An Ancient History
Since birds and eggs preceded man in the evolutionary chain, they’ve existed longer than historians. East Indian history indicates that wild fowl were domesticated as early as 3200 B.C. Egyptian and Chinese records show that fowl were laying eggs for man in 1400 B.C. Europe has had domesticated hens since 600 B.C. There is some evidence of native fowl in the Americas prior to Columbus’ arrival. However, it is believed that, on his second trip in 1493, Columbus’ ships carried to the New World the first of the chickens related to those now in egg production. These strains originated in Asia.
Most people of the world eat the egg of the chicken. Nearly 200 breeds and varieties of chickens have been established worldwide. Only a few breeds are economically important as egg producers. Most laying hens in the U.S. are Single-Comb White Leghorns.
Why are eggs good for you?
Eggs contain all the essential protein, minerals and vitamins, except Vitamin C. But egg yolks are one of few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D. Eggs also contain choline, which is necessary for healthy cell membranes in the body. Choline stimulates brain development and function and helps preserving memory. Eggs also are good for your eyes because they contain lutein which helps prevents age-related cataracts and mascular degeneration. In fact, eggs contain more lutein than spinach and other green vegetables.
How can you tell what you’re buying, when you’re shopping for eggs? What do terms like cage-free, free-range, organic, and others mean?
Cage-free eggs are eggs from birds that are not raised in cages, but in floor systems usually in an open barn. The hens have bedding material such as pine shavings on the floor, and they are allowed perches and nest boxes to lay their eggs. However, they may still be at close quarters with many other hens — just not in cages. That depends on the farm.
Free-range eggs are laid from hens that have the opportunity to go outside. Smaller farms may keep birds outside under a canopy area. They may travel in and out of a barn at free will or spend some portion of their day roaming outdoors.
Organic eggs are laid from hens that may be kept in any kind of caging system, but generally are cage free. They eat an organic feed and don’t receive vaccines or antibiotics.
In order to qualify for USDA organic certification, the grains used for the hens’ diets must be produced on land that has been free from the use of toxic and persistent chemical pesticides and fertilizers for at least three years.
Genetically engineered crops are not permitted, and hens must be maintained without hormones, antibiotics, and other intrusive drugs.
Vegetarian eggs are laid from hens that are only fed a vegetarian diet — free from meat or fish by-products. Hens are kept in cages or indoors and do not peck any grubs or worms.
Pasteurized eggs are eggs in their shell that have been put through a pasteurization process where they are heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for three and a half minutes. Eggs are not required to be pasteurized.
Pasteurization completely kills bacteria without cooking the egg. The process can also be done for packaged egg whites used in cooking.
Eating pasteurized eggs is recommended for young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems so they can reduce the risk of contracting a salmonella infection.
Which Egg Is Safest?
“Those terms (organic, free-range, and cage free) have nothing to do with contamination. That does not assure eggs will be salmonella-free,” says Mike Doyle, PhD, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety. However, it may ensure the hen has a better life.
To protect yourself further:
- Check eggs before buying to make sure there are no cracked or leaking eggs, which could transfer any bacteria that are present.
- Immediately refrigerate eggs to 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below so if bacteria are present, they won’t multiply.
- Cook eggs thoroughly so the white and yolk are firm, which kills salmonella.
- Wash hands, utensils, and preparation surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water when handling and preparing eggs.
- Use pasteurized eggs for recipes that call for raw egg in foods like salad dressing, hollandaise sauce, or spaghetti carbonara.
- When buying fresh eggs from a local farmer’s market, ask whether they’ve been washed and refrigerated within 36 hours of being collected, which cuts the risk salmonella.
What is salmonella?
Salmonella enteritidis is a common bacterium found inside perfectly normal-looking eggs. If eggs are eaten raw or undercooked, it can cause illness including abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and vomiting within 12-72 hours. Most people recover without treatment, but infants, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems are at risk for serious illness.
Here are a few things you might not know about this frugal food:
From starting salmonella scares to causing worry about high cholesterol, the humble egg can get a bad rap. But these “little guys” also serve as the glue to make great baked goods, provide a lot of nutrition for a low cost, and can serve as the basis for a whole host of delicious meals.
