There is only one food item we eat before it is born and after it dies. The chicken. This column will focus on the former. The egg has often been called the perfect package. Delicate, yet sturdy. Encased in the porcelain white shell is a bundle of flavor and texture. No single food is as versatile as the egg. A staple for breakfast, it is also a key component in sweet and savory dishes. The egg can be the star of the show or the item that binds and holds the dish’s texture. It can be used whole or separated with the white and the yolk each having different roles.
The egg has three main components: the shell, the white and the yolk.
The egg shell used to be used in cooking as a purifying ingredient in consommés and stocks. But since the shell can be a haven for salmonella, it is no longer used for that purpose.
The white is the clear liquid that surrounds and protects the yolk. Its purpose is to provide nutrition for growth. The white is high in protein, has zero fat and cholesterol. The white also contains sulfur which, when exposed to high heat for extended periods, will react with the iron rich egg yolk and turn green. See, Dr. Seuss was right. The egg yolk is high in cholesterol and fat. But the poor yolk takes a beating in the public relations area because it also contains many essential vitamins, which the white lacks. And it provides the flavor and thickening power.
The egg is the first ingredient most chefs learn to cook. Legend has it that the original Toque [A type of hat with a narrow brim or no brim popular from the 13th to the 16th century in Europe, especially France. Now, it is primarily known as the traditional headgear for professional cooks.] had 100 pleats and chef could only earn the right to wear it after he had mastered 100 different egg dishes. Sadly, most modern chefs eschew egg cookery as the province of short order cooks and those not skilled enough to handle real cooking. Let’s scramble that myth.
Eggs take a delicate touch to cook. Heat control is most important. Brown omelets or over easy eggs tend to have a burnt or off taste. When cooking custard or soufflé, too much heat will ruin the dish. There are few things that look or taste worse than a scrambled custard or Crème Brulée.
Cooking perfect over-easy eggs requires the right tools. First, you need a non-stick pan. I prefer Teflon. When using Teflon-coated pans, you want plastic utensils. A small rubber spatula is essential to loosen the eggs or to shape an omelet. Never use metal in a Teflon pan. It will scratch the surface and transform your non-stick pan into an always stick pan and, when you flip your eggs, the whites and yolk will go in different directions.
You first need to preheat your pan and add a little fat. Oil works best since butter burns at low temperatures. The function of the fat is as a lubricant not a flavoring. Less than a tablespoon is fine. You don’t want the egg pan to look like the Exxon-Valdez ran aground in there. For eggs, I prefer a 6-inch pan. For omelets an 8-inch pan. Crack your eggs in a soup cup first. This way you can avoid shell fragments or the occasional bloody egg.
Heat pan on medium. Add oil. Swirl oil then add eggs. Let egg white cook until it is opaque. Evenly, gently position yolks towards the back of the pan. Tilt slightly and give a quick flick of the wrist. Cook gently on other side until desired doneness is reached and flip back over.
To practice the flipping motion, start with a piece of bread and practice until you can flip gently in one motion. Then try putting a cup of dry beans in the pan and practice the motion until you can keep all the beans in the pan.
In addition to breakfast, eggs are indispensable in baking. Egg yolks act as tenderizers, shortening gluten strands in breads and cakes. The proteins in egg whites act as tougheners giving strength to such items as macaroons (both the coconut and almond varieties), soufflés, Angel food cake and meringues. Whole eggs are used for aeration, moisture and color in baking.
This month, explore the multi-purpose universe of the egg with the following recipes: Avegelemono (Greek Lemon Egg Drop Soup), Coconut Custard Pie and Angel Food Cake with Seven Minute Frosting.
Remember, baking is an eggsact science. Until next month, Bon Appétit.
- 2 quarts chicken broth
- 1½ cups rice*
- ½ cup fresh lemon juice
- 16 egg yolks
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- In soup pot, heat broth. Add raw rice. Simmer 10 minutes until tender.
- In bowl, whisk yolks and lemon juice.
- When rice is done, ladle broth into yolk mixture to temper.
- Add mix into soup. Stir until thickened. DO NOT BOIL.
- Season with salt and pepper. Serve with bread and Greek salad. For heartier soup, add 2 cups diced cooked chicken.
Coconut Custard Pie
- 1 9- inch pie shell pre-baked
- 5 eggs
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1¼ cups milk
- 1¼ cups half-n-half
- 1 cup flaked coconut toasted
- Mix all ingredients, except coconut, in bowl. Whisk well.
- Place coconut in pie shell. Pour custard over.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.
- Let cool. Serve.
Angel Food Cake with Seven Minute Frosting
- ½ cup cake flour
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 7 egg whites room temperature
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- Sift together flour and ⅓ cup sugar and reserve.
Seven Minute Frosting
- 3 egg whites
- 1½ cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
- ¼ teaspoons cream of tartar
- ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 5 tbsp cool water
- In electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy on medium setting. Add remaining ⅓ cup sugar and cream of tartar. Beat on high until it is thick, tripled in volume until
- medium peaks form. Add flour mix in three stages. Pour into ungreased Angel Food Cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes until golden. To unmold, invert pan. Cool completely. Loosen with knife to remove.
Make the frosting
- Set up a double boiler on the stove, making sure water does not touch the bowl, otherwise frosting will become grainy.
- Combine all ingredients, except vanilla, in a stainless steel bowl.
- Beat with electric mixer 3 minutes on low speed. Beat on high 7 minutes until stiff peaks form. Fold in vanilla. Ice angel food cake.