Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Over easy

One of the thrifty eater's best friends is the good old-fashioned egg. It's also a good reliable friend to the vegetarian, a quick source of proteins and vitamins that can be prepared in a number of ways, ahead of time or on the spot.

Its a multitasking hard worker, is rather on the inexpensive side of budgetary concerns and is an important binding agent not only in many baking and pastry preparation, but also in many meat and vegetable dishes. You cant really do batter without it and they serves as the glue that hold meatballs and meatloaves together. You pretty much need a few if you ever plan on making your own pasta from scratch, and for the protein-shake enthusiasts, they can help stretch that protein powder by trading some of it for a raw egg before shaking.

Montreal`s Jean-Talon market, my old haunts.
One thing to take into account when buying eggs is that fresh is good. Do a bit of research and see if you have access to a farmer's market.

They may not be cheaper, but they are more dependable for the ethically concerned. Look into the possibility of buying more than a dozen at a time; most farmers will sell their eggs by the carton, at a better price per unit than by the dozen, a useful tip especially when communal purchasing.

You might also want to look at other eggs than just chicken. Depending on your resources, you might be able to score duck, quail or even turkey eggs. Overall for most of your purposes you'll want to stick to chicken eggs. They are more versatile, they have a greater variety of size and they are available pretty much anywhere, even at some convenience stores. Other fowls tend to produce eggs that have a larger yolk, which need some getting used to before preparing. For most purposes, stick to large eggs; they are the most common and most recipes are tuned to that particular size. That way you'll avoid  the equivalency math.

To begin, the soft boil egg. Its a pretty basic deal, something most of us were exposed to as children. For our purpose I'm going to show how to prepare a firm egg, not one of those softies with the gooey yolk. They are good, but somewhat less versatile, so they come serve our purpose. For this you'll need very little: eggs, a pot and enough water to cover the eggs. The only thing you could add to this basic preparation is a pinch of salt in the water, which helps to ready the shell for cracking.

Put the eggs in the pot, cover with water (and a pinch of salt if you want) and bring to a boil. As soon as the water is boiling, turn off the heat and let stand, covered for twelve minutes. After the time has passed, drain and quick chill by putting them in a bowl containing iced water and ice cubes. This prevents the formation of that green sheen on the yolk caused by phosphorus. The green stuff isn't bad, its just not as appetizing. Let sit five to ten minutes. Crack the shell, roll the eggs and shell off. Enjoy!.

Preparing a few eggs this way and keeping them in the fridge ensures that you have a ready supply of ready-to-eat proteins at hand. Just make sure that you don't shell them until you're ready to eat them. At most a sprinkle of salt and pepper are enough to enjoy the little guy. Another use for those soft boils is to quarter them and serve them as topping in your Ramen soup with some chopped green onion.

As a second preparation, you can keep a jar of pickled eggs in the fridge. For that purpose, I would recommend that you get eggs that are referred to as peewee, the smallest chicken eggs of the lot. Its better for you to get them straight from the farmer's stall, in carton size. They are very cheap; locally, I can get a carton, which is two and a half dozen, for a couple of dollars.

To prepare the pickling, choose the jar that will hold them. For that purpose I use a big jar that used to house pickled Gherkins. Carefully fill the jar with with the eggs, keeping a count. Make sure that you leave some space at the top so that there will be enough liquid to cover them. Then, keeping the eggs inside, fill the jar with water, covering the eggs. Pour out in a measuring cup; you now know the number of eggs you'll need to soft boil and the amount of brine you'll need marinate them.

Begin by soft boiling the eggs, cooling, shelling and setting them aside. For the brine, calculate that the liquid proportions are one portion water to three portion of white vinegar. Pour into a pot and add your flavoring agents: black peppercorns, whole cloves, two spoonfuls of salt, a couple of slices of fresh ginger and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil and keep boiling for ten minutes.

Put all the boiled eggs in the jar and pour the brine on top, using a sieve to remove the flavoring agents. Seal and keep in the fridge. Let it marinate for at least a couple of days before eating, but the longer the better. You are not absolutely obligated to separate the spices from the brine. You could very well let the peppercorn and ginger in, and if you have it on hand, drop a sprig of fresh rosemary in the jar. Just hit it a couple of times with the back of your chef knife to help release the essential oils.

This pretty much the French Canadian flavor; do some research and you'll find other variant depending on your taste and uses. Some involve beet juices or hot peppers, its all up to you at that point.

And now, something hot and quick to prepare!

A frittata is the omelet's more rugged cousin. It is a meal unto itself, and the eggs in this preparation serve as a binder to all the other goodness that are added in. For this preparation you'll need some sliced vegetables: onion, zucchini, bell pepper and/or mushrooms.

Start by warming up some oil and slowly cook the onion slices unto they soften up. Add the other vegetables and cook until soft, stirring to prevent them burning.once that they have softened to your liking set aside. Crack some eggs in a bowl (about two eggs per person) and whip with a fork or a whisk if you have one. Season with a pinch of salt, some ground black pepper and pinch of herbs (chives, oregano, basil) if you have any at hand. Still stirring, pour the egg mixture in the pan. Stir the mix in a circular pattern, scrapping the forming crust for about a minute, which help add some airiness in the mix. When you have a crust firming up at the bottom pour in the vegetables and let cook. You can cover it to help speed up the process, but keep an eye on it to make sure that you don't overcook it.

When the mixture is getting mostly cooked, with just a bit of liquid left on the top, you can add a few scraps of cheese to the top and stick under the broiler. Make sure that the grill is as high as possible in the oven and that the pan handle can stand the heat. Its done when the top beings to brown. Plate and serve with a slice of good bread and some good olives if you desire and have them at hand.

To this you can vary by adding some spinach, either fresh or frozen; a clove of garlic, crushed; a chopped tomato. If you have some meat you can always add some chopped bacon, shredded chicken, sliced sausage, or a handful of shelled prawns. Its really a matter of using what you have. Just make sure that the meat is already cooked, and that if you're using seafood that it is cooked sufficiently; you really don't want to deal with the risks associated with unproperly cooked seafood.

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