Eggs are the wallpaper of the food world.
They're always around but seldom noticed. In 94% of US homes, eggs are kept on hand as an ingredient, though called on from time to time to serve as a centerpiece, usually in breakfast or lunch.
With the decline of the economy and the recession, the egg has come into sharp focus as a cheap source of high quality protein, fat, and nutrients. One egg has approximately 75 calories, contains 6 grams of protein (mostly in the all-albumin egg white) and...211 mg of cholesterol, along with a host of vitamins and minerals. On its own, an egg is tasty, though rather plain. When coupled with other ingredients, the egg transcends the everyday and becomes one of the stars of the culinary world. Souffles, custards, quiches, meringues, macarons and macaroons, challah, brioche, buttercream, mousse, sauce anglaise, ile flotant...all benefit and thrive thanks to the frothy miracle of eggs.
Eggs are also a traditional symbol of the spring. Major world religions symbolically celebrate renewal and sacrifice through the ritual preparation and consumption of eggs. Easter, Passover, and Nawruz (the Iranian new year), for example, all feature eggs on the holiday table.
So what better way to celebrate new beginnings than a Foodbuzz 24,24,24 with good friends, good food, and eggs?
Five miles from my house, located 21 miles west of Boston, is a small free-range egg operation, Pete and Jen's Backyard Birds, run by Pete and Jen, two agriculturalists with a passion for organics and real food. Here's their egg-laying brood enjoying an early spring day:
Pete and Jen sell their eggs around Boston. They also have a small 24-hour store, little more than a storage shed stocked with their products (beef, pork and eggs) with payments made on the honor system. I picked up 6 dozen eggs there over a few days to make my dinner happen (I ended up using almost 60 eggs - I spent $30 on eggs alone).
Pete & Jen's eggs are extraordinary. The ladies of the laying brood are treated exceptionally well, given organic grains, and pastured for the bulk of their laying life (in the winter it gets a little chilly). The eggs are not inexpensive, but there is great value in knowing that the product is consistently great and the chickens that lay them have not been raised in battery cages or abused. And maybe, just maybe, as in the case with wine, a higher price increases the enjoyment of the eggs. For me, the satisfaction of buying locally-produced and pastured eggs is worth the price of entry.
In Massachusetts, where I live, we are accustomed to buying brown eggs, which perhaps we were cajoled into by the sing-songy jingle that ran on local television for what seemed like decades and decades: "brown eggs are local eggs and local eggs are fresh!" Pete and Jen's eggs are mostly brown, with a few pastel-colored eggs thrown in for seasoning.
With my eggs purchased, I set to work thinking about my menu. I wasn't sure exactly what I would make, though suggestions came in from friends and family, all eager to influence the menu.
What I ended up with was a synthesis of their suggestions and my ideas. When I cook, I make food I'd want to eat - I like it fairly simple but interesting enough to hold my interest. I don't need new or flashy, I just need balance: textures and flavors must both stand out and work in harmony. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I don't. Most of my work is improvisation, and at the last minute I'll adjust the plate.
The centrality of the egg made planning easy; additional proteins had to match the egg preparation in some way, not fight it or leave my guest wondering why I served it. I did not want the additional elements on the plate to drown out or over-accessorize the egg.
The menu came together one rare free morning this past week as I sipped a coffee at my local coffee roaster, Karma Cafe. It evolved and simplified over the following days to a tidy plated 5-course meal:
The Humble Egg Dresses for Dinner: March 28th, 2009
Steamed Japanese-style egg custard with miso-cured Arctic Char, chili-lime hijiki salad and sake-infused yogurt
Cassoulet strada with flageolet beans, home-made chicken sausage, duck confit and rich chicken broth
Poached egg with pan-seared scallops in a spicy bay and curry leaf beurre blanc with mango chutney
Egg and caramelized onion napoleon with sauteed foie gras and cepes, pickled shallots and frisee salad
Toasted almond semifreddo with lemon curd and creme chantilly
Of course I didn't have the menu together in time to send out to the guests. They'd have to just trust me. Or something.
I spent a few hours each night after work pulling together pieces of the meal. Since dessert was frozen, I was able to make that ahead. I cured the char three days ahead. I made the sausage a week ahead. And you know the drill...
