I’ve seen every quizzical expression on a server’s face when asked to substitute or just plain leave out the eggs in my breakfast order.
“Honey, you don’t want any eggs? Why, those are the best part!”
To which I would say, “No, bacon is the best part.”
Some would change their statement and agree with me. Others would raise eyebrows, snicker or just stare at my desire to keep eggs far away from my pancakes.
Ever since I can remember, I have passed on eggs of all varieties – scrambled, over easy, fried, omelets, quiche, deviled, egg salad – all of it. My faintest memories of the few times my mother cooked eggs were of the deviled variety, usually to be served at Christmas Eve with family, but that is it. Eggs were not a staple in my house.
When I asked my mother why she didn’t cook eggs when I was growing up, she remarked about how for many years, between the 1970s and 1980s especially, eggs were associated with high cholesterol. My mother was not a health nut but a health advocate, purchasing soy milk from the neighborhood co-op along with tofu, flax seed oil and things that could not be found in Terre Haute and were barely noticeable in Indianapolis grocery stores. We were eating these foods well before they became hip and popular. She took our health and wellbeing seriously. Later, science would find that eggs have their fill of cholesterol but they do not affect our heart the way we thought. That didn’t change my outlook on them, and since they were only in our house occasionally, I never developed a taste for them.
So why, to this day, have I not embraced the ubiquitous egg?
Eggs are foul smelling, like the fart from a kid on a bus during a cold, winter day where all the windows are rolled up. By themselves, they have such an odd, goopy texture like the snot in your kleenex from blowing your nose. My car was egged once, by mistake (apparently the eggs were meant for a neighbor). Nothing about the color is appealing to me.
Unless eggs are part of a dessert, such as cheesecake, where I can’t taste their flavor or texture (or so I’ve thought), eggs do not have a place in my refrigerator.
Yet my quest to know everything and anything about food and the science behind itmeans I must put this distaste behind me. To keep denying eggs at a restaurant feels somewhat childish and even ignorant, for I know my lack of trust comes from my end. For christ’s sake I eat meat, why the heck should eggs be any different? If I can chow down on some fried chicken livers then why not on a fried egg?
Somewhat reluctantly, I decided to cook eggs.
My parents turned their unused outhouse (don’t ask, I’ll explain later) into a chicken coop. When we traveled to visit them for dinner a few weeks ago, they saved a few eggs in the coop so I could pick them up myself. We left with a dozen fresh eggs. I felt weird about not using them. I mean, I met these chickens, I saw them. We exchanged glances. To take their eggs and not eat them just isn’t right.
Harvesting an entire animal and letting nothing go to waste is important to me. It pays respect to the animal and is a sustainable practice. We were all taught as children that Native Americans and Eskimos used every piece of the animals they hunted – skin for leather, fur for coats and blankets, etc. It’s just one more reason weighing on my shoulders that I should try to eat eggs, just like I try to eat offal, use bones for stock and all of the other parts of the animal suited for consumption.
Eggs are an incredibly transformative ingredient. Aside from the traditional methods of cooking and preparing eggs, eggs act as a binder in meatloaf, when whipped with oil they create mayonnaise, and when added to to flour with butter and sugar can create the most moist quick breads. Michael Ruhlman wrote an entire book on eggs, going so far as to call them divine.
“If you could choose to master a single ingredient, no choice would teach you more about cooking than the egg. It is an end in itself; it’s a multipurpose ingredients; it’s an all-purpose garnish; it’s an invaluable tool. The egg teaches your hands finesse and delicacy. It helps your arms develop strength and stamina. It instructs in the way proteins behave in heat and in the powerful ways we can change food mechanically. It’s a lever for getting other foods to behave in great ways. Learn to take the egg to its many differing ends, and you’ve enlarged your culinary repertoire by a factor of ten.” – Michael Ruhlman, Rhulman’s Twenty, p. 104
Okay, he’s convinced me. But I must consult my favorite scientist. Harold McGee devotes over 100 pages to eggs in On Food and Cooking, but this excerpt I found to be most interesting:
“Neither familiarity nor fear should obscure eggs’ great versatility. Their contents are primal, the unstructured stuff of life. This is why they are protean, why the cook can use them to generate such a variety of structures, from a light, insubstantial meringue to a dense, lingeringly rich custard. Eggs reconcile oil and water in a host of smooth sauces; they refine the texture of candies and ice creams; they give flavor, substance, and nutritiousness to soups, drinks, breads, pastas, and cakes; they put a shine on pastries; they clarify meat stocks and wines. On their own, they’re amenable to being boiled, fried, deep-fried, baked, roasted, pickled, and fermented.” Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking, p.69
I understand, I really do. And oddly enough, my love of food is winning over my distaste of eggs. No longer can I look at an egg and think yuck, but I see an ingredient that begs me to crack it open and experiment with what’s inside.
As I type these last few words, I’m munching on the yolk of hard boiled eggs, mixed with mayonnaise (is that egg inception?), mustard, salt, paprika and chives, spread ever so thinly on a Ritz cracker. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am still not in love with the egg, but as with all things, introducing myself into a new world will inevitably take time. Who knows, maybe the egg is lost on me. At least I will go down trying.