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The Egg

 

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The Egg, A Culinary Swiss Army Knife

Has there ever been an ingredient more universally loved? Has there ever been one so wrongly maligned? Is there in the world of ingredients one that comes close to the egg in terms of its flexibility and usefulness - one whose role is central to quite so many foods both sweet and savory? Every great cooking culture cherishes the egg and has its own culinary masterpieces derived from it.

These are but a few of the miraculous and marvelous foods made possible by the unique qualities of the egg. Without the egg, food would be much more boring and much less tasty.

The Omelet

Not long after I had read Madeline Kamman's recipe for cooking the omelet I had the chance to enjoy an omelet or two in Paris. I had always loved the American version of eggs stuffed with sauteed vegetables, cheese, and other goodies, but I found the original Parisian style omelet was a whole different animal. The pan is heated to a high temperature and the omelet is cooked quickly. The Parisian omelet develops a light, airy texture and a golden, crispy crust - both of which are lacking in the traditional American omelet.

  1. The first step in omelet preparation is to decide on what ingredients will make the filling. Here are some ideas:
    • spinach, red onion, feta cheese
    • spinach, mushroom, gruyere cheese
    • bell pepper, onion, ham
    • potato, onion, swiss cheese
    • chorizo, potato, green chiles
    • cheddar cheese and ham
    • bacon, spinach, tomato
    • avocado and salsa
    • asparagus, bacon, mornay sauce
    • broccoli, provolone, ham
  2. Cook all the stuffing ingredients except the cheese. The potatoes will need to be steamed, boiled, or microwaved in advance. Spinach, mushrooms, onion, peppers, bacon, or tomato can be sauteed. Use a different pan than the omelet will be made in, because the eggs can stick to any fond left by the saute.
  3. Heat a clean, heavy 10 inch omelet pan for three minutes. Meanwhile whisk three eggs with a fork for about a minute. Then heat them in the microwave for 30 seconds on high. When the pan is hot, add a teaspoon of olive oil and quickly swirl it around the pan to coat the bottom.
  4. Add the eggs and shake the pan back and forth over the flame fairly vigorously for twenty or thirty seconds. You will see bubbles forming underneath the eggs which will move to the edges with shakin . Shaking helps the eggs to sear instead of steaming. It helps mix things up, and it promotes gentle browning
  5. After about 45-60 seconds, lower the flame to medium. At about 90 seconds tilt the pan and let the liquid egg ooze to the edge. Slowly change the tilt of the pan so that the egg runs around the outer edge, cooking and sticking as it does.
  6. When there is no more runny egg, add the cooked ingredients and fold the omelet over on itself.
  7. We have not addressed how to use the cheese. That's because each cheese benefits from a different treatment. The feta will will be crumbled into the other sauteed ingredients while the omelet pan is heating. Melting cheeses like gruyere or swiss can be grated onto the omelet while it is open and broiled for 30 - 60 seconds. Or they can be grated on the top of the folded omelet and the omelet microwaved for 30 seconds.

This method of making an omelet is so popular and important that there is a pan named for it, an omelet pan. The omelet cooked in this way is a dish I could enjoy three or four times a week. And I cannot say this of any other food. The omelet is among the greatest foods in the culinary pantheon.

Scrambled Eggs

At the risk of starting a food fight, I am going to advocate cooking the scrambled egg quickly. I'll explain why a little later.

  1. Heat a heavy 9 or 10 inch non-stick pan for 2 minutes on medium heat.
  2. Meanwhile, beat 2 eggs with a fork for about a minute, add a tablespoon of water and beat a little longer.
  3. Melt 1 tsp butter in the hot pan, quickly swirling it around.
  4. Put the eggs in a bowl and microwave for about 15-25 seconds - just enough to warm them to 90-110F.
  5. Add the warmed eggs to the heated pan. Shake the pan with the left hand and scrape the eggs off the bottom of the pan with a broad, flat spatula. The idea is to scrape as much of the bottom surface of the pan as posible as quickly as possible, then wet that surface with eggs as quickly as possible and scrape again.
  6. In about 10 to 15 seconds the eggs will be mostly cooked. Flip any uncooked surfaces quickly in contact with the pan. Then, within less than 20 seconds of starting, remove the eggs from the pan. There may be small patches that look uncooked, but they will quickly cook via residual heat.

