Let's discuss the world's perfect food.
The Incredible Edible Egg
I am going to propose to you that the egg is the world's perfect food. I like to think of eggs as little oval bundles of yummy containing limitless possibilities.
The egg is eaten worldwide by rich, poor and everyone in between. It comes from a chicken, an animal that will eat most anything, doesn't bark, doesn't destroy and takes up a small amount of space relative to what it produces. The chicken is equally at home in a first world, designer backyard as a slum neighborhood garden. It can live on 1/64 of an acre or a 2,000 acre farm. It can be raised by families or single homesteaders, avid enthusiasts or the casually curious. When raised well it can be at home with equally well-raised kids, dogs and even cats. And the average bird is cheap, so even those in more impoverished situations can afford the small fresh thing called an egg. In fact, I'd argue that carbonara is the quintessential Italian peasant food born in the days when almost all persons lived an agrarian life. There might even have been one of many wars waging in the countryside. No matter. Everyone had flour to make pasta, cured pork (aka pancetta) from a friends hog and an egg from a chicken. And no one had extra time. Voila – dinner!
When I was young, I lived with a priest. My Mom was his secretary and housekeeper and he was a remarkable man who became my greatest mentor. He had a penchant for soft boiled eggs. You know the kind you eat in an egg cup? It was likely a five minute cook, tops, and, for the first time in my life that I can remember, I was entranced by this food and the act of eating it. The egg sat perfectly upright in the cup. In a daily ritual, he'd turn his butter knife blade-away and encircle the egg with small cracks at the top quarter of the oval and remove the top. He would shake on some salt and then first eat the cooked white in what-I-thought-of as the hat, followed by submerging his spoon thoroughly into the egg and coming out with a beautiful white and yellow medley. When I was 13, I was lucky enough to travel with him to visit his family in Ireland where we stayed at their simple family farm and gathered the eggs from the henhouse for breakfast. There, I sat around a table with his brother, his brother's wife Maureen and their four children and watched in awe as all of them, simultaneously, performed this feat with no more fanfare than you or I would fork into an omelet. The joy of being struck by a food moment stays with me to this day.
When Bess and I owned a B&B, our question everywhere and always was "can we put an egg on that?" Turns out, indeed, you can! One of my favorites was a curried chicken ramekin with a baked egg on top, white wine butter sauce served with naan! Lordie, was that good! Other notables: baked spaghetti nest encircling an egg, ratatouille with an egg and fresh tomato sauce on top, scotch egg biscuit sandwich and Bess was doing a burger topped with an egg long before it was the rage and she did it for breakfast. Now, truth told, there was one woman who refused to eat it. Literally. She preferred two scrambled and side of bacon. I'm happy to report that everyone else at the table made raucous yummy noises as they devoured their egg-topped burgers!
I think, sadly, that some people don't enjoy eggs because, as with many foods, they've only had them cooked badly. Fact is, many people, professionals included, do not know how to properly cook an egg. For many chefs it's viewed as 'beneath' them. For the home cook, it's how Mom used to do it. With a food that is so ubiquitous, it is far too easy for people to think "I got this" when in fact, ouch, they really don't "got it" at all.
This is, first and foremost, because we have an abysmal habit in this county of actually making our food unsafe and then becoming afraid of that food because it's unsafe. Salmonella is caused by birds living in filthy situations and near starved to save on costs. When they are trying to eat, they also ingest feces because of the filth around them. This causes their flesh and their eggs to be infected with the bacteria called salmonella. To state this more clearly, salmonella is 100% preventable. It is merely a matter of keeping the habitat clean and feeding the birds clean feed. 100% preventable. Can you imagine that we have that capability and yet do not demand it? Most would instead prefer to buy cheaper infected food, cook it to a near inedible stage and then hose spray down their kitchens with bleach. How does that make sense?
So let's go back to our happy place where our eggs come from happy chickens - chickens that have some freedom, whose areas are adequately cleaned and who are well fed. These are both the chickens and eggs we want. When you have eggs like this, you can cook them properly. Just like a steak, think of it as a medium rare to medium egg. It should have some juice left to it for heaven's sake! If your scrambled eggs can flake off the pan – they are overcooked. If your fried egg yoke is hard – yes, it's overcooked and you've lost 80% of the beauty of that egg. If your omelet is dry inside – it's overcooked. In a classic French-style omelet, I feel inarguably the best in the world, the barely-cooked center folds around the content ingredients and forms a creamy sauce melding the flavors into one cohesive dish. See the master Jacques Pepin here.
Scrambled should have the same creaminess, else you have lost most of the taste. Even "over" eggs are often mislabeled. Over-easy means some runny yoke AND runny white. Over-medium means runny yoke and hard-cooked whites. I now know that the reason my mother's hard boiled eggs had a big green circle around the yoke was that they were massively overcooked at 20, sometimes even 30, minutes. She'd literally put them on to boil and go to clean a room of the house and, more than once, the water boiled out and the pot smoked to the point of igniting the detector! Alas, the fact is, its 5-7 minutes, five if you want a dollop of soft yoke in the center, about the consistency of gravy, and seven if you want it fully cooked through.
We will not even discuss just egg white anything, like omelets. Nope. To quote my mother in something she was very right about: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."
So you may ask, with my crazy love for eggs, why do we choose not to have our own chickens and engage instead in the eternal search for 15-20 dozen local, happy-chicken, perfect eggs per week for our food? Let's just say, I'm very good at growing things and will leave the raising of things to those with that talent. We are lucky. Because I find these little farms with wonderful eggs, we can have them all the time. I’d heartily suggest that if you are not raising your own chickens, find someone who is, buy their eggs and go nuts with cooking them on everything and every way from Sunday. It’ll change your entire view on the incredible edible egg.