Who knew it would be so much fun having chooks! I didn’t until I got some. That was years ago now, but I still think of those girls.
Hortense, was, well, tense, a bundle of chooky nerves in a feathery cloak.
Henrietta was anyone’s chook, wobbling along showing off her freshly-caught worms, happy as Larry, and Clothilde we all agreed, was a bit of a dumb cluck. Nice, though.
Goodness knows why they got French names. The best bit was the eggs. Glorious fresh eggs. What a gift. I didn’t begrudge them the occasional stripping of rocket, parsley, cavolo nero and baby spinach form the garden because they gave us eggs.
They were brown shavers, nothing fancy, but the best layers by all accounts. We got them just before Easter. I thought I’d have eggs for Easter, but it didn’t turn out that way! It took 2 weeks of nurturing before they laid their first eggs – just small little things weighing 41g each with pale lemon yolks. It was exciting though! It took another few weeks of good diet before the eggs increased in size and we got gorgeous yellow yolks.
Most of us have to buy eggs, and what a range there is to choose from. It’s easy to say only buy free-range eggs, and in the perfect world, we all would, but I am aware that we all have to cut our cloth to fit. My advice is to buy the best that you can afford. I’m certainly not going to say buy a brood of chickens and you’ll have cheap eggs, because you won’t. Keeping hens costs money, and takes time, too. The only way to do it economically is to invest in enough chickens to provide you and your family with eggs leaving enough to sell to friends or at a farmers’ market to help pay for their feed. It’s fun having chickens, though, and the eggs are amazing. Three chickens (good layers like brown shavers) will provide enough eggs for a family of four.
What is a fresh egg? A fresh egg is one which has just been laid, or that has been laid in the past day or two. They are imperative for poaching and superior in baking. As an egg ages, the white thins down and becomes more watery. This causes egg white to shred and separate when eggs are poached, and when making a cake using the creaming method, watery eggs are difficult to combine with creamed egg yolks and sugar and are prone to separate (curdle).
Storing eggs at room temperature is practical for cooks who use eggs on a daily basis, otherwise they are best stored in the fridge as they keep fresher for longer.
If you’ve forgotten to take eggs out of the fridge when making a cake (imperative when using the creaming method as cold eggs will not be willing to blend with softly whipped and slightly warmed creamed butter and sugar), simply fill the sink with a little hottish water and leave the eggs to warm up for 3-4 minutes.
When you purchase eggs you’ll notice that they are stored with the pointed end facing down in the carton. This will help keep them in better condition, for longer, and protects them from breakage. The shell protects the contents of the egg. If it is broken, bacteria can enter. Discard any eggs with broken shells. If you accidentally break an egg that you are not ready to use, transfer it to a container, discarding the shell, cover and keep it refrigerated. Use within 2 days.
When a recipe calls for a quantity of either egg whites or egg yolks, the unused egg whites or yolks can be stored for other uses. Egg whites will keep several weeks in the refrigerator, or for several months if frozen. The whites are a little thicker after freezing and make better meringues. The trick is to remember how many egg whites are in the container! To make it easier, calculate 2 egg whites equal approximately ¼ cup egg white (4 egg whites = ½ cup etc,). Or use the following calculations: A small hen’s egg weighs around 55g (nearly 2 oz), a medium egg 65g (2¼ oz) and a large egg around 75g (over 2½ oz). Egg white makes up approximately two-thirds of an egg’s content.
Egg yolks will keep covered and refrigerated for up to three days. Spoon a little water over whole egg yolks to stop them forming a skin before covering them with plastic food wrap. Egg yolks can be frozen for up to a month (add a little salt to them before freezing) but they will not be suitable for all types of cooking.
Eggshells are porous and can absorb strong smells of other food. That’s great if you have fresh truffles and intend cooking eggs and truffles together – stick a few slices of truffle in a sealed bowl with some eggs and you’ll produce truffle-flavoured eggs – but not so great if the eggs you want to use in a sponge have been stored next to last night’s curry leftovers.
Types of eggs
The common eggs we buy are from hens (eggs laid by other birds such as quail and ducks are specifically named). My father always used to boast that duck eggs were best in baking, though he never specified why, but it may be because they contain more fat than hen’s eggs, and therefore make baking a little richer. Quail’s eggs are very small and weigh around 20g (approximately ¾ oz). They can be cooked just like hen’s eggs, though for shorter times.
In the recipes on Shared Kitchen, a large egg is a size 7, a medium egg is size 6 and a small egg is size 5.
Much has been written about the perfect soft-boiled egg and I am going to add my bit. I like the yolk runny and the white set but still translucent, barely held together like a wobbly jelly just on the point of setting. It’s hard to reach that state of perfection, but I’ve mastered it. Cocky, I know, but after many failed attempts I work on a 5-point system and crack it (ah-hem) every time:
Choose very fresh eggs and have them at room temperature; cold eggs will take longer to cook than eggs at room temperature.
Lower eggs into gently boiling water (there must be sufficient water to completely cover the eggs) and start timing immediately the eggs are in the water.
Cook eggs at a very gentle boil – that means the water is erupting around the eggs and gently breaking into bubbles in some parts of the pot, but it’s not at a rolling boil causing the eggs to bounce around the pot like uncontrolled missiles.
Not all eggs are the same size and cooking times need to be adjusted according to their size. A medium (size 6) egg weighing around 65g (2¼ oz) will take 4 minutes’ to reach my desired state of perfection. Calculate everything else around that (small eggs 3½ minutes’, large 4½ minutes’ or more, then more or less cooking time depending on how you like your eggs done).
The fifth point? If the above method fails, and you lop the top off the egg to be greeted with a goobeyish white (yuk), oh well, too bad. Stick the top back on the egg, wait two minutes, then lift it off and with a bit of luck the residual heat will have finished off setting the egg white and you’ll be able to dunk away in bliss.
It is easiest if you position boiled eggs rounded end down in egg-cups and tap the top of the shells with a spoon before slicing the tops of the eggs.
Hot buttered fingers of toast are great egg dippers but you’d be mad with all the gorgeous plump asparagus around not to forgo them on occasion and use lightly boiled, still crunchy, fat asparagus spears as dunkers. Asparagus & Eggs