This approach produces light, fluffy, custardy eggs with extreme alacrity. Lower pan temperatures produce creamier eggs, higher pan temperatures produce fluffier eggs. Remember, if you cook eggs by this method, that it will take about a minute between batches for the pan to heat up again.

The reasoning for this approach is twofold. Firstly I am impatient and like my food to be done quickly. But the second is that I like my scrambled eggs to be creamy and have a fine-grained, custardy consistency. I really loathe eggs that have hard grains and watery tears. The method is tricky, and it will sometimes produce slightly rubbery eggs, but these are still much better than curdled, weepy ones.

This technique takes its cue from material science. Throughout this science we learn that substances that change slowly from liquid to solid phase proceed to build up large, tightly bound crystals, squeezing impurities out toward the grain boundaries. Another case where this happens is with ice cream. When liquids are made to solidify quickly they make tiny crystals, or they make no crystals at all. Impurities have insufficient time to get squeezed out. Agitation helps in breaking up crystals. This is exactly what we are after. The microwave preheat is essential because it shortens the pan-heating process by 30 to 50 percent and increases custardy frothy qualities.

What is the purpose of the added water? My theory is that it helps to separate egg protiens, making them take longer to link together and form a rubbery material. Ironically, adding water may retard the formation of watery eggs. But without any water, this method works well.

The Quick Fried Egg

Each person has her own favorite version of the fried egg. I love eggs with warmed but runny centers. And I like the whites gently browned. Achieving this balance requires some patience and resourcefulness. First, select a good, heavy non-stick pan that is roughly eight or nine inches across. A calphalon commercial omelet pan would be ideal. But before you start, if you want toast or potatoes or bacon, start and finish them before heating the pan for the eggs.

  1. Heat the pan on high heat for 2 minutes. (Use a timer)
  2. Add a pat of butter. Swirl to wet the surface
  3. Add the two eggs. add a pinch of salt.
  4. Cook for about a minute, until the white is browned.
  5. Flip. Cook for 20-30 seconds.

Serve on toast.

The beauty of this egg is that the white, which is normally rubbery and tasteless takes on the delicious tastes of things browned, including brown butter. And the yolk which always gets icky and grainy when solid, remains liquid. It's particularly good soaking into nice brown toast or English muffin.

The Fritatta

The fritatta is really a sort of crustless quiche. Eggs are mixed up and put in a layer that is between 1/2 and 1 inch thick into which have been put some precooked or blanched vegetables, and/or cooked meat. Whereas the omelet benefits from having two or three added ingredients - or sometimes more, the fritatta seems best with just one or two. Whereas the omelet benefits from having fully flavored vegetables, the fritatta often works best with more subtly flavored ones. Some of the best ingredients for fritattas are:

The smallest of fritattas will contain six eggs. First, prepare the other ingredients, between 1/4 and 1/2 a cup per person (cooked). Next, break some eggs - about three per person - and beat them until just uniformly mixed. Add the other ingredients to the eggs, add a little salt, and pepper. Feel free to add one other minor ingredient. Here are some ideas:

Place the mixture in a lightly buttered pan. Six eggs will cook well enough in a 9 or 10 inch omelet pan. If you want the center a little softer or the outside a little darker, use an 8 inch pan. Heat without stirring over medium low heat. After four to seven minutes, the top surface will begin to solidify. What happens next is a matter of both skill and taste. Some will choose to flip the whole thing. This poses a number of technical challenges but it may produce a more uniform surface. An alternative is to finish the fritatta in the oven or under a broiler.

Fritattas are often served cooled and cut into wedges. Tomato salsa is an ideal item to serve with them. This is an ideal light meal for a summer evening. Sushi chefs frequently serve there own style of fritatta which they serve with tamari and sushi nori.

Deviled Eggs

The deviled egg is a classic egg preparation. Several decades ago this was the fingerfood to serve at any social event. And as with any food done too often it fell out of style. One reason for this was simply that it was, in fact, done too often. But the other reason was that it was, too frequently, not done well.