One of the more labor-intensive parts of the meal I assigned to my friend (and dinner guest and dinner sous chef) Mary Reilly, a personal chef and caterer who blogs at Cooking 4 the Week. Neither of us owns an egg-topper (popularized by Stefan on last season's Top Chef) though the Japanese egg custard - chawanmushi - was to be steamed inside an egg shell (thank you Mary for that suggestion). So Mary, dremel tool in hand, took to her basement and drilled open 24 eggs, sending burning, stinking pieces of egg and shell all over her walls (and clothes and eyes and hair).
I'd like to think her sacrifice was not made in vain.
On Saturday the 28th, Mary arrived at noon to help me with preparation. What would have been an unbelievably stressful day of solo cooking was elevated to a merry, social, food-oriented gossip session once Mary pulled her catering van into the driveway.
Unlike me, Mary is unbelievably organized. She immediately grabbed Post-it Notes and wrote down each course on a single piece of paper. Without which I would have really struggled to put the plates together.
Mary gave helpful advice about the plates and made quick work of slicing, poaching, chopping and prepping. I'd never pulled off a meal before with such a capable second. It was a real pleasure to have her there.
At five o'clock the guest began to arrive, some with children in tow.
I asked my guests to bring something to honor the egg. Sam and Leslie and their two kids Malcolm and Eleanor brought the preparations for wax-resist Easter eggs. Melissa and her daughter Azusa brought egg-shaped cookies and a drawing of two Easter eggs. Mary and her husband Dave volunteered to make Pisco Sours for the guests, made, of course, with egg whites.
Adam and Bekka, newly arrived in Boston with their 4 month old Elliot in tow, added an Adam-penned ode to Bad Eggs (click on it to enlarge and read all of its bad eggy goodness).
Mom opened up the wine.
With the kitchen still in a state of near-chaos, Dave and Mary began whipping up Pisco Sours while the kids started their Easter-egg party:
Photo courtesy of Sam
The Pisco Sours, made with Peruvian Pisco Rum, lime juice, simple syrup and egg whites and topped with delicious Fee Brothers whiskey-barrel aged bitters, was a refreshing palate opener and a great contrast to our snacks - a cheese and blueberry jam-filled brioche and cheesy custard bites (a renaming salvaged these failed gougeres).
Once the kids were occupied and the Pisco Sours were downed, the adults were ready to eat.It was almost 6 pm.
First Course: Steamed Japanese-style egg custard with miso-cured Arctic Char, chili-lime hijiki salad and sake-infused yogurt
The steamed custards, hidden in a pan covered in aluminum foil (our ad hoc steamer), were ready to go. We prepared a few extra, just in case any of them broke or failed.
Mary and I plated up the first course and Mary garnished the plates with chives from her garden:
And, finally, at the table, accompanied by Peter Michael Clos du Ciel Chardonnay, 1995:
The custard, made from a combination dashi broth (kelp and bonito) and chicken reduction with mushrooms, contained three surprises: tiny shreds of local storage parsnips and shiso leaf, and a sauteed cepe. The egg was held on the plate by a simple Spanish tortilla with an indent cut in just for the occasion.
Second Course: Cassoulet strada with flageolet beans, home-made chicken sausage, duck confit and rich chicken broth
The next course had a touch of the silly: a cassoulet strada. Strada is a simple savory bread pudding made with a royale batter, which was, for many years, my mother's staple for Sunday brunches. I decided to dress it up a bit by turning it into a vehicle for duck confit, my own chicken sausage, and buttery flageolet beans. The plating was, arguably, even sillier than the concept: a round of bread pudding held aloft by a round of sausage, casing removed, standing like a tower above a moat of rich duck and chicken stock reduction. It was so very...1997. The crunchy pea greens, tossed in a delicate, low-acid chestnut honey vinegar, toned down the fattiness of the dish and were a welcome contrast to the softness of the strada.
Third Course: Poached egg with pan-seared scallops in a spicy bay and curry leaf beurre blanc with mango chutney
A few months ago I made a spicy lentil curry with fresh curry leaves. It was aromatic with cardamom, ginger, chilies, bay leaves, cumin seeds, and a large handful of curry leaves. I decided that the aromatics would make an elegant and interesting beurre blanc. The color, created by the use of turmeric, was a shockingly bright, egg yolk-yellow.
I settled on a poached egg atop scallops - I figured that the butter and the yolks would bring down the heat of the sauce with the fat. When broken up, there would be an interesting interplay between the sauce and the yolks, which had nearly identical colors.
