There are no two ways about it, the egg is a marvel of nature . . . and one of the most valuable, versatile foods around! Low in cost and high in nutrition, the common egg can perform more different functions in cooking than almost any other food. It serves to bind ingredients together (as in meat loaves and croquettes) . . . to leaven souflles and sponge cakes . . . to thicken custards and sauces . . . to emulsify mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce . . . to glaze or coat breads and cookies . . . to clarify soups and coffee . . . and to retard crystallization in candies and frostings. Furthermore, eggs can be used in many types of dishes . . . from fancy crepes, quiches, and souflles to simple French toast and western omelets. In fact, legend says each of the many pleats around the top of a fine chef's hat represents his or her mastery of a different method of preparing this food!
Nutritionally, the little ovoids are a bargain, too. They contain every vitamin except C, many important minerals, and a goodly amount of protein . . . in fact, two large eggs (totaling only 160 calories) supply approximately 13 grams of protein, which is 30% of the U.S. recommended daily allowance for adults. Of course, eggs are also a source of cholesterol (a large one contains about 260 milligrams), which can be a concern for folks with high levels of blood cholesterol: If you're such a person, you should consult with your physician about the use of eggs in your diet. [EDITORS NOTE: The regular ingestion of soy lecithin is reputed to prevent a buildup of cholesterol in the body. Lecithin is availablein granule, liquid, or capsule form from many health food outlets.]
BUYING THE BEST
Eggs are classified according to grade and size standards established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (or the equivalent state agency). Check the carton for the USDA shield, which shows that the eggs have been inspected and graded.
Grade (AA, A, B, or C) refers to the quality of the egg and shell at the time of packing. A grade AA egg has a firm, tall yolk . . . the area covered by the white is small . . . and there's much more thick white than thin a white. A grade A specimen typically has a yolk that has begun to spread a little, but is still round and upstanding . . . and the thick white is still large in proportion to the thin white. As you'd expect, a grade B egg spreads out much more, and the yolk is flattened . . . while there's about as much—or even more—of the thin white as there is thick white. (Grade B and C eggs are usually processed into dried egg products and, the like . . . but grade does not have any direct relation to nutritional value.)
The to-be-graded eggs pass on rollers over high-intensity lights which shine through the shells and reveal their interiors. The eggs are also rotated, so that all of the internal components can be seen and evaluated. (For example, the size of the air cell and the distinctness of the yolk outline are disclosed.) Imperfections, such as blood spots, will also show up in the process. (These spots, incidentally, do not necessarily indicate a fertile egg, and do not affect the nutritional or chemical content of the food in any way: They're typically caused by the rupture of .a small blood vessel on the yolk surface during its formation. Simply remove the spot with the tip of a knife before using the egg.)
Sizing is established according to the net weight per dozen. There are five size categories: jumbo, 30 ounces . . . extra large, 27 ounces . . . large, 24 ounces . . . medium, 21 ounces . . . small, 18 ounces . . . and pee wee, 15 ounces. Most recipes for baked dishes—such as custards and cakes—are based on the use of large eggs.
When buying eggs, there are several guidelines that are worth remembering. First of all, keep in mind how you plan to use the eggs. The lower grades are best suited for scrambled eggs or combination dishes where a firm yolk isn't important. If you're going to be frying or poaching, however, grade AA is the preferred choice. Once you've decided which grade is most suitable for your purpose, follow this hint: When there's less than a 7¢ price difference between one size and the next smaller size in the same grade, it's generally more economical to buy the larger size.
The only other factor that might influence your choice is color. Well, it may come as a surprise to some folks, but the hue of the eggshell is determined by the breed of hen and has nothing to do with nutritional value, flavor, keeping quality, or cooking characteristics. Unless you have a special reason for purchasing eggs of a particular color, you might as well just buy whichever is less expensive!
SUCCESSFUL STORAGE TECHNIQUES
In order to maintain quality, it's important to store eggs in the refrigerator . . . set at between 35°F and 45°F (3° and 7°C). In fact, they'll age more in one day at room temperature than in one week in the fridge. [EDI TOR'S NOTE: For a comparison of other storage techniques, see MOTHER NO. 48, page 170, "Can You Really Store Fresh Eggs a Year or More Without Refrigeration?"] If possible, keep them in their cartons, since eggs can ab sorb odors through their shells. Unbroken raw yolks can be stored, covered with water, in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for two or three days. Raw egg whites will keep for a week to ten days in the refrigerator if they're in a tight-lidded container. Hard-cooked eggs—if in their shells—will keep for a week in the refrigerator.
