Eggs. Practically everyone can cook something with an egg. Whether you hardboil, scramble, poach or apply some other chosen technique, eggs prove their versatility in the kitchen. I’m not sure if I can think of an item that can compete with the egg in the realm of possible manipulation factors.
I bought a dozen eggs yesterday because I felt like doing my own experimentation…and I’m trying to live on meager means. I should have bought two dozen because when I look at a carton, all I see is a dozen separate preparations, and it’s not enough! I could soft boil this egg, and then soak it in a marinade of intense spices…or poach it to top off my kimchi soup…or separate the yolk from the whites and cook them separately…or whip the whites and create a fluffly companion for my favorite lemon curd friend! Eggs offer endless opportunities for a creative mind and have been the star of many a opening dish. At Jean-Georges, on the classic, never-ever changing menu, a caviar egg commences the beautiful ceremony of the tasting menu. Eggs gently scrambled with butter and cayenne, tipped into an awaiting egg shell perched atop a mound of salt, topped with a brim of vodka creme and a thoughtful finish of Osetra caviar creates a sublime introduction to JG’s elegant style. At Eleven Madison Park, each night I would poach on average thirty eggs in 62 degree water for approximately fifty minutes. An egg was finished, to order, in a fish fumé and tapioca broth as one of the starter courses on the gourmand menu. Eggs can either set the tone for a meal as an appetizer or first course, or they can be the focal point of a dish.
There’s nothing quite like a fresh egg. Sometimes I will mortgage my house (I would if I had one) and splurge on jumbo brown eggs from the farmer’s market. Cracking open a fresh egg is like sneakily untying a Christmas present before mom and dad have awaken. You suspect that the egg will be beautiful, and everything you hoped for, but you need to see it to be sure. The first tap of the shell builds the suspense, the thumbs prying apart the shell is the like the christmas paper being ripped from the box, and then the ultimate revelation: the chicken/Santa couldn’t have been more spot on. The white refuses to part with the yolk, and the yolk is as orange as a persimmon. These eggs put to shame the eggs I usually buy from Key Foods, with runny whites and a pale yolk. With those, there’s no build-up, no flurry of emotion when I go to break the shell. These eggs are destined to be scrambled. But a perfectly fresh egg can basque in the glory of being poached or served sunny-side up, showcasing its firm albumen and tangerine colored center.
An egg is the representation of life itself and therefore it’s only appropriate that there are endless ways of serving them…mirroring the infinite directions we can choose to lead our lives. I’m reading a cookbook right now that has inspired all this egg frenzy, and it’s appropriately named Egg. It’s made me recall all the ways I’ve used eggs in the past–I’m so used to thinking ‘egg’ and then reaching for an omelet pan, or some vinegar for poaching–I forget about whipped egg whites, and cooked egg yolks, and fried egg drippings, or whites dripped into clarified butter, eggs set in gelée, or yolks folded into mousse. I think of the chicken’s egg, but neglect the hummingbird, or the ostrich’s (which can now be bought at Whole Foods) or the cold-blooded animals’ (the lizard’s egg is supposedly a delicacy, and we are all familiar with the coveted Sturgeon’s eggs). It’s so easy for me to become complacent about an egg, but in all honesty, eggs can be scintillating.
I was recently reminiscing about my egg experiences oversees. I’m one of those people who will put anything in her mouth. I’ve eaten balut: a partially developed duck embryo seasoned with chili, vinegar and a pinch of salt. I’ve also eaten scorpion, grasshopper, larva, beating cobra heart, blood…you name it and I will most likely taste it. But for some reason, the second I sat down to this tiny little fetus snuggled in an egg, I paused. It was by far the most convincing I’ve had to do with myself to make my hand feed my mouth. The result, though, was sensational. The flavor is a combination of delicate poultry paired with an afterthought of egginess. And in Hong Kong, in a fancy restaurant reputed to have the finest roast goose, I ordered a thousand year old egg as an appetizer. My friend hesitated at the sulphuric waft that greeted our noses, but I launched half an egg into my mouth. All over South-East Asia I’ve eaten both the 100 year old eggs and the 1000 year old eggs. These eggs are preserved with clay, ash, salt, lime and rice. The end result is a creamy green yolk, and the white transforms into a firm, gelatinous, coka-cola color. The smell may be a bit off-putting, but the taste is salty and complex, and the textures throw your tongue for an unfamiliar egg loop. Both of these items, the balut and the preserved egg, look like an egg from the outside, but once cracked, reveals an unfamiliar food substance for most Westerners.
I understand why chefs have gone to extreme length to conjure up new ways of cooking an egg. But why have I never seen either of these items on a Western menu? I have seen ultra-complex methods of cooking and creating new textures and products with an egg, but why has no one incorporated these Asian approaches into their cooking? Could Americans come to appreciate these eggs in the same way that they do a frittata?
Obviously much of my thought processes involving food revolve around Asian ingredients and technique. So after reading this cookbook today, where Thomas Keller creates a truffle infused marinade for a hard boiled egg, I recalled a soy sauce egg I had in Thailand. I immediately put a pot of water with two eggs on the stove (I’m stingy, I’m saving my other eggs for other callings!). After three minutes of rapid boiling, I took out the assuredly soft boiled eggs, set them in a bath of ice water, and created two different marinades for the eggs. The first was a vinegar based concoction flavored with paprika, smoked salt, peppercorns, and tumeric. For the second, I wanted a color that popped as well as a notably different seasoning accent. I poured some of my roommate’s dark Morello cherry syrup into a pan, added a bit of sugar and salt, and reduced it to intensify the sweetness. I put each egg into its own individual bag with its marinade and let it sit in the fridge over night.
I woke up this morning and ran downstairs towards my science project. It was like being in six grade again and documenting which environment grew the most mold on my strategically placed sliced bread (I won a blue ribbon for that project, thank you very much). And it felt like Easter as I peeled the eggs under cool running water, letting the bright purple and tumeric yellow shells fall into the sink. The egg white was marbled with color where it had been cracked. I blanched some brussel sprouts, pan roasted them in mustard oil, and sprinkled a bit of Szechuan peppercorn on the finished accompaniment.
The taste test was in full swing. I had already assigned a favorite egg in my mind. I would like the savory egg, with hints of smoke from the salt and a warming sensation from the paprika and pepper…but after tasting each egg individually, I preferred the sweet egg! I think I’m so accustomed to enjoying eggs in a savory format that the sweetness from the syrup actually provided a pleasant alternative. And because it was paired with a savory partner, the two really worked well together.
“Sheer perfection, the epitome of form, minimalist and yet elegant, fragile yet strong; besides being the shape of the philospher’s stone, eggs are also the basis of everything culinary.” Eggs are multi-faceted and the options are only limited by our creativity. According to chef Pascal Barbot, even if you spend your life working as a cook you will never exhaust all the possibilities in an egg. Though I’ve eaten many an interesting egg, this was only a preliminary foray into the world of alternative egg cookery for me. So I plan on finishing my cookbook today and dreaming up other, hopefully more adventurous, uses for the remaining 10 eggs in my fridge.