Saturday, June 13, 2015

Eggs 101

Eggs are the product of several species including birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. They are laid by the female of the species and consist of a protective eggshell, egg white (albumen) and an egg yolk (vitellus). The shell of an egg can come in several colors ranging from white, brown, pink to speckled blue-green. Interestingly, the color of the egg can be linked to the ear lobe color of the chicken. Generally, a chicken with white lobes will lay white eggs and a chicken with red lobes will lay brown. The egg white surrounds the fertilized or unfertilized yoke and serves to protect the yoke as well as provide vital nutrients to the fertilized embryo.

Have you ever wondered how your egg is “graded?” Eggs are graded according to freshness and this is determined by the size of the air cell at the large end of the egg. A fresh egg with a relatively small air cell will receive a grade of AA. As the air cell expands through the loss of density and from air being drawn through the pores in the shell, the size of the air cell increases. The quality of the egg then decreases and the grade moves from AA to A to B. As the air cell expands the larger end of the egg will rise to increasingly shallower depths when the egg is placed in a bowl of water. A very old egg will float in the water and should not be eaten. 
An egg is placed in the carton with the large end up. This helps keep the air cell in place and the yolk centered. During the packing process, eggs are separated by size. The minimum weights per dozen are: Jumbo (30 ounces); Extra Large (27 ounces); Large (24 ounces); Medium (21 ounces); Small (18 ounces); and Pee Wee (15 ounces).

What came first, the chicken or the egg? According to Harold McGee, food scientist and author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, "Eggs existed long before chickens. The first eggs were released, fertilized, and hatched in the ocean. Around 250 million years ago, the earliest fully land-dwelling animals, the reptiles, developed a self-contained egg with a tough, leathery skin that prevented fatal water loss. The eggs of birds, animals that arose some 100 million years later, are a refined version of this reproductive adaptation to life on land. Eggs, then, are millions of years older than birds. Gallus domesticus, the chicken more or less as we know it, is only a scant 4 or 5 thousand years old.” 

Humans have been eating eggs for thousands of years and most likely they were domesticated from the jungle fowl of Southeast Asia and India around 7500 BCE. Chickens then spread to Sumer, Egypt and Greece where quail eggs were widely consumed. The most popular eggs for consumption are Chicken, Duck, Quail, Roe and Caviar. All are widely used in cookery.

Chickens and other egg laying species are kept throughout the world and are an integral part of global cuisine. In 2009 the global production of Chicken eggs was 62.1 million metric tons from 6.4 billion hens. There are ongoing debates regarding mass egg production using battery husbandry and other commercial farming practices. Battery husbandry is a system that consists of rows and columns of identical cages that are connected together and share common divider walls. 60% of world egg production utilizes mass industrial systems with the mainstay being battery husbandry. The European Union recently banned this method of production. The top egg producers are China, USA, India, Japan and Russia. For more information about eggs go here.

Confused at the market when you buy eggs?  Should you buy Farm Fresh, All Natural, Cage Free, Free Range, Hormone and Antibiotic Free, Organic, Pasture Raised, Omega-3...the list goes on?  Take a look at this NPR story for the full details on what all these labels mean. 

Here is some fun Eggcelent trivia and facts. Did you know the Romans cooked eggs in a variety of ways and crushed the shells on their plates to prevent evil spirits from hiding there? In the Middle Ages eggs were forbidden during Lent due to their richness. The word mayonnaise likely came from the French word Moyeu, the Medieval word for the yolk which also means the center or hub. To tell if a an egg is raw or hard boiled, spin it. The cooked egg will easily spin and the raw egg will wobble. For educational and interesting information about eggs go to

To Store

Always keep eggs in the carton. The carton not only protects the eggs but prevents the eggs from absorbing the odors and flavors of other food in the refrigerator. These odors are absorbed through the 1,000s of tiny pores in the eggshells. But if you want to be decadent and you love truffles, go for it and make a truffle infused egg in the refrigerator. Click here for instructions on how to make truffle-infused eggs. Also the eggs should be stored with the large end up the same way they are packed in the carton. This helps the yolk remain centered. 

Below are some additional tips for storage from the Egg Farmers of Canada.

• Eggs should not be stored on the refrigerator door, but in the main body of the refrigerator to ensure that they keep a consistent and cool temperature.

• Leftover raw egg whites and yolks should be put in airtight containers and stored in the refrigerator immediately. To prevent yolks from drying out, cover them with a little cold water. Drain the water before using.

• When storing hard-cooked eggs, you may notice a "gassy" odor in your refrigerator. The odor is caused by hydrogen sulphide, which forms when eggs are cooked. It's harmless and usually dissipates in a few hours.

For more safety and storage tips check out this Egg Storage Chart from the USDA.