Chicken Eggs Come in More Colors Than White and Brown
Different breeds of chickens produce different colors of eggs. In addition to the typical white and brown, some chickens produce blue, blue-green, reddish-brown, or even speckled eggs. A great place to look for atypical egg colors is at your local farmers market; one vendor at my market sells a dozen eggs in a mix of blue, white, cream, and brown.
You Can Use Water to Easily Determine the Age of an Egg
If you have eggs of questionable freshness, fill a bowl with enough water to cover the eggs, then add them to the bowl. If an egg sinks to the bottom, it’s fresh. If it floats to the top, it’s not. This happens because as an egg ages, it develops a larger and larger air pocket in its shell.
According to The Oxford Companion to Food, it’s actually better to choose a less-fresh egg if you’re hard-boiling it, because in fresh eggs “the white adheres closely to the shell, making it more difficult to remove the latter.”
Eggs Are a Great Hangover Cure
Eating eggs is a great way to help shake off the previous evening’s festivities.
Raw Eggs Can Make Delicious — and Safe — Food and Drinks
Classic recipes for mayonnaise, caesar salad dressing, lemon curd, and several cocktails include raw eggs. While salmonella is certainly a concern in using raw eggs or other raw animal products, you can reduce your risk by using the freshest eggs possible (ideally locally produced) or purchasing pasteurized eggs.
Chickens Aren’t the Only Birds That Lay Edible Eggs
Duck, quail, emu, goose, and ostrich eggs can all be cooked up.
A little folklore:
According to legend the folds in a chef’s hat used to represent the number of ways s/he knew how to cook an egg, with the vaunted 100-fold hat reserved for the heads of only the most knowledgeable culinary experts. But are there really 100 ways to prepare eggs? The answer is “yes.”
FOOLPROOF BOILED EGGS
Makes 6 eggs.
You may double or triple this recipe as long as you use a pot large enough to hold the eggs in a single layer, covered by an inch of water.
Place eggs in medium saucepan, cover with 1 inch of water, and bring to boil over high heat. Remove pan from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a medium bowl with 1 quart water and 1 tray of ice cubes (or equivalent). Transfer eggs to ice water bath with slotted spoon; let sit 5 minutes. Peel and use as desired.
If you plan on peeling your eggs immediately after cooking, drain the hot water from the pot used to cook the eggs and shake the pot back and forth to crack the shells. Then plunge them in enough ice water to cover the eggs until they cool down. The water seeps under the broken shells, allowing them to be slipped off without a struggle. If you want to leave the shells intact (perhaps for decorating), and wish to peel them later, the best way is to start to peel from the large end of the egg, which has an air pocket. This lets you get under the membrane without digging into the white.
What can you do with boiled eggs?
Egg salad sandwiches
Add boiled eggs potato salad
Diced eggs on top of a salad.
Boiled eggs are the perfect diet snack (a 75 calorie trick that tides over hunger between meals.)
Sliced egg on top of an English muffin with melted cheese.
Slice and layer egg in a lasagna
Chop up egg and toss it in macaroni and cheese.
Chop up one egg and mix into your dog’s food. It’s good for his/her hair and skin.
Dice an egg and sprinkle it over hummus to serve with pita bread.
1/2 cup Basic Marinara Sauce per person -see recipe below
1 egg per person
Coarse salt or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) cheese, room temperature
In a frying pan (large enough to fit the amount of eggs you want to serve), the place prepared marinara sauce; bring to a simmer.
NOTE: just before adding the eggs, make a well with a spoon for each egg.
One at a time, break each egg into small cups or bowls. Slip eggs carefully into simmering tomato sauce by lowering the lip of each egg-cup 1/2-inch below the surface. Let the eggs flow out. Sprinkle with the grated parmesan cheese. Immediately cover with a lid and turn heat on low.
Set a timer for exactly three minutes for medium-firm yolks. Adjust the time up or down for runnier or firmer yolks. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, depending on firmness desired. Lift each cooked egg from the tomato sauce with a slotted spoon or spatula.
Before serving, sprinkle with additional grated cheese over the top and season with salt and pepper.
How to serve: These delicious eggs may be served as cooked or over thickly-cut crusty bread, cooked pasta, cooked polenta or mashed potatoes.
