so many levels. You want me to eat this? Are you out of your bloody mind?! Ackhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But yes, I did it. Admittedly, it took at least a momentary deep, deep breath, but I indeed “bit the bullet” (as I’ve done once before with the Duck Balut), taking it to an even further extreme by pulling an “Ozzy” and chomping it in half…

Shocking? Nah, not really. So how is “the main part”? It basically tastes like white and dark chicken meat, combined with an accent of chicken liver and miscellaneous other innards as a subtle undertone.

While not nearly as horrific as it appears, it’s definitely an acquired taste. Let me put it this way: if you’re the type that can only eat fish if it doesn’t taste “fishy”, then Balut most likely won’t go over well with you. But if you’re the type who can eat Poke (raw fish), Opihi,  and other “fishy” things, Balut shouldn’t be a problem. How much you actually like it I suppose depends on your passion for poultry.

Texture-wise, this is where this Chicken Balut differed the most from the Duck Balut I had a while back. That Duck Balut had more young feathers,  and semi-calcified beak and bone structure, giving it this rather disturbing “crunch” as I bit into it. On the other hand, this less developed Chicken Balut didn’t have any of that, having it come across as “boneless”; and with that, much less “painful” from a psychological aspect, if you know what I mean.

Probably most folks who regularly eat Balut are now saying that they never eat it the way I ate it by taking it apart like that. No worries, as I have Diner C to show us how the pros do it at home in P.I…

Here she partially peels it, adds a light sprinkle of salt, drinks the “soup”, then simply haves at it…

This way you get the “essence” of both the yolk and the, ehem, “main part”.

Peel more shell down, add more salt, then continue at it…

Almost done…

Pau…

All that’s left is the hard albumen “rock”, which gets tossed in the rubbish, along with the shells…

That’s it.

What I noticed though, is that there was a strong after-taste of “chicken liver” that lasted well over an hour after eating this Chicken Balut. Thankfully we had some Drumsticks Ice Cream Cones in the fridge to counter that…

Ah, that’s sooooooo much better! Hooray for Ice Cream!

No, but really, Balut isn’t half as bad in taste as it is in appearance. Then again, the appearance, while certainly not pretty, isn’t that bad either, provided you don’t deconstruct it like I did.

Summing it up once again, It’s essentially like eating a combination of a variety of chicken (or duck) meat parts and a hard-boiled egg, all rolled into one ready-to-eat package. Notice I didn’t say “easy-to-eat”, as most folks who weren’t raised eating Balut (like me) will shudder at just the thought of what it is.

Now I’m trying to brainstorm all kinds of culinary possibilities. Balut Katsu perhaps? How about Balut Yakitori? Balut (Oyako) Donburi? Balut Rancheros? Baluts Benedict? Balut Salad Sandwich?

Hey, can’t knock it ’til ya’ try it! At least that’s the lesson learned here today eating Balut.

Watch the Bizarre Foods’ Philippines episode Balut segment here…

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s31nWSiminI


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54 thoughts on “Balut

  • May 20, 2010 at 12:13 pm
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    I put off reading the whole post until I knew my stomach could handle it. Whew, it wasn’t so bad but I did skip over a few of those pictures, haha!

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  • May 20, 2010 at 1:00 pm
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    I remember Andrew Z. saying that Balut was like eating a hard boiled egg with feet….No way for me!!

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  • May 20, 2010 at 8:28 pm
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    John S., well, there were certainly no feet in this 7-day incubated chicken version.

    Carol, you cheater, you. lol

    Raph’, that’s the name, ‘Hot Vit Lon’! Next time I hit-up a Vietnamese restaurant here, I’ll ask the owner if they’ve got any ‘Hot Vit Lon’ in back. Just to see what their reaction may be. Seriously, I’d eat ‘Hot Vin Lon Pho’. I bet it’d be great! Is there such a dish?

    Fat Fudge, well, I can’t argue with you on that observation, that’s for sure. lol

    Michael, O.K. then, Durian it is! Good luck!

    Alan, mahalo for the kind words. Especially that you recognized the fact that I had the courage to try it! Twice, at that!

    How’s the Asian (Chinese/Japanese/Filipino/Vietnamese/Thai, etc.) culinary scene up there in Madison, Wisconsin? Any markets in your neck of the woods sell Balut? If you answer “yes”, that would TOTALLY make my day!!!

    Yoro, isn’t that the lyrics to a hit ZZ Top song?  lol

    alamoanabowls,  first of all, mahalo for using the word “flippin” instead of something else. As for what I was thinking? Nothing much, actually. While it is indeed “different”, it’s not bad. Not GREAT! But not bad, and I’ll leave it at that. As said before, it’s 1 SPAM Musubi for the “main part” and Balut yolk, and 4 SPAM Musubi for the “soup”. Would I eat Balut again? Definitely! Bring it!

