Monday, November 29, 2010

Perfect EGGS

After working in a commercial kitchen for a few months (long story, separate post one day...) I have learnt a few more egg truths:

  • Be generous with the cream in scrambled eggs
  • Forget any poaching gadgets.  Not too deep gently boiling water (add vinegar) and definitely break into a small dish first and lower the egg into the water.
  • I cannot peel a boiled egg anymore without making a mess of it.  Any tips for me?
  • Stop worrying.  They are just eggs and you can always cook another

The Larder Keeper.

Previous Post:

I often have a little debate with myself about which five ingredients I would choose to take on a dessert island. I change my mind whenever I taste some incredibly fresh seasonal produce, or a beautifully cooked piece of meat or fish. One thing which always remains on the list is eggs. Although I suppose I should take a chook if I want more than one egg. Would that be cheating?

Fresh quality eggs are essential particularly for dishes like scrambled eggs, omelettes, soufflés, and whipped egg white recipes like meringue and pavlova. You may get away with a less-than-fresh-egg in a cake or added to fish cakes, but it’s all about the freshness of the egg white for other dishes.  While there is quite a difference in various egg prices, if you think of how many meals you can make from one dozen eggs, it’s easy to get over the extra expense for quality, fresh, organic or free range eggs.

A fresh egg should have an upstanding rick yellow yolk, and firm whites. Shell colour means little as it is dependant on the chook rather than an indication of the egg quality. Even the colour of the yolk depends on the chooks diet, and a pale yolk does not mean an inferior egg. In fact, commercial producers use additives to improve yolk colour which we have mistakenly taken for an indicator of quality. Typically ‘all natural’ eggs can include diet supplements such as capsicum and marigold leaf powder. If you can't buy fresh, well-fed, free range eggs from a small local supplier, test a variety of supermarket brands until you find one that offers consistent quality.

Keep eggs refrigerated and use while fresh for best results. The shells are porous and absorb strong odours and flavours so the best way to store them is in a carton in the fridge. Eggs will last for weeks, but as fresh-is-best buy half dozen packs if you don’t use a lot.

If you have your own chooks or forget how long those eggs have been in the back of the fridge, and easy way to test the freshness of an eggs is to place them in a bowl of water. Fresh eggs will generally stay at the bottom of the basin as they only contain a small amount of air whilst older eggs will stand on one end or float to the surface. Even then, they may still be OK to use. As those with their own chooks have learnt, there is nothing worse than being in the middle of a multi-egg recipe and adding a bad egg, and having to throw a bowl full of ingredients away. So it’s a great habit to crack each egg into a small dish first, before adding to the bowl with the other ingredients. As an egg ages, the yolk takes up most of the water from the egg white (albumen). This is a primary reason why an omelette from fresh eggs is always superior. It is the water evaporating from the eggs which make it fluffy. Cloudiness of raw white is due to the presence of carbon dioxide which has not had time to escape through the shell and is an indication of a very fresh egg.

Much to our general horror, small spots of blood are occasionally found in an egg yolk. Never fear, this does not mean the egg has been fertilized and they are fine to use.

Some time ago, everyone watching their weight or with elevated cholesterol eliminated eggs from their diet. Today we understand that there is good and bad cholesterol just like good and bad fats, and thankfully we can continue to eat and cook with these delicious and nutritional bomb shells. Whilst moderation is ideal like most things, for the average person one a day is fine and a big omelette or large pile of scrambled eggs once or twice a week is perfectly healthy.

The only cautionary note to add about eggs is that foods containing raw or only lightly cooked eggs should be treated with particular care. They should be eaten as soon as possible after cooking, and if they are to be left standing, should be placed in the refrigerator.

The ongoing Debate on Boiled Eggs is whether to boil the water first or immerse the egg in cold water, then bring the water to the boil.

The fabled 3 minute egg is a cook-in-boiling water egg, but they are always overdone if I try to prepare them that way.

I have always had much more success with the add-the-egg-to-boiling-water method. A five minute egg cooked this way is perfect for a yummy dip-in-egg (with soldier toasts) but you have to be organized and quick. The lid has to be cracked, cut off then served immediately.

The critics of the add-the-egg-to-boiling-water method suggest that the eggs shells crack when you immerse them in the boiling water and this is sometimes true. I find it easier to place the eggs in the water with a large spoon (rather than with bare hands which burn and then you drop them in!), and even better still, fresh room temperature eggs rarely ever crack.

In Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home, Keller explains his own method of perfect boiled eggs as follows:

Firm soft-cooked eggs: yolks are just firm enough to handle but still slightly runny, while the whites are set;
Medium cooked eggs: the center of the yolk is soft with a slightly darker colour
Hard cooked eggs: yolks are completely set

Method for medium and hard cooked eggs: Put the eggs in a saucepan and cover with at least 10cm (4inches) inches of cold water. Bring rapidly to the boil, and cook for 4 minutes for medium eggs (the timing starts from the beginning of the simmer when bubbles appear on the bottom of the pan), and seven minutes for hard eggs.

