Saturday, January 19

Egging On-Freshness, Brown versus White and More

Photo courtesy I'm George on Flickr

If you thought you loved eggs, ask yourself if you'd eat this burger? Fresh from Catalonia, this sandwich is not for the egg faint-of-heart. If I were going to eat this sandwich in the US, I might ask for a pasteurized egg. If I were in Europe, I'd just eat it and shut up about my health concerns.

Egg Age Test

Perhaps eggs deserve a higher place in the literary tradition than the Humpty Dumpty genre. For example, why not write, "His heart dropped like a fresh egg in pot of cool water," or "Her spirits soared like an old egg in a pot of cool water."

Ok, so the metaphor doesn't work well for emotions (except on opposite day) but the pot of water is a handy, easy freshness test. So if your eggs have been hanging around for an indeterminate length of time in the fridge, break out the bad metaphor and double check them with a quick dunk. If they sink, eat them.

Eggshells are porous. As they age, moisture inside the egg slowly evaporates through the shell and gets replaced with air. So a dried up egg will float, and who wants a dried up egg?

The Color of Eggs
Advertising notwithstanding, here's no inherent nutritional or freshness advantages between brown or white eggs. Brown eggs come from hens with more pigmented feathers and other features, and white eggs come from hens without significant pigment in their feathers and other features. There are other varieties of hens that lay blue and speckled eggs, but it's a bit harder to pick those up at the supermarket.

There are plenty of nutritionally enhanced eggs on the market as well. If you're not a fish eater, for example, and trying to increase your Omega 3 fatty acid intake (an arterial lubricant that can help with cardiovascular health) you can get eggs from hens fed an enhanced diet. Luckily, you're on top of the food chain, so you can reap the benefits of the chicken's repast.

It's a 75 Calorie Wonder? Or Wonderbread?
A hard-boiled egg has about 75 calories, 6 grams of protein, 212 milligrams of cholesterol and about 5 grams of fat. Taken all together, it's not a bad balance and it will fill you up, but the cholesterol content of an egg represents about 70% of the recommended daily intake. All of the fat and cholesterol in the egg is in the yolk, but so is half the protein. Again it is proven that there is no free lunch.

The Quick Delicious Way to Eat a Hard Boiled Egg
Eating a hard-boiled egg need not be a simple salt and pepper affair, although that's pretty good. But it need not be a production either. Here are a couple of suggestions that I love, and the reason I like to keep a couple of hard boiled eggs in the fridge at all times.

Peel the egg, slice it in half, sprinkle it with salt and cracked pepper then drizzle with a tiny amount of olive oil. The added richness and flavor of the olive really elevates the egg.

Get the egg ready to go as above, but instead of salt and pepper, try a little Tabasco with a little olive or peanut oil. If you feel like going crazy, use a dollop of mayo instead of oil (definitely not the healthy choice, but delicious).

Again, prep your egg, then shave a little Parmesan and grind a little pepper over it. You really don't need much more than that.

Saturday, January 12

More About Eggs: The Cheese Omelet

I'm a shameless fan of breakfast. I can't resist darkly browned sausages, deeply roasted coffee, and toasty buttered bread. But the high heat that's great for browning the goose is definitely not good for it's eggs. Nothing tarnishes the joy of a pre-noon nosh for me like a rubbery omelet, or worse, a browned one.

When I make a cheese omelet, I aim for a uniform, puffy, pale yellow round that's neatly folded over a few shavings of Parmesean, Romano or other sharp cheese. Subtely seasoned with butter, a bit of salt, and a dusting of finely-ground pepper, for me the perfect cheese omelet is moist and light without a trace of runny, uncooked egg. The Denvers, Westerns, and Spanish omelets of the world might be fine for dinner, but for breakfast, simplicity trumps place-names.

The Charming Curd
The trick to making omelets is to stop thinking about omelets and start thinking about large-curd scrambled eggs set together at the last moment. The truth is that there's really no good way to cook an omelet all the way through by letting it just sit in the pan (unless you're making frittata, which is something else entirely).

Don't Be Afraid of Alien Technology, Except for the Microwave
Although you may be tempted to escape the burnt egg debacle using a microwave, you're inviting rubbery texture and flattened flavor to the table. Microwaves are blunt instruments: too blunt for the egg.

Instead, embrace the other alien kitchen technology: the non-stick pan. There are some wonderful next generation pans that are tougher and safer than non-sticks you grew up on. The caveat with all non-stick pans is not to overheat them, but for eggs, this will never be a problem since eggs do best cooked on medium-low heat. If you're a die hard, you can make an excellent omelet in a high quality non non-stick pan, but just be prepared for a steeper learning curve on getting your omelet out cleanly.

Making the Goo, Gently Does It
Crack two or three eggs into a bowl, add a teaspoon of water for each egg (not milk or cream) and blend with a fork (not a whisk) until the yolks have broken and the mixture has barely combined. You're not looking for milkshake smoothness, more a rough mixture. Whisking adds air and can also alter some of the proteins in the white, which can toughen the final product.

Now add a big pinch of salt. Yes, I said it! While there's a lot of talk about salt toughening eggs, according to Harold McGee (who would know) it's balderdash. So boldly salt & pepper your eggs before cooking: your omelet will have better flavor all the way through.

Cook the Goo, Gently Again
Get your non-stick skillet going at medium-low heat and add a little butter. Reduce the temperature to low and pour. As soon as the egg hits the pan, curds will form, and it's time to begin a slow clockwise lifting and turning-over motion.

Using a silicon or wood spatula, work your way steadily around the bottom of the pan making sure to lift and turn every square inch. The goal is to bring the whole thing to no more than 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Much beyond that, and the custardiness will give way to inner tube.

Tender is the Morning
Keep lifting and turning until there's just enough uncooked egg left to glue the whole thing together and rest your spatula. Remove the pan from the heat and let it set for a few moments, flip it over in the pan if there's still some uncooked egg on top (or don't if there's not), shave a little sharp, salty cheese over the round, fold it over using the spatula, and slide to a warmed plate.

Garnish with a little pepper if you like, or just leave it alone. It's already a little bit of breakfast heaven. Why mess with that?

It's a French Wrap
This custard style omelet is attributed to the French, and Julia Child is often cited as the chef who brought the technique stateside. The word omelet is adapted from the French word omelette, which in turn most likely derives from a latin word meaning layer.