    Reply
  • May 20, 2010 at 10:18 pm
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    Shoots! Up next, Turkey Balut! Nah, sounds like a good idea, right?

    Or ostrich balut.. Where can you even buy those eggs?

    Anyway, cool post man, I always wondered what balut looked like.

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  • May 20, 2010 at 11:08 pm
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    haha pomai pretty sure if you were to put ‘hot vit lon’ in pho…that would be a culinary first. however, if u find chicken pho, some places will actually put in developing eggs i.e. ones that were found in hens after slaughtered. i did a quick google search, and the term is ‘unlaid eggs’ http://www.lovingpho.com/pho-photos/pho-ga-side-chicken-unlaid-eggs/ check that out. i’ve had it before….and it looked kinda nasty, but man….it was actually kinda good :)

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  • May 21, 2010 at 7:46 am
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    Hi Pomai: Thanks for asking about Madison’s asian food choices. Although we have a fairly large asian contingent here because of the University (Go Badgers!), the choices for good asian food are still quite small. There are a handful of Japanese restaurants, more Chinese, some Vietnamese, and two Korean restaurants. They are all only fair to middling. (The closest I get to asian food that I like is through your blog…I have to eat vicariously through it!) There is no Filipino restaurants (so no balut). Take care. Aloha from Madison.

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  • May 21, 2010 at 8:11 am
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    Pomai: No way you should/would have known, but that’s Ms spotty to you. LOL

    Good suggestion, alcohol would probably help if I ever “have to” eat balut. It sure would have helped when I “had to” eat chocolate meat at a friend’s wedding.

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  • May 22, 2010 at 10:27 am
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    MS. Spotty, sorry ’bout that!  Funny you mention that, as I’ve been mistakenly referred to as a “she” on other blogs that have links to here. For example, “Pomai says her favorite cuisine is Japanese and Pacific Rim.” Actually the name Pomai (full name Pomaika’i, which means ” fortunate or blessed”) is commonly given to both boys and girls here in Hawaii, and I’m coming across the name more frequently now than when I was a young kid, when back then was it rare.

    As for “Chocolate Meat”, I love Dinuguan! I prefer the “soupy” style over the dry one. For the uninitiated , Dinuguan has got to be much easier to swallow than Balut, that’s for sure.

    Alan, I wonder if the local chicken farm (in Wisconsin, or even here in Hawaii) would sell 7-18 day incubated eggs (Balut) to the public? Just out of curiosity, later this week I’ll call Kalei Eggs (a local egg producer) and find out!

    Raph’, looking at that unlaid egg Pho, reminds me of the Chashu Ramen in Tokyo, which now that I recall, they put a Quail egg in theres. I mean, not a ‘Balut’ Quail egg, but a regular hard-boiled egg, just small. It seemed to add a little flavor to the broth, IIRC. I imagine the amniotic fluid “soup” from the Balut would certainly be a welcoming flavor enhancer to the Pho or Ramen broth!

    Ricky, anOstrich egg Balut would just be off-the-charts BIZARRE, and certainly no way I’d eat that. That would be way too big for me to stomach, let alone look at! I remember a Man v. Food episode, where one diner cook attempted to cook an Ostrich egg sunny-side up on a large flat top griddle. There’s so much egg white in the ostrich egg that it covered almost the entire flat top and dripped over the edge. It was HILARIOUS! And man, the yolk was HUGE! About as big as a tennis ball or baseball. So imagine how big (and nasty lookin’) a semi-developed Ostrich fetus would look! Then you have the question: would an Ostrich Balut taste like chicken? Or taste like beef? Scary thought, man, scary thought.

     

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  • May 22, 2010 at 10:41 am
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    As of this writing, the Balut poll stands at:

    Total Votes: 149

    Which I’m not surprised that there isn’t much love for it here, especially after those gastly photos, not to mention the demographic of readers here, who (I’m estimating) are mostly westerners. Yet I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you shouldn’t knock it ’til you try it. Common’, at least sip the “soup”. With a 4 SPAM Musubi rating, you gotta’ at least try that!

    Anyways, thanks everyone for the insightful comments and the votes. This has been a very interesting subject to both write and hear feedback about. I’ll look into doing more “exotic eats” in the future for sure!

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  • May 22, 2010 at 11:24 pm
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    Oh Pomai I cannot believe you ate that!!