Raw eggs can be frozen whole (but out of the shell) or with the yolks and whites separated (be sure no yolk gets in with the whites when you're breaking the eggs, or the whites won't beat properly later on). However, to-be-frozen egg yolks require special treatment in order not to become too gelatinous for use. To prevent—or at least retard—this process, add either salt or such sweeteners as sugar, honey, or corn syrup to the yolks or whole eggs before freezing them. It's best to use salt if you intend to serve the eggs as main dishes, and add the sweeteners if you'll be using them for desserts. Whole eggs should be forked together lightly (without beating in air) before being frozen. The following chart shows the proportions to use when adding retardants.
Remember to label the containers with the date, the number of whole eggs or yolks, and the type of retardant you put in!
Egg whites can simply be poured into containers, sealed tightly, and labeled . . . or you can freeze each one in an ice cube tray and later transfer the cubes to a plastic bag.
It's a good idea to take frozen whites from the freezer the night before you plan to use them, and let them thaw in the refrigerator. If time is short, they can be thawed more quickly by holding the covered container under cold running water. These whites are used in the same way as fresh ones . . . but if you plan to beat them, you'll get better results if you first let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. When reconstituting thawed eggs, remember that two tablespoons of white can be substituted for one large fresh egg white . . . one tablespoon of yolk will equal one large fresh yolk . . . and three tablespoons of whole egg will be the equivalent of one large fresh whole egg.
There are five basic methods of cooking with eggs: baking, frying, boiling, poaching, and scrambling. The main principle to remember—when preparing such dishes—is to use a medium to low temperature . . . being careful not to overcook the eggs, lest the whites become shrunken and rubbery and the yolks discolor.
The greenish tinge that sometimes appears around the yolk of hard-cooked eggs is the result of sulfur and iron compounds in the egg itself reacting at the surface of the yolk. Such eggs are safe and nutritious, and their flavor isn't changed by the discoloration . . . which can be prevented by using the proper cooking time and temperature, and by rapidly cooling the eggs when they're done. Scrambled eggs may also turn a greenish color . . . again as the result of a chemical change brought on by heat and having no effect on the flavor or food value of the eggs. The use of stainless steel equipment and very fresh eggs—coupled with prompt serving—will help prevent this problem.
The following recipes, which I obtained from the American Egg Board and the California Egg Marketing and Research Agreement, represent some of my favorite ways to use eggs. I hope your family enjoys them as much as mine does!
HAM AND MUSHROOM QUICHE
9" unbaked pie shell
6 eggs, beaten
1 cup of shredded Swiss cheese (4 ounces)
1 cup of chopped cooked ham
1 (4-ounce) can of sliced mushrooms, well drained 1 cup of half-and-half
2 tablespoons of minced onion
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
First, brush the pie shell with a little of the beaten egg. Prick the bottom and sides of the pastry with a fork, and bake it in a preheated 450°F oven for 5 minutes, or until the crust turns a light golden brown. Then set the pie shell aside, and reduce the oven temperature to 375°F. Stir together the cheese, ham, and mushrooms before arranging the mixture evenly in the bottom of the shell. Now, add the remaining ingredients to the beaten eggs, and pour this over the cheese mixture. Bake the pie in the preheated 375°F oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Then let it stand for about 5 minutes before serving the delicious entree to a group of four to six people.
SWISS PIE FLORENTINE
2 (10-ounce) packages of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup of butter
1/3 cup of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
a dash of nutmeg
a dash of pepper
1-1/2 cups of milk
3 eggs, hard-cooked
1 (5-ounce) can of boned chicken or 1/3 cup of chopped cooked chicken or I (6-1/2-ounce) can of tuna, drained and flaked
1 cup of shredded Swiss cheese
parsley (for garnish)
Drain the spinach by pressing it between your hands or against the bottom of a sieve with the back of a large spoon. Then allow it to stand on several thicknesses of paper toweling for 30 minutes before combining it with the beaten eggs, and smoothing the mixture against the bottom and sides of a greased 9" pie plate. With that done, melt the butter in a small saucepan .. . add flour, salt, nutmeg, and pepper . . . and stir it until it's smooth. Now, gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. Cook the pie-to-be over medium heat, still stirring it, until it comes to a boil and thickens. At that point, set the saucepan aside, cut one hard-cooked egg into wedges, and reserve three of these for garnish. Go on to chop the remaining wedges, and the other two eggs, and stir them into the sauce. Pour the mixture into the spinach crust . . . arrange the chicken or tuna evenly over the sauce . . . and sprinkle the entire pie with cheese. You'll also want to fold a thin strip of foil around the edges of the crust to prevent overbrowning. Bake the pie in a preheated 350°F oven for 20 to 30 minutes, removing the foil during the last 10 minutes, and serve it garnished with the egg wedges and a few sprigs of parsley. This recipe should provide a hearty main dish for at least four diners.
