Time to Talk About Eggs
With Easter coming up and an imminent visit from my young grandchildren, I've been thinking a lot about eggs, both real and chocolate. I'm also on the lookout for rare eggs – game bird, gull's and goose eggs, for example.
Some branches of Waitrose are rumoured to stock goose eggs, but certainly not in my neck of the woods. At least three times the size of a hen's egg, they have a chalky white shell with a sculptural Dalì-esque quality that makes one hesitate to crack them. The goose egg is rich and intensely eggy with an enormous yolk kept aloft by a viscous white. Excellent for enriching cakes and making a man-sized omelette.
Gull's eggs aren't in season yet – collecting them is restricted to two or three weeks from the end of April. Popular in gentlemen's city clubs, gull's eggs are a rare treat, which is certainly reflected in the price. They're about 5cm long with sludge-coloured splotched shells, and an exquisite flavour – though apparently faintly fishy because of the diet.
Game bird eggs – guinea fowl, partridge and pheasant – are also proving elusive. Guinea fowl eggs are slightly smaller than a hen's egg and have a similar mild flavour. They have beautiful brown-speckled shells that need an extra-firm tap to break them. Dumpy little partridge eggs are the most exquisite with tasteful coffee-coloured speckles on a pale beige shell. Walnut-sized pheasant eggs come in a military khaki without any speckling. They have a powerful flavour, best tamed by hard-boiling.
Eggs are certainly a cook's best friend. They can be boiled, fried, poached, scrambled, baked or made into omelettes. They provide cakes with bounce, soufflés with height and sauces with thickness and gloss. They make pasta silky, pastry shiny and they help breadcrumbs stick to food. Beaten with oil, the yolks emulsify into mayonnaise; whisked with air, the whites transmute to the miraculous foam that gives meringues and mousses their lightness.
It's interesting to experiment with different types of egg. Scrambled eggs made with duck eggs, for example, have a dense, creamy, almost chewy texture, whereas scrambled hens' eggs are smoother and lighter. Similarly, goose eggs make a hefty frittata with a much firmer texture than one made with hens' eggs. If you are lucky enough to have three goose eggs (or nine very good hen's eggs) try my recipe for Goose Egg Frittata with Potatoes, Onions and Piquillo Peppers. It's perfect for spring Sunday morning brunch.
I am not a great fan of shallow-fried eggs but Deep-Fried Eggs are another matter. They are fun to make and have an appetising crunchy texture. Beautiful with grilled bacon, HP sauce and toast.
Moving on to sweeter things, how about those utterly irresistible Brazilian custard tarts – pasteis de nata? Intensely eggy, burnished on top with a crisp flaky crust, they send me into culinary euphoria. I have a Portuguese friend who ships container-loads of these tarts to business fairs in mainland Europe. Luckily he's also willing to ship a small box to me in Dorset.
Most of us look on eggs as culinary wallpaper, but I feel they should be chosen with the same care given to wine or olive oil. Good eggs have seasons just like any other fresh produce, and now is a good time to enjoy them. Once sampled, you will appreciate that eggs can be a luxury item with a fabulous fresh flavour, gloriously golden yolks and a dense texture.
© Christine McFadden, April 2017