Lou

Contributor

Eggs are incredibly versatile in their use and can be prepared in numerous ways. They can be the star of a dish or fade into the background as an ingredient that binds other ingredients together. To begin our journey of egg discovery, let’s first consider the popular egg-related question.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Science and the principles of evolutionary biology have finally offered some answers to this. According to the Australian Academy of Science, “The very first chicken in existence would have been the result of a genetic mutation (or mutations) taking place […] produced by two almost-chickens (or proto-chickens). This means two proto-chickens mated, combining their DNA together to form the very first cell of the very first chicken. Somewhere along the line, genetic mutations occurred in that very first cell, and those mutations copied themselves into every other body cell as the chicken embryo grew. The result? The first true chicken.”

So, in answer to this egg-cellent question, it seems that the very first chicken egg was also the very first egg that hatched a chicken. That chicken then went on to reproduce, bringing chickens and eggs into existence.

How can I tell if an egg is still fresh?

Check the date

If the eggs are within their expiration or sell-by date (printed on the pack or sometimes direcly on the egg), they should be safe to eat. If they are past those dates, they may still be fresh enough to eat, especially if they’ve been refrigerated. However, there’s also a possibility that they’re not. Later we’ll explain how you can check eggs for freshness at home.

Check the shell

Cracked, slimy, or powdery shells indicate that the egg is not safe to eat. If the shell is cracked or slimy, it’s likely that bad bacteria is present inside the egg. If the shell is powdery, it’s a sign of mold.

Check the color of the contents

It's always best to crack eggs into a separate bowl instead of directly into your pan or bowl. This way, you have a chance to check the yolk or white for any discoloration. If you find some, it means that the shell was damaged, the egg is old, or there’s harmful bacteria growth. If there’s any chance that might be the case, simply discard the egg.

Do the float test

This method is great for showing you how fresh an egg is, but it’s important to note that it does not show you whether an egg is still good or has gone bad. That’s why it’s a good idea to use it in combination with at least one of the other methods outlined above.

For the float test, fill a bowl with cold water and gently lower the egg into the water. If the egg sinks to the bottom and lays on its side, it’s fresh. If it stands on one of its ends at the bottom of the bowl, it’s likely a few weeks old, but it should still be good enough to eat when fully cooked. If the egg floats to the surface, it’s time for the egg to go in the trash.

What are pasteurized eggs?

Businesses who deal in the production of food wish to avoid their products making customers sick with food-borne illnesses, so they use a process called pasteurization. This procedure involves briefly exposing foods and drinks to mild heat (about 100°C/212°F ) in order to kill any harmful bacteria. Pasteurized eggs have undergone this process.

What do the labels really mean?

Free-range eggs

Free-range eggs are from chickens that are given access to an outdoor space. However, it tells nothing about how much space and how many chickens share that space. Free-range facilities can vary vastly so, while it’s a nice thought, this label doesn’t provide much insight into living conditions.

Cage-free eggs

"Cage-free" tells us that the chickens aren’t raised in cages, which means that they do have space to stretch their legs and wings, but, like free-range, it doesn’t tell us much of their actual living conditions.

Organic eggs

Organic eggs come from chickens that have been fed only with organic feed and are not treated with hormones. Many producers also adopt a free-range approach to raising organic chickens, but not all.

Omega-3 eggs

These eggs come from chickens fed on food enriched with omega 3, often through the addition of flaxseed. This in turn is meant to enrich the eggs with extra nutrients.

Humane eggs

Humane eggs come from chickens that have been raised and treated humanely by their owners, who have been awarded Humane Certification. They may or may not be fed with certified organic feed.

Pasture-raised eggs

Pasture-raised eggs come from chickens kept mostly outdoors. They have space to roam as well as shelter when needed. They are generally (location dependent) able to have a varied diet of insects, worms, and grass, in combination with some kind of feed provided by the producer, which may or may not be organic.

Egg cooking basics

Boiled eggs

Whether you prefer them hard or soft, boiled eggs are an undeniably easy addition to breakfast, lunch, or dinner. When you need an egg that holds its shape in a salad or a sandwich, a medium- or hard-boiled egg is the way to go. But if you’re in the mood for a soft, oozy yolk, soft-boiling is the way.

Peeling boiled eggs needn’t be stressful, either. Raw eggs lowered into boiling water or hot steam will often peel easier than eggs started in cold water. Also, peeling boiled eggs under cold running water helps, but don’t forget to put something in place to catch the shells before they make their way into your sink.