A la minute we pan-seared scallops, whisked the butter into the beurre blanc (which I then spilled and Dave very kindly cleaned up after me...turmeric is an ordeal to clean up!), dressed up a few more pea greens (oops, I forgot to think ahead on my garnishes), and set a two-day chutney on the plate.
Dave takes a picture:
Barely a drop was left on the plates:
At this point we switched to a bottle I'd be holding on to for a while: E. Guigal La Turque Cote Rotie, 1994. It was disappointly spent. The qualities I had been so fond of in the mid-90s were all but gone (a day later, it has opened up a bit more and has a great finish, but the front end is muddled and dull).
Fourth Course: Egg and caramelized onion napoleon with sauteed foie gras and cepes, pickled shallots and frisee salad
After watching my former boss David Kinch create a napoleon from cabbage on a recent Iron Chef America, I decided to make an egg napoleon. I thought back to childhood breakfasts my mother would make on special Sundays: eggs scrambled with caramelized, almost burnt onions and smoked salmon. Because the onions took so long to cook, she didn't make the dish often.
I combined the idea of the napoleon with the caramelized onions from my mom's egg dish. I made thin layers of egg (into which I beat heavy cream, salt, and pepper) by cooking them, crepe-like, in a brand new non-stick pan, and spread each of them with caramelized onions. I built up many layers so it looked like a stacked crepe, and then cut it into squares:
I bought an entire "B" lobe of foie gras (the remainder lives in the freezer now) and Mary cleaned it up and sliced it into small pieces, so that each person would receive two on their plate. I cooked shallots in a strong Doktorenhof elderberry wine vinegar and chilled them down. I tossed frisee in vinegar and after we cooked the foie gras, I added some of the fat to the frisee and vinegar to make an impromptu dressing. I sauteed a few more cepes and served them alongside the foie gras.
Before sending the plates to the dining room, we garnished it with chopped thyme, grated egg white and grated egg yolk.
Dave takes a picture of the egg napoleon plate:
Dave's picture of the egg napoleon plate:
Me taking a picture of the plate, captured by Sam (note to self: long bell-shaped sleeves are not okay for plate-up):
And my view of the plate:
And my view of the finished, totally finished, plate:
(I'm not wild about still-crunchy shallots, whether or not I cooked them).
Final Course:Toasted almond semifreddo with lemon curd and creme chantilly
I love semifreddo. The cold/soft/melty texture, made by combining whipped eggs and whipped cream, is light and fanciful and satisfying.
I also love lemon curd. I love its tartness, its texture, and, when made with Pete & Jen's eggs, its fluorescent yellow color.
I also love almonds. I love almonds in all its' forms: paste and marzipan and raw and toasted and milk and brittle and cookies and frangipane etc. I've never met an almond I didn't like.
So I combined them.
From the outside, the semifreddo was, well, boring. It had a dull yellow color, a product of the yolks in the whipped meringue and the toasted almonds. It was round, providing absolutely no visual interest. To give a hint about its contents, I placed a dollop of lemon-curd infused creme chantilly on it and added a drop of pure, unadulterated lemon curd to the side.
Once hit with a fork and broken into, the semifreddo revealed its contents: two chewy, slightly crunchy almond meringue cookies and cool disk of lemon curd wedged between.
I enjoyed my dessert so much (I have a wicked sweet tooth) that I ate most of Leslie's plate while she was off with the kids, and dug into Mary's plate (luckily for me she doesn't have a sweet tooth) once Leslie's was gone. When Leslie sat back down at the table, she called me out.
At 9 pm our meal was finished. We spent three hours at the table, the kids somehow keeping themselves busy in a house with virtually no toys (how a 5, 7, and 9 year old managed to entertain themselves for that long will remain a mystery - though a near-endless supply of cookies may have something to do with it). The adults were, as far I could tell, satisfied but not stuffed. Even I was pleasantly full.
Thank you to all who came to dinner - Dave, Adam, Bekka, Elliot, Sam, Leslie, Eleanor, Malcolm, Melissa, Azusa, Mom and Mary. I hope we get to do it again soon!
And Mary, thank you so much for helping me. It couldn't have happened as smoothly without you.
Sam, Dave, and Mary - thank you so much for taking pictures. Your work supplemented my own and filled in major gaps in my documentation process.