Basic Marinara Sauce:
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup diced onion
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
- 1 (28-32 ounce) container Italian strained (crushed) tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- Salt to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and cook and stir another 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning. Season with salt. Cook until completely heated, another 2 to 3 minutes.
Makes approximately 3 1/ 2 cups (enough for 4 to 6 servings).
Eggs Baked in Potatoes
- 2 extra-large (about 13 ounces each) baking potatoes (with peel)
- 3 tablespoons light sour cream
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or 1 1/2 teaspoons diced green onions
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup low-fat shredded cheddar cheese (medium or sharp)
- 1 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Pierce potatoes in several places with fork to allow steam to escape. Bake approximately 1 1/2 hours until potatoes are tender. Remove from oven and let cool until able to handle. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scoop out potato pulp into a bowl, leaving approximately 1/4-inch thick shells. Place potato shells onto a lightly-greased baking sheet; set aside. Do not turn oven off.
Using a potato masher, potato ricer, or fork, mash potato pulp until no lumps remain. Add sour cream, chives or green onions, butter, salt, and pepper; stir well. Divide and spoon potato mixture into the four (4) potato skin shells, spreading evenly.
Make a 3/4-inch deep oval indentation in the filling along the length of each potato shell to hold an egg. Bake the potato, uncovered, for approximately 10 minutes until hot; remove from oven.
Break one (1) egg into each potato indentation. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese, parsley, and paprika. Return to oven and bake approximately 12 to 15 minutes or until the eggs are cooked to your liking.
Check the eggs after about 10 minutes baking time. When done, the whites should be completely set and the yolks beginning to thicken but not hard. Remove from oven and serve.
Fluffy Baked Eggs with Roasted-Vegetable Hash
- 10 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 5 oz Swiss cheese, coarsely grated (1 1/2 cups)
- 10 oz cremini mushrooms, trimmed and coarsely chopped (1/4-inch pieces)
- 1 large sweet potato (8 to 10 oz), peeled and coarsely chopped (1/4-inch pieces)
- 1 large shallot, halved and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 450°F. Spray a 2-quart shallow baking dish (about 2 inches deep) with cooking spray.
Whisk together eggs, milk, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until smooth, then whisk in cheese. Pour into baking dish. Bake in upper third of oven until puffed, golden, and set, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, toss together mushrooms, sweet potato, shallot, oil, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a 17- by 13- by 1-inch baking pan. Spread vegetables in an even layer, then roast in lower third of oven while eggs are baking, stirring twice after 10 minutes, until tender and golden brown, about 18 minutes.
Serve eggs with roasted vegetables spooned on top.
How to poach eggs.
There’s no added fat, and they’re very easy to make. If you’re an egg lover, this is certainly a dish for you!
Things You’ll Need
- Large Eggs
- Salt And Pepper
- White Vinegar
- a 12-inch straight-sided skillet with cover
- Slotted spoon
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. The water should be at least five or six inches deep (the deeper the better).
Season lightly with salt and pepper.
When the water boils, add 1 tablespoon vinegar
Lower the water to a slow simmer.
Carefully crack one egg into a large ladle.
Lower the ladle into the water and pour the egg out as gently as possible.
The egg white will coagulate in the water and turn white.
Most eggs will take between two and three minutes for the white to cook but leave the yolk still runny.
Remove the egg at this point with a slotted spoon or strainer.
Repeat with remaining eggs. You can poach several eggs at once in the same pot.
The vinegar is actually an important element in egg poaching. It causes the egg white to immediately turn white and begin cooking, and it speeds up the cooking process so the egg doesn’t overcook.
Pasta with Poached Eggs and Truffle Oil
Yields: 6 servings
- 1 large portobello mushroom
- 1 (9-ounce) package fresh tagliatelle pasta
- 6 eggs
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons white truffle oil
- 1/3 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Coarse salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
Remove the stem of the portobello mushroom. Place the cap on a plate with the gill side up. With a paring knife, cut the mushroom in half and begin to scrape the gills away from the cap where they meet. You will notice that the gills look like small, rectangular chopped truffles as they drop onto the plate.
Repeat with the other mushroom half. Set aside the gills for the “truffles” to sprinkle on top of the pasta dish when finished.
