Aperçu of An Egg

April 18, 2012

No clever arrangement of bad eggs ever made a good omelet.
~C.S. Lewis

My abiding love for these smooth, sumptuous ovals known as eggs has been well chronicled here. I am unabashedly smitten.

Recently, from small farmers to urbanites and in between, there has been a marked upsurge in local egg coops. Backyard hatcheries are sprouting up across the country. Home-raised fresh eggs from well fed and exercised hens with rich, dark yolks and intense flavors and textures are in vogue. Some of this movement is cuisine based, others find pleasure in raising their own stock, but still others are drawn to home coops due to concerns about the health and welfare of egg layers shoved into cramped quarters on fetid farms. Cries of cruelty and abuse in the egg industry have been heard. Admittedly, the thought of a dozen lifer hens crammed into a cage the size of an oven does make me cringe. Then again, this is a nation that takes perverse pride in lengthy, overcrowded incarcerations–at shameful rates that dwarf other societies. Not exactly the land of the free range.

But what of a glimpse at a hen egg’s oological self? Its anatomy and architecture?

The hard outer shell, composed mainly of calcium carbonate, has several thousand pores which allow moisture and gases to permeate in and out of the egg. This porous structure also can leech foul fridge odors, so store eggs in their cartons. Directly inside the exterior shell are two other protective membranes, the testa and mammilary layers.

Chicken eggs emerge in varying shades because of pigments which are deposited as the eggs travel through the hen’s oviduct. The pigment depositions are determined by the bird’s genetics, with eggs ranging from deep brown to pale blue to pink to green to cream to white. Although not always consistent, chickens with white ear lobes tend to produce white eggs, while those with red ear lobes lay brown eggs. Classic white egg laying breeds include Andalusians, Faverolles, Dorkings, Leghorns, and Lakenvelders. Barnevelders, Rhode Island Reds, Jersey Giants, Delawares, and Orpingtons are known more for brown eggs, which vary in hue from light cream to dark brown.

When the egg is freshly laid, the shell is completely filled. An air cell is formed at the wide end by contraction of the contents during cooling and by the loss of moisture. The smaller the air pocket, the better the egg.

The white, or albumen, is composed of 90% water with the remainder protein. The outer white is the thin edge of the white which cooks more quickly than the center. The inner white is thick and firmer than its cousin on the edge. The white’s ability to form a relatively stable foam is crucial to the development of structure in dishes such as angel food cakes, soufflés, and meringues. It also serves as a clarifier and binder.

Chalazae
are a pair of spiralled cords that anchor the yolk in the center of the thick albumen. Chalazae may vary in size and density, but do not affect either cooking or nutritional value.

The clear yolk membrane (vitelline membrane) surrounds and cushions the yolk. An egg’s yolk delivers vitamins, calories and nutrients, including protein and essential fatty acids along with a natural emulsifier called lecithin. Yolk color ranges from light yellow to deep orange usually depending on diet. The germinal disc, or nucleus, appears on the surface of the yolk as a white dot. Yolks are critical to sauces such as mayonnaise, hollandaise and some vinaigrettes, even pastas and soups.

As with scrambled, soft boiled, fried, poached, and countless others the recipes below use the whole egg. Just a couple of additions to other deviled egg ideas on the site. See A Devil’s Eggs.

DEVILED EGGS WITH DUCK RILLETTE

6 large eggs

3 T mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
1 T crème fraîche
1/2 T dijon mustard
1 scallions, white and light green part only, finely chopped
1/4 C duck rillette
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Capers, rinsed and drained

Place eggs in heavy, medium sauce pan, and add enough cold water to cover by 2″ or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain hot water off eggs and then carefully transfer eggs to a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Then dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Gently crack the eggs and peel under cool running water, taking care not to mar the white.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise, spooning yolks into a bowl. Using a fork to mash, mix in mayonnaise, then crème fraîche, mustard, scallions, duck rillette, salt and pepper. Using a pastry bag or heavy plastic bag snipped on one corner, pipe mixed filling into egg whites, mounding slightly. Easier yet, simply spoon the yolk mixture into the open egg whites.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill eggs in an airtight container for at least 2 hours, even overnight. When serving, top each egg with a few capers.

