Eggs are back! I see them everywhere on top of soups and stews, garnishing pasta, even on top of pizza, as well as scrambled for breakfast, poached on a Benedict, or over easy in the diner. For a few months I couldn’t pick up a food magazine without seeing an egg on the cover. Popular, delicious, and with newly acknowledged health benefits, eggs have returned to the sunny-side up list of good foods.
For a while, we were cautioned about the cholesterol in eggs and admonished not to eat too many. Then there were problems with bacteria contamination, which further discouraged consumption. But now, those problems have been whisked aside in a scramble of enthusiasm for eggs.
According to Kris Gunnars on the Authority Nutrition website, eggs are packed with good stuff including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and (sometimes) omega3. Yes, they are high in cholesterol, but it’s the good kind that helps to lower the risk of heart disease. With all the nutrients required to create an entire chicken, eggs are a complete, satisfying, and delicious part of our diet.
Eggs, like so many things these days, come with various origin stories. Conventional eggs come from high-volume facilities housing thousands of laying hens in an automated low-cost production model. The chickens who lay organic eggs are fed organic feed, are cage free, and must have access to the outdoors, but are still found in large factory-style facilities. Pasture raised eggs are from hens who actually scratch the earth for their sustenance by living on the ground, moving from patch to patch in mobile coops, and eating a largely natural but not necessarily organic diet. There are also some other descriptors like all natural, cage free, humanely raised, and certified which are a little harder to define.
In the supermarket I like to get the Farmer’s Cow brand eggs. I get a good vibe from supporting local farms and farmers. The diet is all-natural and whole-grain with no animal by-products, preservatives, artificial growth hormones and antibiotics. I suspect, though, that there are some pretty big henhouses involved. I also like to get local pasture-raised eggs right from the source at the farmer’s market. These tend to be less uniform, have dark yellow/orange yolks, and whites so sturdy they don’t run. Great for baking, they’re also the best flavor bet when the egg is the focus of the meal.
Eggs are increasingly at the center of the plate. In addition to breakfast and brunch, they’re on menus all day long. Deviled eggs have become a staple of restaurant appetizers. At Brick + Almond on Main Avenue I had a delicious pasta dish with a whole egg yolk on top, a variation on the classic Carbonara. Strada 18 in SoNo recently featured Calabrian Shakshuka, a spicy Mediterranean mix of eggplant and tomatoes baked with eggs on top. Last week while I was scanning the New York Times online, a window popped up touting, “17 recipes with poached eggs!”
In fact, cooking with eggs has become such a hot topic that Michael Ruhlman has written an entire (and lengthy) book on the subject. Simply titled Egg, it covers the basics of egg cooking and then goes on to explore page after page of delicious recipes, all featuring eggs.
Eggs want gentle cooking – slow heat in the frying pan or a gentle simmer for poaching. No sizzling popping fat in in the skillet, please. Contrary to what you see in many magazine photos, fried eggs should not be brown and crispy around the edges – it makes them tough.
Renowned chef Daniel Boulud likes to scramble his eggs in a double boiler so the heat never gets too high. (A non stick pan on low heat is good for me.) In the October 2014 Food and Wine magazine, he suggests starting with room temperature eggs, cooking them slowly, and then stirring in some cubes of cold butter at the end to stop the cooking and give the eggs a rich, buttery texture. (A splash of heavy cream will work too.) As with most French chefs, he likes to include some black truffles.
Eggs are essential to baking. They provide structure – the fresher the better – as well as flavor and color. Their influence cannot be underestimated. But when a recipe says two eggs, it’s hard to know what that means, since eggs come in so many sizes: small, medium, large, extra large, and jumbo. Small and medium aren’t usually seen in stores, but that still leaves three size options. Jumbo eggs can be as much as 25% bigger than large, making a noticeable difference in recipe results. It used to be that medium eggs were the standard for recipes, but today large eggs are most commonly used. Commercial bakers working on a larger scale usually measure or weigh liquid eggs for the most consistent result.
Eggs are all around us at the farm stand, in the supermarket, on restaurant menus, and in the food media. Whether on the plate or in a recipe, I’m glad they’ve been rehabilitated to enjoy guilt-free!