TIP: Always cook a couple of extra eggs in case of a disaster!

Cookbooks and food blogs are full of tips on removing the shells. Some call for transferring the eggs to the bowl of ice cubes and water mid cooking, chilling for 2 minutes while bringing the cooking water to the boil again. Then back into the boiling water, bring to the boil again, and let boil for 10 seconds – which supposedly expands the shell from the egg. Finally, remove the eggs, and place back into the ice water. The chilled eggs are then easier to peel.

To be honest, it sounds like a lot of trouble, and I think it has more to do with the freshness of the egg.

For a Perfect Poached Egg bring 6 to 8 inches of water (15-20cm) of water to boil in a large deep saucepan. Meanwhile prepare an ice bath.

Add 2 tablespoons white vinegar to the boiling water, and reduce to a simmer. Crack one egg into a small cup or small bowl. Stir the outside edge of the water a couple of times to get a whirlpool motion going, then gently slide the egg into the centre of the pan and simmer gently for approx 1 ½ minutes, or until the white is set but the yolk is still runny. With a slotted spoon carefully transfer the egg to the ice bath.

Skim and discard any foam that has risen to the top of the water and cook the remaining eggs, one at a time.

I have always been famous (amongst friends and family) for my Eggs Benedict (hyperlink to recipe), but find it a challenge to make enough poached eggs all at once to serve for a large crowd.

I was thrilled to discover from the pros, that eggs can be poached several hours in advance and stored in ice water in the fridge. To serve simple bring a large pot of water the boil, trim the poached eggs of any messy edges with small scissors (if you could be bothered), then lower into the eggs into a large pot of simmering water, and reheat for about 30 seconds. Remove with a skimmer, blot on paper or clean tea towels and serve.

Really thick, yummy scrambled eggs are another challenge for many. You want your eggs cooked like all those great breakfast café’s who serve up time after time, thick, light piles of hot scrambled eggs.

There are a variety of techniques and tips for cooking perfect scrambled eggs depending on whom you ask.  Why not give some of them a go and see what difference it makes….
• A light hand is better. Don’t over-whisk. Use a spatula or fork instead
• Fresh eggs are best
• Always cook in a pre-warmed pan
• Always cook in butter (I should not have to tell you that!)
• Dice your butter, and add half the diced butter to the pan and half to the eggs in the bowl, then add the egg mix before the butter is completely melted
• Don’t use too much milk. Only a very small amount of liquid is required
• Try a little cream instead of milk

If you are really interested in the Perfect Omelette, you must read David Chang’s account in Momofuku. I love this book (as I have mentioned before) and David’s enthusiasm for the topic. Thanks to David’s efforts, we don’t have to obtain an audience with cooking greats to learn the secrets to success. It’s also interesting to learn that many kitchens will use an omelet as a test of a chef’s skill. So to the many who have tried and failed to make a good omelette, you will now know why – it is not as easy as it sounds.

So, to make a fluffy omelette, it’s critical the pan is hot enough. That means pre-warming. The challenge is not to burn the butter at the same time and this is overcome by watching and adjusting the heat if necessary and quick cooking. Make sure the pan is gently sizzling as you pour the beaten eggs in and you will be rewarded with a perfect omelette which is a combination of golden butter brown and pale egg yellow.

A good omelette really does not require filing but some herbs may be a welcome accompaniment. To make a meal of an omelette, you may wish to separately sauté some onion, then add chopped tomato. Place on half the omelette with some fresh basil, flip half over, and serve immediately. Cheese omelets are popular but the cheese should be mildly flavoured. Other good flavours are mushrooms, spinach and some shaved truffle.

My Famous Eggs Benedict

It’s a little embarrassing, but my family tells everyone that I make THE best Eggs Benedict. I think that is more favouritism than fact, but it does all depend on a good hollandaise sauce and of course, nicely poached eggs. The dish is much easier to prepare than you would imagine and the meal of choice for large family breakfasts in our household.

One key to success is in the sauce. You must be able to taste the lemon in a hollandaise sauce, but it should be a very subtle flavor. My own secret is blender hollandaise. I can make a great hollandaise and béarnaise sauce in my beautiful little copper and porcelain baine marie or double boiler, but when you are cooking for a crowd at breakfast (which there always is when I make eggs Benedict), blender hollandaise is a quick, easy and foolproof way to do it.

