September 23, 2009 9:42:00 AM
I catered a luncheon for 90 recently, and the preparations went swimmingly for the most part. As is true to form for me I was totally organized for the first three days of cooking, and then I tend to sort of fall apart the last 24 hours. So, the afternoon prior to the event I had to run out to the grocery store for a couple of items I had left off of the previous list. I did the unthinkable: I went to the store without a list!
There I was in a semi-panic, roaming the isles of Sunflower for only two or three items -- but what were they and how much did I need? Aha! I remembered that I needed eggs, so to cover all of my bases I picked up three dozen. I used the same logic for the other items: buy a lot, and I should have enough.
It turns out I only needed two eggs, and I''ve been using up the rest for the past week. Thankfully, I love eggs in most any form: scrambled, fried, quiched or boiled -- it''s all delish to me. I have realized, however, over the past decade or so that, like so many other seemingly simple things, there are rules and such to heed in order to come near to perfection.
Slow and wonderful
Terry and I both love soft, fluffy scrambled eggs with large yellow curds glistening, with a little olive oil or even butter. In my reckless youth I would simply break an egg into a bowl (or even into the skillet), beat it with a fork, add some water and cook furiously in a hot skillet. I have learned since then that this only produces a thin, slightly tough version of scrambled eggs.
My first revelation came some 15 or so years ago when my brother gave me a tin of expensive caviar for Christmas. (I have no idea why, but he did.) I invited three friends over for a caviar dinner with a planned entrée of baked potato skins stuffed with scrambled eggs and topped with caviar. Of course, I fully expected that this was a no-brainer, but I decided to open Julia (not "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," but a less scary cookbook of hers) and see what she had to say. That is when I saw a picture of French scrambled eggs, slow cooked to the state of grace in a double boiler, all soft and custardy.
This same principal of slow cooking can also be used in the skillet. Heat the pan over medium heat and add oil or butter. Whisk the eggs without any additional liquid and pour into the pan. Season with salt and pepper and stir slowly, forming the large pieces that stay shiny mixed with the looser curds. Ina Garden, aka The Barefoot Contessa, adds a dollop of butter at the end, which I do as well. This is yummy on good buttered toast.
The whys of slow-cooking eggs have to do with the protein in the egg white. I won''t attempt to word the explanation in my own way because I can''t. But a great site on the science of cooking can be found at www.exploratorium.edu.
I have always regretted not taking classes on cooking and science, and at this point I find it hard to keep the reasons in my brain after I read them, but I am firmly convinced of the connection between great cooks and their knowledge of what is behind their emulsions or their soufflés or hollandaise sauces. I mean, once you "get" it, then just imagine how many creative cooking adventures lie ahead. And you can control them all!
Good day or night
Back to the perfect scrambled egg. I can do it now. We have them on Sunday mornings and sometimes for supper. And I can now also poach an egg in a skillet. It''s not that hard if you''re willing to mess up in the beginning. My favorite is a soft-boiled egg or, if cooked more slowly in simmering water, a coddled egg. (A coddled egg sounds like something Marion Cunningham would eat, doesn''t it?)
So, save the watery, rubbery scrambled eggs for fast-food establishments. Take a minute to introduce your family to an inexpensive breakfast for supper night with a platter of perfectly-executed scrambled eggs -- made with local yellower-than-yellow eggs. Sprinkle chopped herbs from the garden on top for garnish, and you should have smiles all around.
SCRAMBLED EGGS FOR TWO
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons cream
2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
BAKED EGGS WITH SPINACH
2 pounds fresh spinach, washed with stems removed
3 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Recipe source: "How to Cook Everything," by Mark Bittman