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Eggs, The Kind from Hens

How to select and cook with eggs.

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Eggs are one of the most versatile foods. They are great on their own whether scrambled, poached, fried, baked or broiled, but they are an extremely important component in baked goods, sauces, flans, homemade pastas, and even some ice creams. They are used as “glue” for all fried dishes that need coating in bread crumbs. Eggs are also high in protein, vitamins and minerals.

How to Select

• Shell Color. It doesn’t matter if the eggs are brown, white or speckled. That’s your

• Freshness. Fresh eggs will sink to the bottom of a bowl of water. If an egg floats to the top, don’t use it. Egg yolks should be bright in color. There is no significance in the precise color of the yolk, which can range from pale yellow to almost orange. Egg whites should adhere to the yolk and should be thick.

• Egg grades — given by the United States Department of Agriculture or other agencies — depend mainly on the firmness of the whites. AA eggs hold their shape in the pan a bit better than Grade A eggs. (Grade B eggs, for processed foods, are rarely sold in stores.)

• Egg sizes, like large or jumbo, are based on the weight of a dozen eggs and do not affect the quality of the egg.

Different Types of Labels

The array of labels on egg cartons can be bewildering. Some provide reliable information about audited claims (like “U.S.D.A. organic” and “certified humane raised and handled”). Others are unregulated and unverified. They can be cage free and free range, vegetarian and omega-3 fortified, and organic. What does all of this mean?

How Birds are Raised

ORGANIC. Any product with the “U.S.D.A. organic” emblem must meet the standards of the agriculture department’s National Organic Program. Among the program’s requirements: birds must be kept cage free with outdoor access (though the time and the type of access are not defined), they cannot be given antibiotics (even if ill) and their food must be free from animal byproducts and made from crops grown without chemical pesticides, fertilizers, irradiation, genetic engineering or sewage sludge. If organic eggs do not have the program’s emblem, they may be part of an independent or state-run program, and it may take some research to determine the program’s standards.

CAGE FREE The agriculture department says this means that the chickens were kept out of cages and had continuous access to food and water, but did not necessarily have access to the outdoors.

FREE RANGE The agriculture department says that in addition to meeting the cage-free standards, free-range birds must have continuous access to the outdoors, unless there’s a health risk present. There are no standards, though, for what that outdoor area must be like. (A concrete lot could do.)

PASTURE-RAISED There is no regulation of this term, which implies hens got at least part of their food from foraging on greens and bugs, which adherents say can improve flavor. Some studies have found that pasture-raised eggs have more nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin E and beta carotene, and less saturated fat and cholesterol.

VEGETARIAN-FED For eggs that bear a U.S.D.A. grade shield, “vegetarian-fed” means the eggs came from hens raised on all-vegetarian feed. Hens are not naturally vegetarian, though; they enjoy eating grubs, bugs and worms. While there’s not a substantial nutritional difference between these eggs and conventional eggs, vegetarian eggs appeal to consumers who are turned off by some of the animal byproducts that can be included in conventional chicken feed, like feather meal, chicken litter, pork and cattle byproducts and “spent hen meal” (ground up dead hens).

NO HORMONES The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any hormone products for egg production, so this term is meaningless.

NO ANTIBIOTICS The Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for food safety and oversees antibiotic use in poultry, does not allow routine use of antibiotics but does not define or regulate the term “no antibiotics.” The only way this claim is verified is if the eggs are U.S.D.A. graded (which means that hens did not receive therapeutic antibiotics but may still have been treated with antibiotics, if ill) or if the eggs are a part of the National Organic Program (which bans antibiotics entirely after chicks are 3 days old, even if ill).

NATURAL, NATURALLY RAISED It means whatever the producers want it to mean because eggs in the shell are not a processed food.

OMEGA-3 Eggs claiming to have extra omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to improve heart health and mental acuity, come from hens whose diets include good sources of omega-3s, like flaxseed or algae. Producers in the U.S.D.A. grading program are audited to make sure the layers’ diets have been fortified and that omega-enriched eggs do not get swapped out for cheaper ones. The F.D.A. can audit producers’ claims about omega-3s but typically does so only if there has been a complaint. Unless the eggs claim to contain higher levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3s, a form that is thought to be more important for cardiovascular health, the omega-3s are probably primarily in the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) form.

PASTEURIZED This term is regulated by the F.D.A. and refers to eggs heated to temperatures just below the coagulation point to destroy pathogens. These eggs are recommended for recipes that call for raw eggs or for people susceptible to illness who prefer runny eggs.

How to Cook

If you can cook an egg, you can cook. Eggs are the easiest foods to screw up. Gordon Ramsey often tests new chefs by asking them to make scrambled eggs. See our recipes for the flawless omelet and Chef Ramsey’s perfect breakfast.

General egg dishes go VERY well with these flavors and ingredients:
(They go well with a lot more flavors, these lists are just for some inspiration.)

HARD BOILED EGGS go VERY well with these flavors/ingredients:
Mustard; Dijon


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