Since that day we have rediscovered mustard. And very recently we have found available powders of various smoked peppers: chipotle chile and smoked paprika. In short, the dull blandness and unctous qualities of the primitive deviled egg have been redeemed by spicy hot, vinegar, and smoky flavors. There are other possibilities that admit celery seed, shallots, or other things.

  1. Put 2 inches of water in a 4 quart saucepan and bring to a boil
  2. Use tongs to place 12 eggs in the water.
  3. Cover, lower heat to medium .
  4. Cook eggs for 17 minutes. Use a timer.
  5. Remove and place in a colander
  6. Run cold water over the eggs for five seconds each.
  7. Place in refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours.
  8. Halve the eggs and scrape out the cooked yolks
  9. Place yolks in a small bowl and mash carefully with a fork
  10. Add
    • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
    • 2 Tablespoons spicy brown mustard
    • 1/4 tsp turmeric
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • freshly ground black (or white) pepper
  11. Mix thoroughly, smashing any remaining lumps of yolk with a spoon.
  12. Put the yolk mixture back into the eggs. If you have a pastry bag or know how to make one by cutting the end off a paper cone and want to make things look really pretty, by all means use this. If you don't have a pastry bag, a spoon wil work.
  13. Sprinkle the deviled eggs with Smoked Spanish Paprika, available from Penzey's.
  14. I f you want to be fancy, these would look great topped with salmon or sevruga (caviar) eggs. Some green or black olives would be nice with this as well.

It may be 13 steps, but each is easy and quick. The results will make you wonder why we ever stopped eating these little delicacies.

Migas

Having had real migas perhaps twice in my life, I hardly qualify as an expert on the subject. But I have gradually worked out a system of creating an egg dish that involves corn tortillas that vaguely resembles the original and satisfies my own desires for a substantial breakfast dish.

  1. Heat a heavy 10 inch pan under high heat for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, grate 4 oz Asagio or Sharp Cheddar Cheese. Cut or break 3 corn tortillas into strips. Beat three eggs in a ceramic or glass bowl.
  3. Add 1 tbs olive oil to the hot pan. Arrange the corn tortilla strips quickly, to cover the bottom of the pan. There should be enough to just more than cover. Arrange the stragglers crosswise so they touch all the other strips, push together.
  4. Microwave the beaten eggs for 35 seconds, and remix with fork.
  5. Turn the tortilla strips, they should be just lightly golden brown. Arrange quickly to cover the bottom of the pan.
  6. Add the egg.
  7. Add 4 turns of pepper. Add the cheese. Cook 1 minute.
  8. Remove to a plate.
  9. Cook in microwave 1 minute until done
  10. Serve with salsa.
Souffle & Custard
The number of completely remarkable culinary feats made possible by the egg is of a size too vast to count and of a quality too great to fathom. Here's a short list

The frothy eggwhite is one of the culinary world's remarkable items. It is the basis for nougat, biscotti, and the top half of a lemon meringue pie. The story is that in order to get the best frothy egg whites you have to use a copper bowl. In this field of esoterica I am not an expert. I have gotten reasonably satisfactory results using a stainless steel bowl, a whisk, and a bit of cream of tartar. I am told by reliable sources that all plastic bowls do not work - though I am skeptical about the reason usually given.

Those who use eggs in desert baking will already have or will want a Kitchen Aid mixer. Home cooks are frequently happy with the Artisan, a compact stand mixer that fits under a counter, but delivers ample power for a host of mixing chores. Making a cake from scratch, for instance, is a chore one ought not take on without a stand mixer. And only the brave will undertake to make meringue this way.

 

Readmitting the Egg to the Culinary Pantheon

For centuries the egg was revered in every civilized country as a major pillar in the temple of cooking. Then, back in the bad old 1980's the egg suffered bad press in the US. Not because it does or ever did anything bad, but because people who didn't know any better thought that it might.

