A little bit more than just boiled, scrambled or fried…
Words by Barbora Ormerod
“Unless you happen to be vegan, chances are you’ll have a box of eggs at home. It’s one those foods which is familiar to every household, as well as a core component in classic cuisine and one of the first ingredients we learn to cook with. This familiarity makes it easy to forget that eggs are a truly remarkable ingredient. Delicious and versatile even on their own, they are also used for binding, glazing, emulsifying, lightening and thickening. Things like meringues, soufflés and mousses would be much more difficult and much less interesting without them.
Home cooks tend not to exploit this amazing array of capabilities because of a perception that boiling, frying and scrambling are much easier to do than emulsifying, whisking or preserving, for example. This perception is false, and worth challenging. A perfectly boiled egg yolk, for instance, can be frustratingly elusive, and it takes practice and diligence to get it right every time. Creating an emulsion is no different, and at least you can see what you are doing.
Not to say that all these techniques are dead easy, of course. But we do have a tendency to overestimate the difficulty of techniques or ingredients with which we are unfamiliar. The following two examples produce great results, are pretty accessible and should help you get to know your eggs a little better.
Emulsification is the suspension of butter or oil within whisked eggs to create the base for thick, rich sauces such as mayonnaise and Hollandaise. Anyone who has tasted aioli or a decent Eggs Benedict knows why this is worthwhile. The key is to add the oil or melted butter very slowly, whisking as you go, breaking it up into tiny droplets. A component in the egg yolk called lecithin will eventually coat every droplet of fat and prevent them joining back up and splitting the emulsion. It’s no more difficult than filling a wine glass to the brim without spilling – it just takes care and patience.
Curing eggs in salt is a little more unusual. The technique is ancient and popular in Asia. It relies on osmosis; the movement of molecules through a semipermeable barrier (the shell or membrane) so that moisture and salinity begin to equalise across both sides. This transforms the runny, yellow egg yolk into a squidgy orange disc which, when baked, has the consistency of hard cheese and a deep, complex umami flavour reminiscent of parmesan.
The easiest method is to submerge your egg yolks in a mixture of two parts salt and one part sugar (both fine and thoroughly mixed), then cure for five days in a non-corrosive, airtight container. Once they’re ready, remove the yolks and rinse gently under cold water, then bake for 40 minutes at 150C. The cured yolks can last up to a month in an airtight container and work beautifully when grated over pasta or soup, on toast, in risotto and basically anything savoury which benefits from an extra hit of umami flavour.”