Also note that the improper handling of eggs can elevate levels of Salmonella. In the US eggs are washed before sale. The shell ends up clean but the washing erodes the cuticle (outer shell). The USDA recommends that washed eggs be refrigerated after purchase. In Europe eggs are not washed. The shells are drier and the cuticle is undamaged thus these eggs do not need refrigeration and sometimes go months without spoiling. For more information on egg safety from the USDA click here

To Nourish

At 70 calories per egg, an egg is a nutrient packed dietary choice. Eggs contain lots of vitamins, minerals, high quality protein and antioxidants. Eggs are particularly high in Vitamins A, D, B-6, B-12 and E, Riboflavin, Folate, Selenium, Iron, Zinc, Calcium, Potassium and Magnesium. They are also very high in Choline content. Choline is a water soluble essential nutrient and is usually grouped with the B vitamins. Deficiencies in Choline are linked liver disease, atherosclerosis and possibly neurological disorders. Choline has also been noted to ward off breast cancer.

Egg consumption has several health benefits including weight management, muscle strength, muscle loss prevention, healthy pregnancy, brain function and eye health.

For more nutritional information about eggs and some information about the old concerns about the high cholesterol content of eggs click here and to look into the latest research click here.

To Prepare

Every part of the egg is edible. The egg white has little fat and is a good source of protein. The protein in a cooked egg is twice as absorbable as the protein in a raw eggs. The egg whites can be whipped or aerated for a light and fluffy consistency which is used in foods like meringues and mousses. The yolk is often used as an emulsifier in foods such as in mayonnaise or aioli. Ground egg shells can be used as a food additive to add calcium. A wide variety of of dishes that utilize eggs are both sweet or savory and eggs are a common ingredient in baked goods. Eggs can be prepared in a variety of ways including scrambled, fried, hard boiled, omelettes and pickled. Eggs can be eaten raw but this is not recommended as they are susceptible to salmonellosis. To avoid salmonella an egg must be cooked to 71C or 160F. If an egg is overcooked, a greenish ring forms due to the iron and sulfur compounds. Overcooking does not harm the taste but it does destroy protein. Check out this "Guide to Easy Eggs" (omelettes, scrambled, fried and poached) from chef Alton Brown. Here is a fun 
recipe if you have a picky family who wants their eggs both scrambled and fried; you can do both in the same pan. For the perfect hard boiled eggs, go to this article from The Kitchn. And here are 50 egg recipes from Food Network that will surely keep you busy in the kitchen.

To Try

Pickled Eggs & Beets
Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich
Buckwheat Crepes with Salmon and Scrambled Eggs
Julia Child's Quiche Lorraine
Spinach & Gruyere Quiche

Egg Whites and Greens Frittata
Ina Garten's Roasted Vegetable Frittata

Creamy Egg Strata
Persian Egg Mixed Herb Frittata (Kuku-Sabzi)
Ham & Egg Tarts
Huevo Rancheros
Classic Egg Benedict
Muffin Tin Scrambled Eggs
Croque Madame
Bacon & Egg Pizza
Classic Cheese Souffle
Blue Smoke Deviled Eggs

Classic Deviled Eggs
Old Fashioned Egg Salad
Curried Egg Salad Sandwich
Spinach & Egg Drop Soup

Italian Egg Drop Soup
Romaine Salad with Bacon & Hard Boiled Eggs
Warm Escarole Salad with Eggs & Bacon

Potato Kale Hash with Eggs
Vegetable Hash with Poached Eggs
Asparagus & Egg Pizza
Egg & Prosciutto Pizza
Polenta with Parmesan & Olive Oil Fried Eggs
Polenta with Fontina & Eggs
Poached Egg over Polenta with Olive Herb Pesto
Paprika Chicken Schnitzel with Fried Egg (Holstein)
Pappardelle with Chanterelles & Fried Egg

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Smoked Tofu and Egg Fried Rice
Classic Pork Fried Rice
Bacon, Egg & Leek Risotto
Baked Feta with Olives, Tomatoes & Eggs
Pea Tortilla with Mint & Yogurt
Kefka, Tomato & Egg Tagine
Poached Eggs with Mint & Yogurt
Indian Spiced Tomato & Egg Casserole

Shirred Egg Custard
Creme Brûlée
Chocolate Mousse
Croissant French Toast with Strawberry Syrup
Caramelized Banana Pudding
Caramel Pecan Pumpking Bread Pudding
Pavlova with Lemon Cream & Berries
Lemon Meringue Pie
Strawberry & Chocolate Baked Alaska
Chocolate Pots-de-Creme
Vanilla Ice Cream Base
Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Grand Marnier Souffles

To Use

For world-class eggs Benedict and other brunch specialties, you need to start with superbly poached eggs. Using this peerless Demeyere poacher, you will get consistently great results. Includes four detachable nonstick eggcups. The sauté pan and its matching tempered glass lid can also be used without the stainless steel insert for sauces, vegetables, grains or melting butter. (Sur la Table, $64.95)