DEVILED EGGS WITH PROSCUITTO

6 large eggs

4 T mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
1/2 T Dijon mustard
1/2 t fresh lemon juice
1/4 C proscuitto, chopped
2 T parmigiano-reggiano, grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

Place eggs in heavy, medium sauce pan, and add enough cold water to cover by 2″ or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain hot water off eggs and then carefully transfer eggs to a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Then dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Gently crack the eggs and peel under cool running water, taking care not to mar the whites.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise, spooning yolks into a bowl. Using a fork to mash, mix in mayonnaise, then the mustard, lemon juice, proscuitto, parmigiano-reggiano, salt and pepper. Using a pastry bag or heavy plastic bag snipped one corner, pipe mixed filling into egg whites, mounding slightly. Easier yet, simply spoon the yolk mixture into the open egg whites.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill eggs in an airtight container for at least 2 hours, even overnight. When serving, top each egg with some ribboned basil.

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Food is our common ground, a universal experience.
~James Beard

Paninis, tacos, burgers, croque-monsieurs, BLTs, lobster rolls, empanadas, and gyros, all sandwich fodder, have been exalted earlier here. Each have their unique crust, mantles and cores. Bánh Mì is just another ambrosial meal settled between or under dough slices, all united in mouth. A Vietnamese sub, of sorts, and yet another food born of a sordid imperialistic affair…a tale of conquest, occupation and social inequity. Later, America entered the fray and matters may have worsened. Someday, while mistrust will linger, we will heal some, and breaking bread never hurts.

Bánh Mì, while generally a Vietnamese term for all breads, now implies a sandwich chocked with meats and friends. The French baguette was first force fed to Indochine during turbulent, often overtly rebellious, colonial days (1887-1954). Việt baguettes, though, now differ some and have retained their culinary autonomy. Often made with a combination of rice and wheat flour, these demi-baguettes tend to possess a lighter, golden crust and an airier not so overly dense interior. Again, fresh bread is the star — yeasty, thin-skinned with a delicate crackle but sturdy enough to handle the usual suspects. The rest is about balance with the innards.

Traditionally, bánh mì are made with chả lụa, a pork roll made with finely ground pork wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. The pork belly or butt are just a variation, but no less savory. As with most other fare, to assume there is some purist version of bánh mì is mistaken, even myopic. A little spread of black bean sauce, grilled pork, head cheese, fried eggs, aïoli, fried oysters, even the layering sequence are a few improprieties that come to mind — so, smite me, O mighty smiter!

BANH MI (VIETNAMESE BAGUETTE SANDWICH)

Việt baguette
Mayonnaise*
Fresh cilantro leaves
Pâté de campagne
Duck rillette

Braised pork belly, sliced or slow roasted pork butt, pulled
Tương Ớt Tỏi (chile sauce) or bird chiles or jalapeños, thinly sliced
Cured cold cuts (thịt nguội or đặc biệt), thinly sliced

Pickled carrots and daikon radish (do chua)*
English cucumber, thinly sliced
Nước chấm or nước mắm Phú Quốc (optional)

Slice the baguette lengthwise and hollow out the insides some, making a trough in both halves. Slather with mayonnaise on both insides. Lay cilantro on the top half of the bread with judicious smears or slices of pâté de campagne and rillette on each half. Arrange the pork belly slices on the top half along with the Tương Ớt Tỏi or chiles. Put cold cuts (thịt nguội or đặc biệt) on the bottom half, topped by the pickled carrots and daikon radish (do chua), and then the cucumber slices. If you so desire, drizzle ever so lightly with nước chấm. Close the hood and indulge.

MAYONNAISE*

4 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t white wine or champagne vinegar
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

1 1/3 C canola or grapeseed oil

Separate egg whites from yolks. Egg yolks contain a natural emulsifier, lecithin, which helps thicken sauces and bind ingredients.

Whisk together the egg yolks, mustard, wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick enough to hold its shape and appear voluptuously creamy. Be patient, because if you add the oil too rapidly the mayonnaise will break and turn soupy.

PICKLED CARROTS & DAIKON RADISH (DO CHUA)*

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 lb daikon radishes, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 t sea salt
2 t sugar

1/2 C sugar
1 C distilled white vinegar
1 C lukewarm water

Place the carrot and daikon radishes in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Knead the vegetables for a few minutes, expelling the water from them. They will soften and liquid will pool at the bottom of the bowl. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water, then press gently to exude extra liquid. Transfer the vegetables to a pickling jar.

In a medium glass bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar, vinegar, and water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature and pour over the vegetables. The brine should cover the vegetables. Allow the vegetables to marinate for at least two hours, preferable overnight. Keep in the fridge for a month or so.