My dear future ‘sister-in-law’ made breakfast this morning. We had home-made ‘baked beans’, pan fried mushrooms, poached eggs, salad and Brasserie bread. I have always loved poached eggs, Eggs Benedict is my absolute favourite brunch menu item. It got me into thinking about eggs. I’ve decided to give everyone a basic crash course about eggs.

Eggs are a good source of vitamins and minerals. They can be served alone, prepared in many ways, or used as an ingredient in other meals. From watching the Lifestyle Food channel on Foxtel, I have noticed that in America they have white eggs. However, I found out there is no relationship between the colour of the eggshell (brown – Australia, white – America) and the quality or taste of the egg. So don’t worry if your carton of egg is different shades of brown.

Cooking Considerations: Eggs are most commonly found on the breakfast menu. The following guidelines should be kept in mind:

  • Use eggs as soon as possible after purchasing. Flavour and appearance deteriorate with age. I usually try and find the carton that has the use by date furthest from the day of purchase.
  • Boiling causes eggs to become rubbery. When cooking eggs in the shell, place the eggs in water (some dispute that this should be boiling water, some say cold water). I use cold water and cover the egg/s by 1cm. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat to a simmering temperature.
  • Soft-boiled eggs should be cooked for no longer than one to three minutes.
  • Hard-cooked eggs should be cooked no more than 15 minutes.
  • However, it does really depend on your stovetop. I cook my eggs for about 7 minutes at a low simmering heat. It also depends on how big your egg is. Experiment a bit and write down: 1) How big your egg is. 2) How long it takes to cook to your liking. 3) Which stovetop you used and on which setting.
  • After removing eggs cooked in the shell from the water, immerse them in cold water and peel them immediately to prevent yolk from turning green.
  • To poach eggs, bring water to a simmer and add some vinegar before adding the eggs. Eggs should be broken into a separate dish before they are added to the poaching liquid. The poaching liquid should be spinning before you place the egg into the liquid so that the white coats the yolk and hopefully you end up with a nice little ball of poached egg. This method needs only a minute or two in the simmering water for the egg to be ready. The yolks will be thick but with a runny consistency.
  • Once again, poaching does depend on the egg and the heat of the water. So if you make it quite often, write down some information to creating your own perfect poached egg.

Cooking Uses: There are many different ways to use eggs in cooking. When eggs are heated, the protein in the yolk coagulates. This makes eggs useful as thickening agents and for coating other foods. When heat is applied to the egg white, it changes from a transparent to a soft white colour. When sugar is added to an egg mixture, higher heat is needed for coagulation. When salt is added, a lower temperature is needed. When an acid such as lemon juice is added, the temperature for coagulation is also lowered and a fine gel is produced.

Binding and Coating: Eggs help make ingredients stick together in products such as hamburgers and in batters for deep-fried products.

Leavening Agent: Leavening involved incorporating gases into a product to increase the product’s volume and make it lighter. Beaten egg whites create a foam made up of air bubbles surrounded by thin layers of egg white film. When this foam is incorporated into a mixture and heated, the air bubbles expand and the film hardens. This process occurs in making souffles and sponge cakes. Egg whites should be beaten only until the peaks stand straight. If they are over-beaten, the volume of the foam will be reduced. If sugar is added to egg whites while beaten, the resulting foam will be more stable, when baked this will become a meringue. Egg yolks can also be used as a leavening agent: when heated, they increase in size. However, because of the presence of fat, yolks are less effective leavening agents than egg whites.

Emulsifying Agent: Oil and vinegar separate unless the oil droplets are coated with egg or some other emulsifier to prevent the separation. Egg yolks are used as an emulsifier in mayonnaise, ice cream, and my favourite Hollandaise sauce.

Interfacing Substance: Eggs prevent ice crystals from combining to create a larger mass. They are used in this way when sherbets are made.

Clarifying Agent: When egg protein coagulates, it traps particles in the substance so they can be removed. This makes liquids clear and free from impurities. Broths can be clarified with egg whites.

All this is just basic information for eggs. Of course there are other ways of cooking eggs: frying, scrambled, omelette. Hopefully this opens your minds to many other different ways eggs can be used and creates a better understanding to how such a ball of protein can have so many uses. There are also many different eggs: chicken, hen, duck, ostrich, goose, quail and many more. One of my favourites is thousand-year-old egg, it’s very nice in congee. Don’t be scared and have a try of different types of egg.

Happy nom nom nom-ing!