April 13, 2006

The Incredible Edible …

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With both Passover and Easter just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to pay tribute to the only food common to both holidays: the egg! In Pagan times, eggs represented the rebirth of the earth after winter. A roasted egg carries many meanings on a Passover Seder plate, including Springtime and the cycle of life. Since 70 A.D., the egg has also symbolically replaced animal sacrifice during the Passover celebration. For the Christian celebration of Easter, eggs symbolize the rebirth of man. Polish legend attaches the egg to Easter, and decorating eggs for Easter was a household custom in Medieval England. Although the Ukrainians are famous for their intricate layering of wax and dye, the most famous decorated egg is the Faberge from Russia. 57 Faberge eggs were made in total from precious metals like gold and platinum. In 1994, one of these 57 eggs was acquired at an auction for $5.5 million. If Russia has the most expensive eggs, China, the world’s leading producer of eggs, has the oldest: one-hundred year old eggs are a culinary delicacy in China.

It’s little wonder why the egg holds such historical and cultural significance around the world. Eggs are little nutritional powerhouses: they pack 10 percent of your daily protein into 70 calories. If you think about it, the actual structure of an egg is pretty amazing. Did you ever wonder why hard boiled eggs have a round tip and a flat tip? That flat tip is the result of an air cell, which forms as an egg cools after being laid. The egg white itself is called the albumen and contains over 50 percent of an egg’s protein. The older the egg, the runnier the albumen, so if your omelet spreads out like runny water in the pan, you should check the expiration date on your carton. Moving onto the shell . . . in spite of popular belief, there is nothing special about the color of an eggshell. White eggs are not “better” than brown eggs, or vice versa. Shell color is the result of the breed of hen that laid the egg; it is not an indicator of egg quality.

So. now that you have an egg, what do you do with it? Sure, you can scramble, fry, boil or poach an egg with a little salt and pepper, but that’s pretty boring. Eggs don’t have to only be eaten for breakfast. At lunchtime, there are unlimited possibilities in the world of quiche, which can be made with or without a crust, although the crustless quiche has a more firm, floury custard than the quiche with a crust. Quiche Lorraine with ham and swiss is practically a staple, but other variations like spinach/ricotta and leek/fontina are great for vegetarians. Don’t have enough time for a quiche? Try making a frittata. These massive marvels are similar to omelets since they are made in a frying pan on the stove. Unlike an omelet, a frittata is made with cream and is so thick that you can’t flip it – you have to finish it off in the stove. Eggs also make wonderful appetizers. Although deviled eggs are wonderful, they too are also boring. Try making avgolemono, a Greek egg-lemon soup. I’ve seen everything from chicken to meatballs added to this soup, which is made by blending raw eggs, lemon juice and chicken broth and heating just before the boiling point. Of course, there are also egg dishes that fall into the netherworld of both entrée and dessert. Both soufflé and sformati (a less airy soufflé) can be served either savory or sweet, although both are famous for being temperamental. If the eggs aren’t whipped just right, the soufflé/sformati won’t rise.

Onto the sweet side: we all know you can’t bake a decent piece of pastry or confection without eggs, but did you know that the cream in tiramisu is made partially with tempered egg yolks? True, there are recipes that skip the eggs, but those recipes lack the soft consistency and vanilla flavor imparted by the egg yolk. And, of course, you can’t make flan without eggs. A decent flan recipe will include around eight eggs. Caramel flan sets the bar, but interesting flavors like cherry chocolate and pumpkin have been popping up lately. A note to novice bakers: when a recipe tells you to cook your dessert in a water bath, don’t skip that step, or else your custard will boil. Boiled yolk custard resembles a chewy lab experiment, giving a whole new meaning to “I do not like green eggs and ham/ I do not like them/ Sam, I am.”

There you have it: more information than you ever thought you’d read in five minutes about a single, albeit versatile, food. For those who celebrate Passover and Easter, happy holidays. For those of you who don’t partake in either of these holidays, there’s no need to feel left out: the egg is also symbolic of springtime, an occasion that every Cornellian should celebrate. Last

one outside’s a rotten egg!

Archived article by Anna Fishman