Cook tagliatelle pasta according to package directions to al dente; drain and return to pan to keep warm. NOTE: Reserve about 1/2 cup of the hot pasta water to moisten the pasta.
While the pasta is cooking, poach the eggs following directions above.
Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon to a warmed plate (in the same order they went into the pan).
Toss the pasta with the butter, truffle oil, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. If it seems too dry, add a few more tablespoons of the cooking water and toss again.
Divide the pasta among 6 individual warmed serving bowls. Top each portion with a poached egg, sprinkle the reserved gills or “truffles” over the top, and serve immediately.
Asparagus with Poached Eggs & Shaved Parmesan
Yields: 4 servings
- 2 pounds asparagus, cut into 5- to 6-inch lengths (use the thicker stemmed ones)
- Coarse sea salt
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly-ground black pepper
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup (lightly packed) parsley leaves, chopped
- 1 small piece of Parmesan cheese, room temperature
Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus; cook in boiling salted water until just crisp-tender, approximately 4 to 5 minutes for thick stalks. Remove from heat, drain, and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Divide asparagus among 4 dinner plates and keep warm.
Poach eggs according to directions above. Lift each perfectly poached egg from the water with a slotted spoon, but hold it over the skillet briefly to let any water clinging to the egg drain off. Place a warm poached egg on top of each asparagus portion; dab with a paper towel to soak up any visible water. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley. With a cheese planer or use a vegetable peeler across the top of the piece of Parmesan cheese to produce wide shavings. Arrange several shavings around each plate. Serve immediately.
Pan Cooked Eggs
What makes these eggs “Italian”? A movie! Moonstruck, to be exact. There is a scene in Moonstruck where Cher’s character is making breakfast and she hollows out a slice of bread, tosses it in a frying pan and adds an egg to the hollowed out center.
- 4 slices Italian bread – cut thickly
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese
Hollow out the center of each slice of bread. Heat some oil in a heavy frying pan with a lid over medium heat and add the bread.
Add an egg to the center of each slice of bread. Do this slowly so the egg begins to set and doesn’t flow out from underneath the bread. Cook until the bottom of the egg is well set.
Flip once and allow to cook for a few minutes longer.
Top with mozzarella cheese and cover with the lid of the pan for a few minutes until the cheese melts.
Mushroom and Wild Rice Frittata
If you are not a mushroom lover, zucchini can be substituted in this dish for the mushrooms.
- 2 cups water, for wild rice
- 1/2 cup wild rice (see Tips & Techniques), rinsed
- 1/8 teaspoon salt, for wild rice
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup egg substitute
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup chopped red onion
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1 pound mixed mushrooms (cremini, white button, shiitake), sliced
- 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
- 4 (about 2 ounces) thin slices prosciutto, chopped
To prepare wild rice: Combine water, rice, and salt in a small heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the rice is tender with a slight bite, 40 to 50 minutes. Drain; you’ll have about 1 1/2 cups cooked rice.
To prepare frittata: About 30 minutes after you start cooking the rice, beat eggs and egg substitute in a large bowl with parsley, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg.
Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler.
Heat oil in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add onion and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in rosemary, then add mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until they release their liquid and the pan is dry, 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; stir in the rice.
Pour the reserved egg mixture evenly over the rice and vegetables. Partially cover and cook until set around the edges, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan and prosciutto. Place the pan under broiler and broil until the eggs are set and the top is nicely browned, about 2 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Tips & Techniques
Ingredient note: Regular wild rice takes 40 to 50 minutes to cook. To save time, look for quick-cooking varieties, which can be on the table in less than 30 minutes, or instant wild rice, which is done in 10 minutes or less.
- Happy chickens, happy planet (metronews.ca)
- Classic Egg Sandwich (kaseysurfs.wordpress.com)
- Eggs – Power Foods Made Easy Series (healthyfoodcoach.wordpress.com)
- How To Read Egg Labels – Huffington Post (huffingtonpost.com)
- The Chicken or the Egg: Why You Should Buy Your Eggs at the Farmers’ Market (phoenixfoodfighters.com)
- The Best Eggs Are Free! Freerange (mamavega.wordpress.com)