Get everything organized because you need to do this all quickly:

1. Melt 125g butter in a microwave proof jug.
2. Meanwhile place 4 egg yolks into a blender and add the juice of half a freshly squeezed lemon. Place the lid on the blender, but leave the little whole in the top open.
3. Whilst the butter is still bubbling, turn the blender on and pour the butter through the whole in a thin stream.

Warning - If you don’t have the lid on you will have a kitchen covered in butter and egg!

4. Blend until the sauce thickens.
5. Toast split English muffins (traditional), Turkish bread or sourdough bread.
6. Top with ham, a poached egg, and spoon sauce over. Some like it placed under the grill for less than a minute so the sauce just bubbles and begins to colour ever-so-slightly. Others (like me…) prefer the sauce ‘raw’.

You can also use bacon or smoked salmon (eggs Norwegian or Tasmanian), or top the ham with spinach for eggs Florentine.

You can also make a nice hollandaise with verjuice (such as Maggie Beers) or half verjuice, half lemon (my preference). The verjuice adds an interesting flavour and goes really nicely with fish.

Béarnaise Sauce is an egg sauce quite similar to hollandaise, made from tarragon vinegar. It is a classic sauce to serve with a big steak – but only if you are not watching calories!

When you make hollandaise or béarnaise sauces, you’ll always have plenty of left over egg whites. They can be stored covered in the fridge for a day at least, or successfully frozen. Use ice cube trays, with one egg white per ‘cup’. You simply remove the tray from the freezer and place each egg white directly in, then straight back in the freezer. To use, remove each frozen egg white from its ’cup’ and thaw in a bowl, covered, at room temperature.

If you wish to use the egg whites while fresh you can make meringues, a pavlova, Langues de Chat (cats tongues), or nut bread. I used to always make a batch of almond bread the same day but I stopped because I ate it all myself!

I will do some eggsellent sweet egg recipes including egg custards, floating islands, sabayon and bread and butter pudding another day as its enough for blog on its own.

Off course any discussion of savoury egg recipe’s would be incomplete without a delicious

Use a homemade shortcrust pastry, or if feeling lazy, go for an easy sour cream pastry (hyperlink). There is no need to buy it pre-prepared pastry, it’s too thin for the pie, and honestly, it tastes like it’s bought. Why not save money from NOT buying frozen pastry for six months then go out and buy yourself a good food processor, an essential tool if you are serious about cooking?

You could make this in a very deep pie plate such as the one pictured, but I prefer to cook it in a 25cm cake tin with removal base. It’s easier to slice and serve and everyone gets too see all that lovely golden pastry.
So, to make a Rustic Egg and Bacon Pie you will need:

9 bacon rashers, trimmed of rind and excess fat and cut into 5cm pieces
1 large brown onion, peeled and sliced
8 or 9 large eggs
¼ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Black pepper
2 large ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced. Roma tomatoes are ideal for this pie as they don’t contain as much liquid or seeds. If using regular tomatoes, just cut the tomatoes in half before giving them a squeeze to remove a lot of the liquid and seeds. Then slice thickly.

And some tomato sauce or paste (optional). Don’t use anything too wet like passata or tinned tomatoes.

1 quantity of shortcrust or sour cream pastry*

  1. Brown the bacon pieces in a fry pan.
  2. Line the base of a greased 25cm cake tin (with removable base) with pastry. Scatter bacon over the pastry base.
  3. Add onion to the pan, and cook until soft, then sprinkle over the bacon. 
  4. Gently place whole eggs over bacon and onion, and pierce yolk with a small sharp knife. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and season with pepper. Squirt some tomato sauce or paste all over the place, then cover with sliced tomatoes.
  5. Brush the edge of the pie shell before adding the pastry lid.
  6. Trim edges and make steam holes by stabbing with a knife a few times randomly over the place. Brush with an egg wash (a beaten egg yolk and a little milk) for a golden glaze.
  7. Bake in a hot oven (200 – 210) for 20 minutes, then reduce to moderately hot (180) for a further 20 minutes or until pastry is cooked.

The pie will serve about six adults with a fresh garden salad. You could get eight portions out of it, but there won’t left for be seconds!

You can also bake in an over sized lamington tin or baking dish, using 10 rashers and 10 or 11 eggs. It will cook in about the same length of time and makes about 30 square snack sized portions ideal to pack for lunch or a picnic.


This quantity makes sufficient for a base or top; double if you need both

200g chilled unsalted butter
250g plain flour
125g sour cream

USING FOOD PROCESSOR: Dice the butter then pulse with the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and continue to pulse until the dough starts to incorporate into a ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 20 minutes. Don’t skip this step!

Roll the chilled pastry out until 5mm thick. I usually do this between two sheets of glad wrap. Alternately roll on a floured (cold) surface. Marble is perfect. Enough for six small pies or 1 x 22 cm loose bottomed flan tin.

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