Our fridge is always overstocked with eggs. Sometimes we may have as many as twenty-four, a twelve-pack on top of the other creating a double-decker army of yolks and whites behind their amour of shells. Within hours this number depletes. How, I really don’t know, either we love them or we have an egg-stealing ninja sneaking into the house, silently open the fridge to swipe an egg or two then creeping back to their hideout to await their next egg-burglary.
It is probably the former.
Eggs are the perfect ingredient. Rich in flavour, vitamins, and amino acids, eggs are a ‘pre-packed fast food’.
Few other foods are as palatable served alone. Of course, you can help yourself to a juicy orange and feel satisfied, but an egg is a meal. A simple scrambled egg is severely underrated as breakfast, lunch or dinner. Just think of those soft curds of egg, loosely flowing over your buttered toast there to mop up the creamy remains. I’m getting distracted.
Is an egg sweet or savoury? An issue for heated debate I imagine, hopefully they’ll raise it on Question Time. Yes, an egg is more likely to be eaten alone as a savoury meal, but even so, is there any other food which accepts flavouring so willingly? With the simple addition of sugar, whisked eggs become billowing and moussey, trapping in air to make light sponges which melt on your tongue. The flavour and proteins in the yolk enrich sweet sauces, custards, pastry and brioche, providing moisture, tender crumb and colour. It sets quiches, thickens mayonnaise, as a meringue it bakes into a crisp shell with a mallowy centre, and is essential for the soft texture and moisture in cakes.
Not only is this precious delicacy adaptable for numerous dishes, but it can be cooked in multiple ways on its own. Cracked into simmering water, fried in oil and butter, baked under a snug fitting lid, the yolk and white can be beaten together, added to a pan of spitting butter and gently stirred. Each method results in a delicious and filling meal – just add a slab of hot buttered toast.
That said, it needs to be cooked correctly. Even though there are many ways of using, cooking and eating an egg, they are somewhat high maintenance much like a beloved pet – they give you so much fulfilment but actually you need to play by their rules.
The rules of the egg
- Cook at low heat. Check your heat, then turn it down further.
- Cook at a snail’s pace
Eggs have a tendency to coagulate when heated, especially when the heat is fierce. We’ve probably all been there when the morning scrambled egg is springy and hard, and could break something if you drop it. No matter what the heat source is, whether oven, stove or (sacré bleu!) the microwave, keep it low and keep it slow.
In November I made pumpkin pie for the first time. The internet is heaving with recipes and they all come to the fore in Thanksgiving season. Trawling through them all was hard-work; each recipe used different ingredients, different pastry, altered the time in the oven, requested the pie remain in an cold oven – I was completely overwhelmed and had to go upstairs to lie down. My only guiding star to focus my final decision was that I heard pumpkin pies have a tendency to crack in the centre, during or after baking.
This meant I had to stick to my guns about the custard filling, thus involving eggs. Referring to the Egg Rules I realised a majority of these baking times were wrong; temperatures up full whack, pie balanced on the top shelf. No wonder you’re expected to leave the pie in the cooling oven overnight – the immediate readjustment to a cold environment would shock and cause cracking. I was also told to look for ‘souffléing’ as the custard cooked. My hackles immediately rose. A souffléed quiche, cheesecake or tart is an overcooked and overheated quiche, cheesecake or tart. Unlike an actual soufflé, when the egg whites are whisked and rise as they cook, a souffléing custard is starting to coagulate, thicken and become rubbery.
So I followed the Egg Code of Conduct and reduced the temperature to a low 150C. The pie was placed in the lower third of the oven and I waited patiently (and impatiently). As expected, the exposed pastry browned deeply, resulting in me devising a crust-shaped parchment hat, but the wobbly centre stayed silky and undisturbed, like a pumpkin coloured pond. The custard stayed sublimely smooth, moussey and light yet firm enough to hold its shape when cut.
Eggs are adaptable, nutritious, filling and delectable to eat. They just ask for respect. I have always been an impatient scrambled-egg-maker, but this recipe is so delicious it would be a travesty to overcook.
From Leiths How to Cook
1-2 tbsp milk (optional)
Salt and white pepper
- Break the eggs into a bowl and beat together with a fork. Add the milk and seasoning and beat well.
- Melt the butter in a heavy based non-stick saucepan over low to medium heat until it starts to sizzle and spit. Pour in the egg.
- Turn the heat down and allow the egg to cook gently on the base of the pan before dragging a wooden spoon through, lifting the cooked egg from the bottom. You are looking to create large flakes. Keep an eye on the heat.
- Continue like this until all the egg is lifted from the base – don’t over-stir or the flakes will be small. When the eggs are two-thirds cooked remove it from the heat. The residual heat will continue to the cook the rest of the eggs.
- Serve with buttery toast and any of your favourite accompaniments.