A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Chef John Foster: Revisiting the ‘incredible, edible egg;’ why they belong in balanced, healthy diet

It was at one time “the incredible edible egg,” a multi-purpose package of nutrition and energy. Capable of singlehandedly replacing everything you might choose for breakfast with a single magic bullet of goodness and light.

This notion, of course, was ripe for a takedown, nothing could be this perfect. And so, like most icons it has suffered some setbacks over the years, going underground to become the backdrop of recipes, main dishes, and farmer’s markets.

When was the last time you ate an egg?

How was it cooked?

What’s your favorite egg preparation?

These questions aren’t nearly as mainstream as the discussion of free-range birds or ash free beef. Eggs never seem to be the main part of a 100-mile diet discussion, eggs are just here, there, and yes, everywhere. Several thousand years ago the domestication of jungle fowl gave the world its first eggs, a source of protein, fat and some calories. For certain parts of the world, eggs became a main source of food. The egg is renewable, portable, adaptable to cooking styles and methods and probably most important; a building block for other recipes.

As conditions improved and output increased the versatility of eggs increased. Dry egg products made the portability of food almost universal and their inclusion in recipes of the prepared mixes of the early 30s and 40s increased the demand for eggs across the board. The issues with eggs do have a foundation in fact, but like most high-profile ingredients, the tendency to demonize them in the name of science or health is hard to resist. You would have to eat a lot of eggs to produce what some doctor’s fear was the inevitable march towards a heart attack.

In hindsight, it might have been better to feed generations of kids eggs for breakfast rather than the alternative high sugar high-fat cereals of today. Better yet, does it ever occur to people that the rise of a soda and chicken nuggets for breakfast may have more to do with adolescent obesity than an egg a day for breakfast?

To say the egg is versatile is a gross understatement. There are few ingredients in cooking that occupy a position of constant use and demand like the egg does. If we’re not consuming them in an omelet we are enjoying them hard boiled in a salad, or as a tenderizing agent in a slice of cake. They are the backbone of that wonderful hollandaise you had at brunch or the binding agent in that mayonnaise that formed the base of the chicken salad sandwich.

Classic carbonara is not “classic” unless you use the egg as a finishing ingredient, adding richness and color, sauce Allemande is not the rich small sauce for chicken if not for the last-minute liaison work of several egg yolks. This last recipe highlights one of the many attributes of the egg; its ability to thicken soups and sauces.

Acting as an emulsifying ingredient or a liaison to sauce and soup work utilizes the fat of the yolk to thicken, enrich and color the dish. This technique relies on an attention to detail with respect to temperature and time. Add the yolk at too high a temperature and you have liquid scrambled eggs, “temper” it in at too low a temperature and you run the risk of bringing curdling it as you bring it up to the proper temperature to actually work about 165-168 degrees.

Dessert sauces like a crème anglaise, and even gelato and ice cream bases all depend on the judicious manipulation of temperature and time when bringing the egg-based sauce to the nappe’ stage, a point when the egg yolk is doing its best thickening work. Not to be outdone, the white represents to some people, the pinnacle of dessert making, whether it be in a meringue or a macaron or simply to top a tart and flavorful lemon curd. Without then yolk to enrich the curd, and the white to build the meringue there would be no lemon meringue pie, think on that for a second.

For that reason alone, the absence of eggs in our diet would leave a huge hole to fill. The egg’s importance behind the scenes makes it a tough ingredient to sub out. Egg beaters, egg white omelets, pasteurized egg product all remain on the market and are sold as safe alternatives to the egg. But let’s try a different approach. Let’s buy local, fresh eggs that are easily traceable to the source. Let’s enjoy eggs on a daily basis without overindulging in them (everything in moderation!). And let’s not try to take them apart and put them back together in the name of health and science, they really are just fine the way they were made originally. If we do all those things on a regular basis, the egg will become part of the healthy, balanced diet that it should have been all along.

Roast garlic aioli

3 cloves of garlic roasted slowly in a 350-degree oven. Roast a whole head until its soft and then squeeze out 2 cloves worth

2 large egg yolks at room temperature

½ lemon juiced

1 and ½ cups vegetable oil (or half and hall with olive oil and vegetable oil)

Salt and pepper

Whisk the roasted garlic and egg yolks together until smooth and slightly thick. Slowly, drop by drop at first, add the oil to the egg mixture, whisking constantly to form the initial emulsion. Continue to add the oil in an ever-expanding drizzle until almost all the oil is done and your aioli is thick. Season and add the lemon juice, whisk in the reami9ning oil, and then refrigerate.

Spanish tortilla

4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into dime-sized cubes

Olive oil

5-6 large eggs

Onion or garlic or both if desired, I medium sized onion small diced, or three cloves of garlic sliced.

Salt and pepper

This is an open-faced potato and egg omelet that highlights good olive oil and eggs. Eaten as a tapa or pinxtos it can be a base for other ingredients or simply be served as is.

In a heavy fry pan add olive oil and potatoes together and start to slowly cook them. When the potatoes start to break down, but not caramelize or crust, you can add the onion and cook until they start to soften. Drain the oil from the cooked potato, reserving both. Add the whisked eggs to the potato mixture and season. Return the oil to the pan and add more to coat the bottom well. Add the potato-egg mixture to the warm pan and cook the bottom until set and golden brown. Flip the tortilla out on a plate and slide the uncooked side back in with some oil if necessary. Cook the other side until done but not hard. Serve warm or at room temperature

John Foster is an executive chef who heads the culinary program at Sullivan University’s Lexington campus. A New York native, Foster has been active in the Lexington culinary scene and a promoter of local and seasonal foods for more than 20 years. The French Culinary Institute-trained chef has been the executive chef of his former restaurant, Harvest, and now his Chevy Chase eatery, The Sage Rabbit.

To read more from Chef John Foster, including his recipes, click here.

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