Mom, thank you for letting me take over your kitchen and your home. Your patience is appreciated more than I could possibly express without sounding disingenuous.
And Kio, thank you for your generous gift of tomago maki. I added it to the chawanmushi plate. Everyone loved it!
Miso-cured Arctic Char
- 1/2 lb Artic Char or other fatty fish
- 1 heaping tablespoon red miso
- 2 T Sake or Soju
- 2 t Salt
- 1 t Sugar
Combine miso, sake, salt and sugar. Spread on top of char. Wrap char in plastic wrap and then place in ziploc bag. Skin side up, place about 1 lb of weight on it (a box of butter will do) and place on a flat surface in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, checking once a day to make sure the cure is evenly distributed. Flip at least once a day. Slice thin and serve with creme fraiche or yogurt sauce.
Lime and Sake Yogurt for cured fish
- 3 T Plain yogurt
- 1 T sake
- 1/2 lime, zest and juice
Combine all three ingredients. Serve with Char or similar fish.
Chili-lime Hijiki with Burdock root
- 2 T Hijiki
- 2 inch section of burdock root, peeled and julienned
- 1 T sesame oil
- 1 t vegetable oil
- 1/2 lime, zest and juice
- 1 t Aleppo pepper (or other mild chili)
- 1 t soy sauce
- 1 t mirin
- 1/2 t sugar
- salt to taste
Cover hijiki with hot water and allow to rehydrate, about 5 minutes. Pour off excess water.
Place vegetable oil and sesame oil in hot saute pan, add hijiki and sautee until shiny. Add burdock root. Cook for about two minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Balance flavors with soy, lime, or salt as necessary. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Chawanmushi steamed in egg cups with parsnip and shiso
- 10 eggs, topped (tops removed)
- 3 whole eggs
- 1-1/2 C stock (mine was 1 C dashi plus 1/2 C mushroom chicken stock)
- 1 t soy sauce
- 1 t sake
- 1 t sugar
- 1/2 t salt
- 1" parsnip section, finely shaved into thin slivers, raw
- 1 shiso leaf, fine chiffonade
- 10 pc mushroom of your choice, very small, sauteed (I used cepes)
Combine eggs, stock, soy sauce, sake, sugar, salt. Whisk together, do not overwhisk. Strain mixture through china cap, chinois, or strainer.
Prepare a steamer basket.
Using strips of aluminum foil, create egg holders. Make sure they are secure. Place eggs in egg holders.
Place a small pinch of parsnip, a piece or two of shiso, and one mushroom piece in the egg cup. Pour in egg mixture so it is almost, but not quite at the top. Place in steamer.
Steam 10-15 minutes, or until custard is no longer translucent. Serve in an egg cup or edible cup holder (I use cooked potato cubes or Spanish tortilla) and eat.
- 5 Eggs
- 3 C milk
- 1/2 loaf sliced fresh baked bread - I used sourdough, but use what you have (gf is fine)
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- 1/2 C slightly overcooked flageolet beans
- 2 confit duck legs, meat removed and shredded
- 2 sausages of your choice (I used chicken), thinly sliced, casing removed if possible
- Bread crumbs for topping (gf crumbs are fine)
Preheat oven to 350.
Line a 9 x 9 baking pan with parchment.
Whisk together eggs and milk. Add salt and pepper.
Place a layer of bread at the bottom of the pan. Cover with thinly sliced sausage. Add another layer of bread. Cover with beans and duck. Cover with a final layer of bread. Pour egg mixture over top. Place in oven.
At the 30 minute mark, spinkle bread crumbs over top to create a thin layer.
Bake until strada is no longer wet when pushed with your fingers. Allow to cool ten minutes and serve. Tastes great cold.
Spicy Beurre Blanc (butter sauce) for Seafood or poached eggs
- 1 large piece of ginger (about 4 ounces, peeled)
- 6 chilies (I used dried arbol - go with your preference)
- 2 T clarified butter or oil of your choosing
- 3/4 t cumin seeds
- 1/2 t ground asafetida
- 6 cardamom pods
- 15 curry leaves
- 5 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 t salt
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 4 oz butter, room temp
In a food processor, combine ginger and chilies until a uniform paste is formed. In a saucepan, heat oil. Add cumin and cook until it turns red and aromatic. Add ginger/chili mixture and saute for about 5 minutes, or until chilies darken a shade. Add in cardamom, curry, bay, and turmeric and saute for another 2 or 3 minutes. Add salt and white wine. Simmer until white wine is reduced by half. Strain.
