IT’S EASTER: LET’S TALK ABOUT EGGS
Ever wondered which came first: the chicken or the egg? Well, the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, and Hindus all believed the world was hatched from an enormous egg. Throughout the ages, the egg has symbolized new beginnings and the spark of creation. Magic rituals often use eggs to promote fertility, restore virility and to foresee the future. Eggs symbolize purity, growth, protection, new beginnings, and resurrection. Eggs have been part of the celebration of the first day of Spring, the Vernal Equinox, since earliest times.
Decorating eggs is an ancient tradition. 60,000-year-old engraved ostrich eggs have been found in Africa! Decorated ostrich eggs and representations of ostrich eggs in gold and silver were commonly placed in graves of the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians as early as 5,000 years ago. The custom of dying eggs for Easter originated with the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red in memory of the blood Christ shed at his crucifixion. In 1610 A.D., Pope Paul V officially adopted the tradition for the Catholic Church, proclaiming eggs as the symbol of the empty tomb of Jesus. The Easter egg is a reminder that Jesus rose from the grave, and that those who believe in Jesus will also experience eternal life.
Early dyes were made from plants, and leaves and petals were used as stencils for decorating the eggs. I like the idea of serving eggs for Easter brunch inside a naturally dyed eggshell. Maybe Jean Georges’ famous Oeufs au Caviar – scrambled eggs served in an eggshell and topped with vodka-flavored whipped cream and a dollop of caviar!
My mother was a crafty woman, and one Easter we made our own Faberge-style eggs, decorated with jewels and rolled in glitter. These eggs were meant to last, so the first step was to make a hole at each end of the egg, and then blow the uncooked whites and yolk into a bowl without cracking the shell. We then washed the shells and decorated them.
(By the way, the first Fabergé egg was commissioned by Tsar Alexander III in 1885, as a gift for his wife, the Empress Maria Fedorovna. Known as the Hen Egg, it is crafted from gold. Its opaque white enameled “shell” opens to reveal a yellow-gold yolk. This, in turn, opens to reveal a multicolored hen. Inside the hen was a minute diamond replica of the imperial crown from which a small ruby pendant was suspended.)
PEELING HARD BOILED EGGS:
If you spend some time on the internet, you will find numerous sites with tips for peeling a hard-boiled egg. My favorites are the videos that demonstrate how to avoid peeling the eggs by blowing hard-boiled eggs out of their shells, using the technique my mother taught us for raw eggs. Tim Ferris, an efficiency expert and best-selling author (4 hour work week, 4-hour body, 4-hour chef) demonstrates the technique. He says the secret is adding a teaspoon of baking soda to the water used for boiling eggs: this changes the pH of the egg which causes the whites to separate from the shell. Once the egg is boiled and then cooled, he cracks the shells on both ends, holds the egg firmly in one hand and easily blows the hard-boiled egg out the opposite end.
Evidently blowing an egg out of its shell is not as easy as Tim Ferris makes it look. I watched one video where a guy blows and blows and end up cracking the egg. Lots of people have posted online that they have tried and did not succeed. (I haven’t tried it yet, but if I do maybe I’ll make a video.)
In the meantime, here are some tips for the conventional method of peeling a hard- boiled egg:
- “Fresh eggs are for frying and older eggs are for boiling.” As Harold McGee notes in his book Keys to Good Cooking (Penguin, 2010), “Very fresh egg whites tend to stick to the inner shell and tear.” To test eggs’ freshness, drop them gently into a bowl of cold water. The freshest ones will immediately sink on their sides, while slightly older ones will tilt or even sit upright at the bottom of the bowl. Just be careful to avoid using eggs that float to the surface, a sign that they are past their prime.
- Tim Ferris says to add baking soda to the water. Other people suggest adding 2 teaspoons of vinegar to the water to make peeling easier (also makes your yolks bright yellow and your whites whiter). Some say that salt in the water will do the trick – it definitely speeds the boiling process by lowering the boiling point. (for more on this subject see, http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/reviews/Salted-Water-for-Boiling-105591?pg=2)
- Tap your hard-boiled egg with a spoon or roll them on the countertop to crack the shells. This will loosen the membrane and make them easier to peel.
- Ice water bath. Everyone agrees that shocking the eggs in cold water makes them easier to peel. (My Dad, who prides himself on his deviled eggs, always refrigerates them for at least an hour before peeling, but if you don’t have time, go with the ice water bath).
- But really, what good is an easy-to-peel egg if it is going to have that ugly green center? The green is made by the iron in the yolk combining with the sulfur in the white. The longer you cook eggs, the more likely you are to end up with that green ring. The trick is to cook eggs just until the yolk is set without overcooking them. Removing the eggs from the hot water to an ice bath immediately after cooking will also help prevent the green from forming.
- It’s best to peel eggs as soon as they are cool. Start at the broad end and hold the egg under running water to loosen any bits of stubborn whites clinging to the shell.