Here are some basic directions on how to boil an egg (timing for a large egg). To soft-boil an egg, lower it into boiling water and boil for approx. 4 – 6 min. For a medium set on the yolk, do the same but boil for approx. 8 – 10 min. For a hard set, boil for approx. 12 – 14 min. The blue ring that sometimes forms around a hard-boiled yolk is a sign that the egg is overcooked, so stop the cooking process in its tracks by running cold water over your cooked egg straight away.

There are a couple of things you can do to stop eggs from cracking in the water. If they’re going to be lowered into boiling water, bringing them to room temperature approx. 30 min. before cooking can make a difference. Or, you can pierce the eggs on the more pointed end before cooking with either an egg piercer, a needle, or a pin.

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Poached eggs

Poached eggs can be a dream to eat but a nightmare to make. The first tip to make it easier is to use fresh, cold eggs, as the white will be easier to handle. Also, bring the water to a boil but then reduce to a simmer before swirling it and adding the egg(s), and crack the egg into a ramekin first to make it easier to control sliding it into the water.

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Adding a splash of vinegar to the water encourages the white to set rather than disperse into annoying ribbons, and some people like to add salt to the water for flavor, yet others feel that it causes the white to become more fragile. There’s no right or wrong about this; it’s just a matter of preference and experience. When cooked, remove the poached egg with a slotted spoon and allow the excess water to drain on a kitchen towel before serving.

Fried eggs

Cooking fried eggs is simple if you follow some basic rules. Fresh eggs work best as the whites will hold together and create a nice set around the yolk, and heat the pan to medium-high, but once the egg is cracked into the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low immediately. This will stop the white from becoming tough and rubbery and allow time for the egg to cook evenly. When ready, remove the egg with a spatula or gently slide it out of the pan and drain off any excess fat on a kitchen towel. Season and serve immediately.

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Scrambled eggs

Some like to add water to their scramble, some add milk, some prefer to add cream, and others take the purist approach by adding nothing. Water tends to give scramble a light, fluffy texture; milk gives a soft but firmer consistency; while cream tends to create a more luscious mouthfeel. And let’s not forget that the amount of butter you add also makes a difference. For a rich and creamy scramble, add cream and remove the pan from the heat a minute or two before the eggs are fully cooked, allowing them to bask in the residual heat of the pan to finish cooking.

Cook scrambled eggs on a medium-low heat to avoid them drying out, and if you like your eggs to be extra tender, beat and salt them approx. 15 min. before cooking. The salt affects the proteins in the eggs, helping you to create a moist and tender scramble.

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Omelettes

A classic French omelette is made with water or milk and has a fine, delicate exterior and tender interior. It must be cooked quickly over medium-high heat, shaken in the pan constantly, and the egg mixture stirred just until the eggs begin to set. The omelette is then rolled to create its characteristic shape, or it can be folded in half. Light fillings can be added before rolling.

On the other hand, a diner-style omelette would likely include milk and is cooked more slowly over medium-low heat. The set edges of the omelette are gently teased up, allowing the remaining egg mixture to run underneath and cook, creating a thicker, denser result. The lower heat also stops it from browning too quickly before the eggs are evenly cooked. A diner-style omelette is usually served folded in half.

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Frittatas and quiches

A frittata often contains vegetables, meats, and cheeses that are mixed into an omelette-like egg mixture. It can be cooked together in a frying pan then finished the oven (frittata) or poured into a shortcrust shell before being baked to completion (quiche).

Baked eggs

Baked eggs, also known as shirred eggs or eggs en cocotte, can be a simple combination of an egg, seasoning, and a splash of cream, but other flavorful accoutrements can be added to jazz things up. They are usually baked in small, flat-bottomed baking dishes or ramekins and they’re relatively quick to prepare and bake.

12 of our favorite egg recipes

Crispy eggs with cilantro and avocado salad

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Georgian cheese and egg bread

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Egg drop soup

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Bacon and egg quesadillas

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Scotch eggs

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Egg salad sandwich with avocado

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Chorizo and new potato frittata

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Turkish-inspired scrambled eggs

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5-ingredient spinach frittata with prosciutto and mozzarella

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Eggs Benedict

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Hole in the bread eggs

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Chinese tea eggs

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