A CHEF’S ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS – #4 THIS IS AN EGG

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One of my favorite movies is the 1954 original version of Sabrina staring Audrey Hepburn. In the context of the story she winds up in Paris at the renowned Cordon Bleu cooking school. Trying to learn to become a more domestically seasoned cook, she is presented with one of her first classes – the instructor/chef begins:

“Bonjour, mesdames et monsiuers. Yesterday we have learned the correct way how to boil water. Today we will learn the correct way how to crack an egg. Now, an egg is not a stone; it is not made of wood, it is a living thing. It has a heart. So when we crack it, we must not torment it. We must be merciful and execute it quickly, like with the guillotine.”

-From Sabrina – 1954

What struck me about this (aside from the humorous portrayal of a pompous French chef) was the reverence paid to the humble egg and as such the importance that it plays in cooking. It has been said, for instance, that the chef’s tall toque and its starched folds represents the many ways that an accomplished chef can use an egg. Whether this is true or not – when you give thought to how essential the egg is in cooking and baking it would be easy to give merit to this assumption.

I could invest many hours defining how eggs interact in cooking, but felt that this is a better opportunity to simply remind every cook of the importance of this “living” ingredient.

My first memory of cooking as a youngster was standing outside a diner window in Buffalo, New York – watching a masterful short order cook handle the dozens of orders coming his way and doing so with rhythm and grace, a focused look on his face and his hands addressing every egg, flapjack, slice of French toast, rasher of bacon, and pile of home fries as if they were members of his family. The grill and pans were organized, clean, regimented, and controlled at just the right temperature. Eggs sunny, over-easy, poached, scrambled and folded into perfect omelets were sharing space with perfectly round and golden brown pancakes. The home fries were meticulously cut, golden and crusty and the bacon enticed me even through the window. I think it was, at some level, this event that set the stage for me to become a chef.

There were numerous times throughout my career when the ability to properly cook eggs was the test of skill that defined whether or not a job would be mine or if I would hire a young, sometimes overly confident cook to become part of a kitchen team. The manner with which eggs were handled, how adept a person was at cracking an egg with speed and grace so as not to violate the yolk, how eggs were tempered at the start of making a hollandaise, the skill used in whisking yolks as oil was added in a steady stream resulting in creamy mayonnaise, the visual aptitude used in determining when that poached egg had to be retrieved from its simmering bath, and the wrist and hand action used in flipping an over-easy egg in a steel pan or working an omelet pan so that the egg remained soft and fluffy and into itself without adding color to the exterior were all indication of how a cook respected the ingredient and the time he or she invested in doing the simplest things correctly.

An egg is not just a commodity ingredient that arrives in its individually protective cardboard nest; it is a truly essential ingredient that binds so many cooking processes aside from its independent glamour on a plate. Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of just how critical the egg is to what we do.

[]         THE MAIN CHARACTER AT BREAKFAST

The perfect way to start a day is with a plate of well-prepared eggs. One of my most vivid memories of the kitchen as a chef is arriving each day – usually before 7 a.m. to the sounds and smells of the breakfast shift. I still admire a great breakfast cook as one of the marvels of life. The cadence of cracking eggs hitting a hot pan, the ring of a pancake spatula as the cook taps a rhythm during service, the smell of maple bacon and breakfast sausage, the seamless motion of eggs flipping in pans and landing as if they touched down on a pillow, and the visual wonder of a masterfully cooked omelet sliding to it’s home on a warm plate still make me feel like there could never be a better job than remaining a part of this.

“Eggs are one of my all-time favorite foods, and making the over-easy egg is a test of skill.”

-Wylie Dufresne

[]         THE GRAND FINISHING OF CERTAIN SAUCES

A liaison of egg yolks and cream give a veloute the richness and sheen that earns the distinction of one of the mother sauces.

[]         STRUCTURE AND LEVENING

I still remember that moment when I first discovered that those beautiful, crunchy and hollow cream puffs, éclairs, and popovers rose, gave up their interior mass and retained their structure due to the eggs used in concert with steam created during hot oven baking. It is one of scientific wonders that I simply accept.

