The essential ingredient: the egg


IMG_3509Ingredients are key to the success of any recipe but some people are put off by recipes which contain too many. In this new series, I am going to reacquaint you with some of the most basic ingredients in the kitchen and help you take them to their full potential. Cooking is one of my great pleasures, and I want to share that with you.

The egg seems a good place to start – so versatile yet so underrated. For me, eggs bring comfort, they bring me home… I can almost hear the noise of my mother in the kitchen beating eggs to make an omelette. So let’s put all the eggs in one basket and see how many recipes we can crack (or name).

The humble egg is the boiled egg; if your egg is at room temperature, boil it for 4 1/2 minutes if you want it really soft or for 7 if you want the “summer egg” i.e. the hard boiled egg. Check The Food lab: Perfect Boiled Eggs.

The instant egg is the scrambled egg; it is quite difficult to make it nice and fluffy. The secret lies in cooking it slowly and taking it off the hob just before it is cooked, leaving it for 1 minute to cook in the residual heat. I love it with smoked salmon and chives!

The posh egg is the poached egg; lovely and light. There are lots of tricks to help you get it just right. I have to confess that after quite a few attempts I am still not there! J. Kenji López-Alt claims to have the Foolfproof method!

The chef’s egg is the omelette; this is the chef’s test – even Michael Roux used the test in The Protege! And, of course, here I have to mention the Spanish omelette – don’t miss my recipe at the weekend!

IMG_3541The naughty egg is the fried egg. If you like it crispy around the edges (“con puntilla” as we say), be generous with the olive oil in the pan and get the oil quite hot (around 120°C) before you add the egg.

But if we push the egg further,…

The exotic egg – the first time I tried this was in Istanbul, in a very small Turkish cafe and it is still my favourite: all you need is an egg, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, dried oregano and olive oil. Drop the egg carefully in boiling water using a spoon. Boil for 41/2 or 5 minutes if the egg was at room temperature. To serve it: peel it carefully and put it in a bowl, add salt and pepper, sprinkle a little bit of the smoked paprika and oregano. Cut it open with a knife and drizzle some olive oil on top. It is lovely!

IMG_3519The saucy egg is the confit egg yolk. Yolks cooked this way become a sauce which can accompany different dishes such as steaks, fish, vegetables like asparagus, bubble and squeak…. To confit, preheat the oven to 65°C; separate the egg yolk from the white; submerge the yolk in oil in an oven-proof dish and place in the oven for 55 minutes.

The skinny egg is the white omelette; there are only 34 calories in a 2 egg white omelette!  Yes, really, so you can add spinach & tomatoes… Some recipes add a little bit of water to the egg whites.

We have not mentioned the quiches, the soufflé, or the mayonnaise (which I make using a whole egg and an egg yolk instead of using only yolks!), and if we go from savoury to sweet: the custard, the soufflé, the meringue, macaroons, flans, crème caramel… the list goes on!  Michael Ruhlman has very recently published a book just about eggs: Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient – perhaps the next book in my ‘Kitchen tower”?  Cracking Yolks & Pig Tales by Glynn Purnell is also worth mentioning.

As for which are the best eggs, I would say that fresh eggs are always better and that for me it is important to care about the chickens too. Does the quality of the egg affect its taste? Read J. Kenji López-Alt’s interesting egg-speriment to find out more about which eggs taste best.

Photographs copyright Marta Pipiora:

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