I make a lot of key lime pies, and the custard calls for three egg yolks. I don’t feel comfortable holding the yolk in my hand and letting the whites drip out through the spaces between my fingers – I am afraid that the yolk will slip into the bowl with the whites. I prefer to gently crack the egg near the middle, break the shell in two and then pour the eggs from one shell into the other, allowing the whites to drip into a bowl. It’s time-consuming because it’s hard to get that one membrane of sticky white off the yolk.
I just found out about the water bottle: Crack an egg into a shallow bowl, gently squeeze the clean, dry water bottle, and place the mouth near the yolk. When you release the squeeze, the yolk will be sucked into the bottle, and you can deposit it into another bowl. This method is best for people who want to use the egg white since it is difficult to suck up the egg yolk without getting some egg white into the bottle. Luckily, a little egg white doesn’t really hurt my custard.
Many recipes call for eggs at room temperature. It’s important to note that chilled eggs are easier to separate because the yolk doesn’t break as easily. So separate your eggs first, and then let them come to room temperature.
EGG WHITE OMELETS
What to do with all those egg whites? Make omelets. But as everyone who cooks knows, egg whites are sticky and a bit harder to cook than a whole egg. This is my favorite way to cook egg whites.
- Put about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of an omelet pan. Layer vegetables – I usually put one layer of onions down first on top of the oil, then tomatoes, then thyme or leafy greens and minced garlic.
- Put the omelet pan on the stovetop. Pour the desired number of egg whites on top of the veggies, add some cheese. Cover the pan
- Cook on high heat until the eggs become opaque. Remove from heat and let the eggs sit in the pan for five minutes. The whites will steam and puff.
- If you are making more than four eggs, you will probably need to add a step to your cooking process. (Otherwise, your bottom vegetables will char.) Either you can treat your eggs like a frittata, and use a plate to flip the eggs and slide the omelet back into the pan, or you can take off the lid and finish the eggs under the broiler. (If you do use the frittata method, remember to put any cheese on after you have turned the eggs or you will have a burned puddle of cheese stuck to your pan.)
SAUCES MADE WITH RAW EGGS
I love Caesar Salad. At many restaurants, waiters would make the dressing at the table, Chop together 6 anchovy fillets packed in oil, 1 small garlic clove, and a pinch of kosher salt. Use the side of a knife blade to mash into a paste, then scrape into a medium bowl. Whisk in 2 large egg yolks*, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard. Adding drop by drop to start, gradually whisk in 2 tablespoons olive oil, then 1/2 cup vegetable oil; whisk until dressing is thick and glossy. Whisk in 3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan. Season with salt freshly ground black pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired. Can be made 1 day ahead. Chop together 6 anchovy fillets packed in oil, 1 small garlic clove, and a pinch of kosher salt. Use the side of a knife blade to mash into a paste, then scrape into a medium bowl. Whisk in 2 large egg yolks*, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard. Adding drop by drop to start, gradually whisk in 2 tablespoons olive oil, then 1/2 cup vegetable oil; whisk until dressing is thick and glossy. Whisk in 3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan. Season with salt freshly ground black pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired. Can be made 1 day ahead. whisking together the anchovies, raw egg yolks, lemon, Worcestershire sauce, dijon mustard and adding the oil drop by drop. Most restaurants no longer serve anything made with raw eggs due to the slight risk of salmonella or other bacteria. The Food Network Kitchen recommends using “only fresh, properly refrigerated, clean grade A or AA eggs with intact shells, and avoid contact between the yolks or whites and the shell. For recipes that call for eggs that are raw or undercooked when the dish is served, use shell eggs that have been treated to destroy salmonella, by pasteurization or another approved method.”
Here in Costa Rica (and in most countries around the world), eggs are not refrigerated. If you are unsure of pasteurization, you can always heat your eggs to 130°F (54.4°C).
At 130°F, an egg can sit indefinitely without any sort of gelling taking place. By holding an egg at 130°F for a few hours, you can effectively sterilize it, making it safer to consume in raw preparations.
Aioli is a garlic mayonnaise from the Mediterranean used to enhance fish stew. but great with all kinds of meats and veggies. You can change the flavor by adding fresh herbs like thyme or basil or lemon zest.
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
(The trick to making aioli (or mayonnaise) is having all your ingredients at the same temperature. You also need to add the oil one drop at a time while madly whisking until the mixture is emulsified. If mixture separates, stop adding oil and continue whisking until mixture comes together, then resume adding oil.)
Mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt using a large heavy knife or mortar and pestle. Set aside.
Whisk together yolk, lemon juice, and mustard in a bowl. Combine oils and add, a drop at a time, to yolk mixture, whisking constantly, until all oil is incorporated and the mixture is emulsified.
Whisk in garlic paste and season with salt and pepper. If aïoli is too thick, whisk in 1 or 2 drops of water. Chill, covered, until ready to use.
Christina Spilsbury and Rick Macsherry have lived in Tamarindo since 1989. They own and operate Sunset Catering.