[]         THE RICHNESS OF ROYALTY

Could there be any dish more royal than Eggs Benedict? Eggs, topped with eggs seems just right to me. This dish combines the cooks skill at perfectly poaching an egg in a water and vinegar bath, and making one of the simplest, yet most challenging mother sauces: hollandaise. Combine with Canadian bacon and a fork split English muffin and you have a dish for the ages.

One of every chef’s favorite meals might very well be soft scrambled eggs and shaved white truffle. This is quite possibly the best vehicle for bringing out the uniqueness of truffle.

“My whole life, I have been trying to cook an egg in the right way.”

-Jose Andres

[]         CUSTARDS, MOUSSE, BAVARIAN, PUDDING, MERINGUE

Each of these items deserves their own homage, but simply stated – their elegance comes from a common ingredient – the egg. Yolks to bind milk and cream, and egg whites with the arm strength needed to churn a whisk breaking its cells and incorporating air resulting in another scientific wonder- meringue. Fold in some sugar and torch the exterior to a caramel color reminiscent of those childhood Smores on an open fire. Absolutely perfect!

[]         SOUFFLE – THE GRAND DAME

Rich, delicate yet robust, fragile, warm and sensual – there is no other dish coming from a kitchen that insists on as much attention and dedication to process and temperature. It lasts but a few seconds once the guest is presented with the towering perfection of the soufflé – the kitchen and service staff must be in total sync to ensure that the short experience is handled correctly. The wait is worth it.

[]         GENOISE

Light and airy, genoise is the cake that defines the word. Whisking the eggs and sugar in a double boiler until the mixture turns golden yellow and builds in light volume, fold in the flour and other ingredients and watch the magic as the end result from the oven is a light and delicate sponge cake.

[]         CRÈME ANGLAISE – WE ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM

The base for nearly every velvety smooth ice cream is crème anglaise – a combination of egg yolks, cream, and vanilla. Some are made without egg, but none as grand as those that include the essential ingredient.

[]         PASTA

How simple the ingredients, how fulfilling the results. Pasta in all of its varied shapes and forms is nothing more than egg yolks, the right flour, a pinch of salt and a few drops of water. A staple in so many kitchens, pasta is one of the most satisfying dishes, one of the most universally loved, and one of the most profitable for the restaurants that do it right.

[]         PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER – THE BINDER

Not to be left out, eggs are used as an ingredient that binds others together. Sensed, but not seen, eggs can be found in those recipes from meatballs to delicate mousseline.

“Even if you spend your life working as a cook you will never exhaust all the possibilities in an egg.”

-Pascal Barbot

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[]         EVEN THE SHELL

In the end, the ultimate ingredient in kitchens is one that can be used in its entirety. Chefs have been known to blanch and clean out the membrane of a cleanly topped shell and reuse it as a serving vessel for custard, mousse, mousseline, and scrambled eggs – such an elegant presentation. The operation confident enough to put a consommé on a menu will understand the importance of a raft that includes mirepoix, lean meat and egg whites or egg shells to attract the protein particles in the broth and bring about a process of clarification. The shells may seem to have little use, but can even help to create healthy soil in a chef’s vegetable and herb garden. No waste – the perfect ingredient.

RESPECT THE EGG

“Eggs are at the origin of all the world’s cooking. They can do anything!”

-Jean-Francois Piege

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PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting and Training

www.harvestamericaventures.com

**GREAT EGG REFERENCES:

“Egg” by: Lyndsay and Patrick Mikanowski

www.amazon.com/Egg-Patrick-Mikanowski/dp/2080305506/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1509982752&sr=1-1&keywords=Egg+by%3A+Lyndsay+Mikanowski

 

“The Good Egg” by: Marie Simmons

www.amazon.com/Good-Egg-Approaches-Breakfast-Dessert/dp/0618711945/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1509982801&sr=1-1&keywords=the+good+egg

  2 comments for “A CHEF’S ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS – #4 THIS IS AN EGG

  1. Erika Lavinia
    November 6, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    Great article! Beautiful description of all the way to handle the delicate egg

  2. November 8, 2017 at 2:52 am

    Reblogged this on 53 Dodge M-37 and commented:
    The egg is one of the most incredible pieces of food stuff that we get to play with as well as eat! I enjoy them at least three times a week by them selves.

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