STIR-FRY GARDEN OMELET
1 tablespoon of oil
2 cups of chopped fresh spinach (stems removed)
1 cup of sliced fresh mushrooms
1 cup of fresh bean sprouts
1/4 cup of sliced green onions
1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 tablespoon of chicken broth or white wine
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of cornstarch
2 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup of water
Heat the oil, in a large skillet or wok, over high heat. Add the spinach, mushrooms, bean sprouts, onion, and ginger . . . and cook them, stirring constantly, just until the spinach wilts. Then push the vegetables to the side of the pan . . . combine the chicken broth or wine with the soy sauce and cornstarch . . . and add the liquid to the skillet, cooking it until it thickens and becomes clear. Now, remove the pan from the stove, mix the contents together, and keep them warm while you melt 1 tablespoon of the butter, in a 7"-9" omelet pan, over medium heat. Once that's done, beat the eggs and water together until they're well blended and pour half of the mixture into the omelet pan, swirling it so that all of the portions cook evenly. While the top is still moist, spoon half of the vegetables onto the egg mixture and fold the omelet in half. Finally, slide it onto a warmed dinner plate, and repeat the procedure to make a second omelet.
2 tablespoons of butter
1-1/2 cups of drained whole kernel corn or fresh corn
1/4 cup of chopped green pepper
2 tablespoons of diced pimento
2 tablespoons of diced onion
8 eggs 1/2 cup of milk
1/2 teaspoon of seasoned salt pepper rings (optional)
Melt the butter, over medium heat, in a large skillet . . . then add the corn, chopped green pepper, pimento, and onion. Cook the vegetables until they're heated through and the onion becomes soft (do not brown it, though). Now, set the skillet aside, and beat the eggs, milk, and salt until they're well blended. Return the skillet to the heat, and add the egg mixture. As it begins to set, draw a spatula through it so that any uncooked egg can come in contact with the heat. The egg should be thickened but still moist when served. (You can garnish the dish with pepper rings if you like.) Four people should be well satisfied with this recipe.
CHICKEN WALDORF BLOSSOMS
2/3 cup of chopped cooked chicken
4 eggs, hard-cooked and chopped
1 small apple, cored and chopped
1/2 cup of chopped celery
1/3 cup of mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon of salt
a dash of pepper
4 medium-to-large tomatoes
4 lettuce leaves
1/4 cup of chopped walnuts
First, combine all of the ingredients except the tomatoes, lettuce, and walnuts. Stir them until they're blended, then cover and chill the mixture. Now, cut each tomato into six sections, almost to the stem end, and place it on a lettuce leaf. Finally, spread the tomato sections slightly, fill each fruit with 1/2 cup of the chicken concoction, and top it off with 1 tablespoon of walnuts.
DAY AHEAD DINNER SALAD
1-1/2 cups of mayonnaise
2 teaspoons of curry powder
1/4 teaspoon of ground coriander
1 (11-ounce) can of mandarin orange sections
1 bunch of fresh spinach (stems removed), washed and drained
1 medium cucumber (peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced)
1/2 cup of chopped red onion
1 (10-ounce) package of frozen peas, thawed
1 (8-ounce) can of sliced water chestnuts, drained
1-1/2 cups of chopped chicken or 2 (5-ounce) cans of boned chicken, drained
8 eggs, hard-cooked and sliced
Measure the mayonnaise, curry powder, and coriander into a mixing bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the liquid from the canned oranges. Stir the mixture well, and set it aside. Then tear the spinach leaves into bite-sized pieces and place them in the bottom of a 2" X 9" X 13" casserole (or a larger serving dish). Layer the remaining ingredients, starting with the orange segments, in the order listed. (If desired, you can reserve a centercut egg slice and several orange segments to decorate the dish.) To complete the salad, spread the mayonnaise mixture over the top and garnish it . . . then cover and refrigerate it overnight. Be sure to include samples of all of the layers in each serving (the salad should make eight generous portions).