Return strained mixture to heat until it simmers. Remove from heat. With a whisk, beat in the 4 oz of butter one small pinch at a time, until a uniform butter sauce forms. Use immediately.
If you do store it, you will need to re-emulsify it.
Egg and Caramelized Napoleon
- 5 eggs
- 1/3 C heavy cream
- 2 T milk
- Salt to taste
- Fat, preferably clarified butter or duck fat
- 1-1/2 cups caramelized onions (about 4-5 medium-large onions), chopped up
Barely whisk together eggs, cream, milk and salt.
Spread a piece of parchment next to your stove on a flat surface such as a sheet tray or a cutting board.
On medium heat place an unscratched non-stick pan (I used a small one) on the stove. Add the fat of your choice (I used duck fat). Ladle in about 1/3 cup of egg mixture.
Cook until the egg has just set. DO NOT OVERCOOK or your will get very rubbery eggs. The ideal is no color at all.
Using a spatula and your fingers, loosen the egg sheet from the pan and slip onto parchment (or bang it down). Spread with about 2 T of the caramelized onions.
Repeat until you have used up all the egg and onion, finishing with a topping of egg. Allow to cool.
Slice into desired shape when cool. Can be served room temperature or gently heated in an oven or a microwave to reheat.
Toasted Almond Semifreddo with Lemon Curd
Decide ahead which mold you are going to use for your semifreddo. You can use anything you like, really. You just need to know for the almond meringue shape. I used a 3" round, which was huge. Line your mold with parchment - if you don't, it will be very hard to remove your semifreddo without melting it too much.
Almond Meringue cookie (approximate recipe - I can't quite remember what I did!)
- 1 C sugar
- 1/2 C egg whites
- 1 C ground Almonds
- 1/2 t salt
Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
Trace the mold you are going to use onto parchment paper. You will need two layers per semifreddo (or more, if you are working with a loaf pan and like meringue), so trace it enough times to produce the requisite number of pieces you'll need (number of molds you are using x 2 at least). Place on sheetpan(s), marker side down (no icky ink on your meringue, please).
Combine sugar, salt and eggs and in a double boiler whisk over heat until about 140 degrees. Whisk until soft peaks form. Add in bitter almond extract. Fold in almonds. Pipe immediately into traced mold template.
Bake for 1.5 to two hours, or until dry. It will soften up in the freezer over time. Just don't overbake or burn it.
If you are not using it right away, store in an airtight container. Holds up to 3 days.
Lemon Curd (approximate recipe)
- 5 egg yolks
- 1 C sugar
- 1/4 t salt
- Zest and Juice of two large lemons, approximately 1/2 C
- 4 oz butter
In a bain marie (double boiler) over simmering water, combine the butter, egg yolks, zest, sugar, salt and juice. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until thick. Push through a strainer to remove zest and and coagulated egg. Use immediately or store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Toasted Almond Semifreddo
- 3 whole eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 3/4 C sugar
- 1/2 t salt
- 1-1/3 C heavy cream
- 1/2 t vanilla extract
- 3/4 C toasted almond flour (toast almonds and grind them or use almond flour and gently toast in a skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly until light gold in color)
- 1/2 t bitter almond extract
- 1 T B&B Liqueur
Combine eggs and salt and sugar in bowl of stand mixer and whisk over a bain marie until sugar is dissolved and mixture feels hot to the touch. Mix on med-high speed until cooled and slightly firmer than ribbon stage. Fold in almonds and B&B Liqueur.
Whip cream with almond and vanilla extracts until almost firm - do not overwhip.
Gently fold the egg mixture into the whipped cream.
TO ASSEMBLE THE SEMIFREDDO:
In your parchment-lined mold or molds, place a meringue cookie.
Spoon in enough semifreddo mixture to cover it.
Using a pastry bag, place a dollop of lemon curd in the center of the mold (or, if you are using a loaf pan, put a long thick line down the middle). Cover with semifredo.
Place another cookie on top of the semifreddo, and spoon more semifreddo over top to cover. Freeze for at least 6 hours before serving.
Remove from freezer at least 5-10 minutes before serving to allow semifreddo to soften up.