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  • May 23, 2010 at 7:50 pm
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    Keanu, coming from someone who lived in P.I., I cannot believe you can’t believe I ate that! lol

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  • May 23, 2010 at 8:09 pm
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    I love these – I grew up eating these! (And I feel sorry for anyone who feels squeamish over ’em; such a pity…)

    There are restaurants here in Manila that prepare these adobo-style, braising the eggs – chicks and yolks; the rubbery bit of white is discarded – in a vinegar and soy sauce. And there’s a dish called sorpresa de balut which involves the chick and yolk cooked in a velvety gravy and covered with a buttery crust. Serious yum!

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  • May 24, 2010 at 9:13 pm
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    Maybe turkey balut is more practical, hehe.

    One day, my friend, one day.

    I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen a turkey egg on television before, are they uncommon or something?

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  • May 24, 2010 at 9:30 pm
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    Ricky, great question!  Doing a quick Google-Fu move, I came across this answer to your question:

    Turkeys don’t lay that many eggs, and the ones they do lay are used to produce more turkeys. The average egg-laying chicken lays 300 or so eggs per year, while the average turkey produces only 100 to 120. Chickens come into production at 19 to 20 weeks of age, but turkeys don’t get cranking until 32 weeks. Turkeys are also much larger, averaging 16 to 17 pounds compared to 3.5 pounds for chickens. So you’d need a lot more room for a bird that would take a lot longer to produce a lot fewer eggs.

    Another problem is that turkeys go “broody” easily–they want to sit on their eggs and incubate them. In contrast, egg-producing white leghorn chickens have had the broodiness bred out of them. They lay and lay and have no desire to incubate their offspring or otherwise be maternal. You want to play in traffic? Fine! Whatever! Now let me go lay some more eggs. Proof that just because you can make a good breakfast doesn’t mean you’re a good mom.

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  • June 19, 2010 at 10:56 pm
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    Pomai,

    That was a great piece. You’re ridiculous (in a great way!) I’ll eat almost anything, including balut. Loved your breakdown and education. I think I’d like the amniotic fluid the best, though. I’ve heard that the furry texture can be a bit off-putting. . .

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  • June 20, 2010 at 3:55 pm
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    TheBC, thankfully this Balut was too “young” to have any feathers yet. The bones can be off-putting as well. The feathers and bones are definitely the hardest part, from a texture-meets-psychological perspective.
    Marcus, you first, then I’ll try it. lol

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  • April 19, 2011 at 5:32 am
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    Hey girl. I was researching chicken reproduction when I accidentally arrived here.

    Balut is one of those things that have haunted me ever since I stopped watching fear factor. I freaked when I saw the pictures and then when I was skimming I saw the eating at the end. Queasy.

    But I said, okay, just read it. So I read it all and you’ve cured me. Not as bad or gross as I imagined. Still won’t try it, but at least I can imagine I did reading your post. Haha.

    Have you tried grilled grasshoppers? I’m sure it tastes better than I think. LOL.

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    • August 11, 2013 at 9:33 pm
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      Not grilled grasshoppers, but dry, yes. Tastes like nuts. As in cashew nuts. Not that good, but along that realm.

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    • July 18, 2012 at 5:47 pm
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      Todd, I got from your article that you ended up NOT eating Balut. You missed the video of Andrew Zimmern visiting a “Balutan” (balut incubation shop) in the Philippines. VERY interesting and informative about the history and method of producing balut eggs. They sell a 6-pack of Balut eggs (chicken, not duck) at Pacific Market in Waipahu for $7.

      How about Ostrich Balut? Now THAT would be EXTREME!

      Reply
  • February 24, 2013 at 5:00 pm
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    Very interesting article … I’d like to try this since we have backyard chicken. Eating these eggs would be so much better than throwing them out.
    How many minutes do I need to steam them? Please let me know … thank you very much ~))

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    • February 24, 2013 at 5:13 pm
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      Katharina,

      The consensus I found from a quick “How to cook Balut” Google-Fu, is to boil it for 30 minutes. Some folks then place it in an ice bath to stop the cooking process, while some just let it cool. You definitely don’t want to under cook Balut, as that would probably be even grosser than it already is. Oops. I didn’t say that. lol

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      • December 30, 2013 at 2:19 pm
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        Hi! Wonderful post. I actually recommend cooking it the same length of time as you would for making a hard-boiled egg. I.e. Put in pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil and then set timer for 10 minutes. Remove at 10 minutes and eat while hot.

        Vietnamese people like to eat it with a herb called Rau Ram (as well as with salt, and pepper if desired). That’s the only way I’ve eaten it since I was a young kid and tastes great!

        Enjoy!

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        • December 30, 2013 at 2:23 pm
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          Btw, I was specifically referring to chicken balut for hard boiling 10 minutes. From what I understand, duck balut requires much longer.

          Reply

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