Specifically, high blood cholesterol levels were seen to corellate to heart disease and eggs have a lot of cholesterol. The assumed link was that eating cholesterol caused high blood serum cholesterol, and that the elevation caused by diet caused heart disease. But even back then medical scientists had a hard time believing that dietary cholesterol caused atheroschlerosis. Paraphrasing friend of a friend who was one such medical researcher 'Firstly, cholesterol in foods breaks down in the digestive tract, it's not absorbed directly out of foods; secondly, the deposits occur in a space between the outer and inner wall of a vein or artery. If cholesterol were precipitating out of the blood, it would appear on the inner surface, not within the wall itself. Both facts suggest against cholesterol in foods being to blame for atheroschlerosis.' Turns out that the body is much better at fabricating harmful cholesterol from saturated animal fats than it is from the digestive components of cholesterol. In other words, animal fat causes cholesterol, not dietary cholesterol. And eggs don't contain much animal fat.

Nor is there convincing evidence yet that lowering blood serum cholesterol per se actually decreases mortality from heart disease. This, despite clinical trials of unprecedented size aimed at proving exactly this fact.

In other words. The cholesterol in eggs almost certainly has no negative effect in any person. Even the die-hard proponents of the 'eggs are bad' idea admit that in people with normal levels of cholesterol, eggs cause no harm.

But the picture for eggs is even better. Eggs are one of natures best sources of lecithin. Lecithin is used in cooking to emulsify. This is why the egg yolk is used to make mayonnaise. In technical terms lecithin binds together hydrophylic and hydrophobic materials powerfully. In other words, it is used to mix oil and water. And this makes it a powerful tool in helping the body transport fats. There are now a number of maveric health authorities who suggest eggs might be an effective tool in managing heart disease. My wife eats two or three eggs a day, does not eat red meat, dairy, or sweet food and her LDL cholesterol is so low it is almost alarming.

Furthermore, shickens fed the right foods produce eggs high in omega-3 fats and vitamin E. Omega 3 fats are linked to good mental health and coronary health. And the USDA's own dietary recommendations fall short in one vital nutrient - vitamin E. Shortage of vitamin E almost certainly does have a negative effect on cardio-vascular health.

Finally, EITHER we eat high protien foods which may or may not contain cholesterol and which may or may not affect our cholesterol levels - depending on how much fat they contain - OR we eat high carbohydrate foods which almost always will increase our triglyceride levels. The dirty little secret of medical science is that elevated triglyceride levels are at least as dangerous as elevated cholesterol levels in heart disease. So sometimes choosing an egg instead of a slice of toast or a bowl of cereal or a croissant or a muffin may prove to be a powerful step in avoiding heart disease. The evidence against the egg is less damning than is the evidence against the muffin. Read more about this if you can, in Gary Taubes' famous NYT Article "What if it was all a big, fat Lie?"

Just so we are clear, we see the consumption of whole grain foods - especially ones high in soluable fiber such as oats - as being essential to sustaining good health. We are not advocating the elimination of grains, just a focus on whole grains , moderation, and balance.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

There is a quality to the leading national brand of mayonnaise that is ideally suited to a host of culinary purposes. It is almost perfect as a sandwich spread or as a component of deviled eggs, or tuna or chicken salad. But there are times when one wishes to make a mayonnaise with a flavorful punch or with a slightly thinner and saucier consistency. Sometimes one wants a mayonnaise that delivers more vinegar or lemon flavor. Or one wishes to integrate chipotle pepper or some other flavor into mayonnaise. One approach is to mix these things with existing mayonnaise. But another is to just make mayonnaise from scratch.

This chipotle pepper mayonnaise is well suited as a sauce for salmon or crabcakes. It can work also with shrimp or swordfish, although the latter usually needs herbal and vegetable flavors more than heat. In this case celery seed and chervil can be substituted for chipotle and ancho pepper.

1) Separate one egg into yolk and white.

2) Place in the bowl of a food processor

3) Run the food processor for a few seconds

4) Turn on the processor and slowly drizzle in vegetable oil. The preparation is done when you think it is. This will typically mean you have added between one and two cups of vegetable oil. Do not use extra virgin olive oil, for it is not stable enough to stand up to the mechanical stresses and will produce a bitter concoction.

Eat Well and Prosper.

Online Egg Recipes

 

Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.