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Tales of the Kitchen

I was all set to write about salt, but then thought since it was so close to the holidays, eggs would be a much more appropriate subject. Sure! Don’t you see it? Eggs. Holidays. The two are a pair, like salt and pepper … No, I am not losing it, but with all your holiday baking, eggs will be on the shopping list.

If you bake a lot you’ll know eggs have 2 main components – white and yolk, and both have their own function. So in the spirit of Christmas I have decided to write about the magic of this porous wonder. Because the egg shell is made of calcium carbonate and is porous, it will lose moisture and take on flavors of the refrigerator when it is stored improperly or for too long. There is nothing worse than an onion flavored cake or cookie. The American Egg Board recommends 40° for storage, so the best place in your refrigerator for the egg is the top shelf. Leave them in the carton you purchased them in, which also helps maintain the humidity, which should be 70-80%.

A “large” egg weighs about 2 ounces, the white equals about 1 oz., mainly made of water and protein, has vitamins and minerals and only about 17 calories. The yolk weighs in at about half an ounce, contains all the fat in the egg, cholesterol, little protein and vitamins A, D, and E (the egg is one of the few natural resources for vitamin D and minerals) and is around 60 calories. I have read the egg is a “potent nutrition powerhouse”, containing the highest quality food protein. And because I know this I don’t feel too guilty when I make one of my favorite quick meals – a no cream carbonara. All you do is boil off some pasta (preferably linguine) and have a sauté pan ready. When the pasta is just about ready, drop 2 or 3 eggs in the hot sauté pan with some garlic and olive oil and transfer the pasta along with a little of the pasta water into the pan and swirl until the eggs make a simple sauce. Then plate, finishing with your cheese of choice and parsley and it is done. It is too yummy and one of my favorites.

Ok, so now some of the facts. Whole eggs are for giving structure in baked goods and dishes like meatloaf and hold sauces. They are also a leavener. If you beat the egg to a ribbon stage the egg will puff during baking to leaven whatever you’re making. They also glaze and color. By brushing an egg wash on breads or pastries it will give a shiny glaze and, because of the protein, it browns your product.

Egg yolks bind and thicken. As an emulsifier, it holds fat and water together. Think of a hollandaise or mayonnaise. They also give smoothness to dishes like custards by binding liquids with fats.

Egg whites are dry and crisp because they have no fat, creating a dry protein lattice when they are baked, like in my favorite, Pâté á Choux, aka cream puffs. They also clarify. When making a stock you can add egg whites and, when slowly heated, the whites coagulate and gather the impurities. Then, when they become firm, rise to the top. I always got an “A” in culinary school when making a consommé with this little trick. Something I just learned while writing this article was that unbeaten whites can be a better choice when a recipe calls for stiff whites to be folded into the batter. Beaten whites make your cake lighter, but it may also make your cake fall. Stiff whites are partially cooked, which means your cake will rise due to the bubbles in the foam, but they no longer have the structure to hold up the cake which means the cake will fall once it cools. Raw egg proteins are needed to hold the cake.

Eggs come in 6 sizes: Peewee, small, medium, large, extra large and jumbo. Medium-jumbo is what most stores carry while Peewee is normally for commercial food use. The size of the egg pretty much tells the age of the chicken, “the bigger the egg the older the chicken”. There are 3 grades for an egg: AA, A and B. The grade of an egg is determined by the size of the air cell in the egg. The air cell is located at the large end of the egg between the white and the shell.

Ok, so now that I have given you a few facts about the “egg” it should make your holidays a little less stressful, right? Well maybe not, but at least I tried. Anywho, one last fact: when cracking eggs and you find part of the shell in your batter or whatever your making, use an egg shell to fish out the pesky piece. The shell piece will naturally float right into the bigger piece, it really works!

By Chef K. Marie Paulk