The humble egg


Exploring the many talents of the humble egg

There are also a number of scientific mysteries that surround the golden yolk and some 200 aroma compounds that are known in eggs. To split the egg into its two parts – the white and the yolk; each provides a number of possibilities to produce other dishes. The white contributes mainly sulphury notes and the yolk has a sweetish, slightly mineraly, buttery taste. Application of heat triggers creation of ammonia which begins to denature or the proteins in eggs which is what defines a ‘cooked’ egg. The proteins first begin to denature from 61°C, though there are numerous different proteins at play of which some some will not cook (de-nature) until the egg has reached a temperature of over 80°C. The yolk begins to ‘thicken’ and coagulate at 65°C, the white at 61°C, the whole egg at 68-70°C and when the yolk and white are beaten together, 73°C.

In practical terms, people may prepare more scrambled eggs at home than they cook 61/61 eggs. Holding the temperature low while scrambling is key to what is known to me as 'pavoes', a delightfully soft, tender and airy version of a scrambled egg. The one technique a scrambled egg does not need applied is the use of a whisk. I have seen it many times. That's plain barbaric. A flat wooden spoon or one of those modern silicon spatuals does the trick.

Best is time, a water bath, some earthern-ware deeper dish and occasional gentle steering. The cooking process needs to be abondened on time to retain the texture spoken about earlier.

Think of making or emulsifying a basic mayonnaise without the use of egg yolks. Or the way the whites are whisked up, then transformed into the most golden soufflé. The many uses of eggs throughout the kitchen an patisserie are almost endless, though it is the most simple of the egg dishes that are the most difficult to perfect. Understanding the techniques and temperatures in which an egg can be cooked, allows us the ability to produce a perfect egg dish. Above all, it is the ability for the cook to control heat and timing which will determine the success of an egg dish.

One interesting point raised by food scientist, Harold McGee (Food & Cooking) ‘how can you boil an egg without boiling it?’ For cooking a boiled egg, it is the temperature that we must make note of: boiling water rolls over at 98°C, but a whole egg actually begins to coagulate or ‘set’ at 68°C. Therefore the egg can actually ‘boil’ or simply cook through, without such a high temperature. It is simply the cooking time that then determines the doneness of the egg.

Lowering the heat is also preferred because it allows the egg to cook more slowly, it ‘sets’ making it more tender than rapidly boiling it, which renders the white rubbery and the yolk grainy. The water at 68°C is still, at 98°C it is rapidly moving – by cooking the egg without movement in the water it prevents the shell from cracking and exposing the egg to water.

An overcooked egg is evident by a green ring that surrounds the yolk. This is caused by the egg being cooked at such a high temperature for a too longer time, which causes a reaction between the iron in the egg yolk and the sulphur in albumen. The older the egg, the higher the H2S (hydrogen sulphur) content which whilst cooking, the egg undergoes a chemical reaction with alkaline and an overexposure to heat causes the albumen around the yolk to turn a green-grey colour that is often associated with hard-boiled eggs. The longer a boiled egg is stored, the lesser of H2S is apparent. The old wives tale that running an boiled egg under cold water will stop the green yolk, is only partly true because the cold running water simply only stops the cooking process, but if the egg is already overcooked, unfortunately nothing can stop the discoloured yolk.

Eggs are nutritious, high in protein and make a delicious, rather inexpensive meal. Perhaps the most difficult preparations are the ones that appear to be the simplest, that's why cooking superb egg dishes is quite difficult. Learning a few simple egg preparations such as poached, scrambled, slow cooked and en-cocotte and honing them to perfection is a great skill to have. As always in cookery it is a matter correct application of heat and timing. 

Happy cooking, always!


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