Sunday, June 17, 2007

"Brown eggs are local eggs. . .











…and local eggs are fresh!” This jingle played over and over on the radio in the 1960s, and has, like all things vintage, recently made a comeback.
The eggs themselves, of course, have never gone out of style. Indeed, the Rhode Island Red hen, developed during the mid-nineteenth century in the Village of Adamsville, Little Compton, a stone’s throw from where I live, is an international celebrity. A so-called “dual purpose” chicken (eggs plus meat), the RI Red is known the world-round as a hardy, non-brooding (no one likes a depressed chicken), highly productive bird, yielding up to 300 eggs per year. We are terribly proud of our brown eggs here in Rhode Island. This includes me, raised on white eggs in New Jersey, and skeptical at first.
It’s an irrational pride, of course. Brown eggs are no different from white eggs, except for shell color. Red-eared chickens lay brown eggs and white-eared chickens lay white. The chemist tells us that, nutritionally, they are identical. Their greater expense is because of the larger size, and greater appetite, of the hens, not for any difference in quality. This is what the experts say. I say, don’t buy anything else. Brown eggs are local eggs, and local eggs are fresh. And the ones from your neighborhood farm have likely been fed differently, perhaps allowed to wander around free, and do taste better. Ask your farmer if his chickens are pastured, what he feeds them, and (for the reasons discussed below), when the eggs were laid.
Buy only clean, large, fresh eggs with intact shells. When you buy in a market, eggs will be labeled according to either U.S. Dept of Agriculture standards, or state standards; that is, not all eggs are USDA graded—in fact, only about a third of eggs sold. If you don’t see the USDA shield on your carton, then they are not. What this means is that your state may not require that you be informed where they were packed, or when. Almost all eggs carry a “sell by,” “good until,” or “expiration” date, but that is different (perhaps as long as 45 days) from the packing date, which is usually within a very few days of laying and is your key to freshness. The packing date is known as the “Julian Date” and is a three-digit code for the day of the year, from 001 to 365. So a Julian Date of 030 is January 30; if you buy your eggs on February 5, you know they were packed six days earlier, and laid perhaps 7-14 days before purchase. The packing location is a number beginning with P, which can be decoded at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/plantbook/Query_Pages/PlantBook_Query.asp. You can readily convert a Julian date at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/poultry/consumer/InterpretPackDate.htm. If the eggs you buy at the market lack these dates, contact your legislator and say you want them included in state standards; they do not translate into a cost difference.
Eggs are a natural topic for the ‘tween months, what with spring, rebirth, etc., and the reappearance of fresh eggs at the roadside. But they are a worthy subject in their own right, a perfect food that is at once the indispensable protein, leavener, and liquid in your kitchen. At only about 75 calories each, they are packed with nutrients, including 6 grams of the highest quality protein, complete with all essential amino acids, of any food.
In addition to their simple and unadorned selves, very fresh eggs are perfect for souffl├ęs, meringues, angel-food cake, and other good things requiring volume achieved by incorporating air into egg whites. Whether you use an electric mixer, a copper bowl and balloon wisk, or an old rotary beater, the transformation from cloudy, viscous liquid to opaque foam to shiny white fluff is truly magical. Very fresh eggs are also right for perfectly shaped, tender hard-boiled eggs (although they are harder to peel than older eggs, new eggs are “full,” not having yet lost some of their volume, so result in perfect ovals with centered yolks), which of course means egg salad or deviled eggs. Which brings us to mayonnaise, another fresh-egg essential.
Mayonnaise is a stable emulsion made by slowly beating oil into egg yolk and/or whole egg mixed with a small amount of acid—lemon juice or vinegar— and salt. You may see recipes calling for dry or prepared mustard, which some say assists in the emulsion, but I never use it in my basic mayo; you can always add prepared mustard to the finished product if you want it for, e.g., deviled eggs. Ditto for pepper. Mayonnaise is one of the “mother sauces” of cuisine, so-called because it forms the basis of numerous sauces and dressings, including classics like sauce remoulade or sauce ravigote.
During the summer, now hot on our heels, you will need loads of mayonnaise—for making potato salad with newly dug potatoes, creamy salad dressings like ranch or green goddess or thousand island, tartar sauce for lightly flour-dusted and fried scallops, sublime chicken salad, garlicky aioli for dipping vegetables or spreading on fish for grilling (as in the last post), and, of course, for tomato sandwiches and the divine summer BLT. You may as well make some right now.
Making Mayonnaise
You can make mayonnaise by hand with a whisk or rotary beater (although a beater takes both hands and makes it hard to add oil steadily), in a blender, or with an immersion blender or food processor. A food processor is the most sensible tool, and I particularly like a “mini” food processor for mayonnaise because they are just the right capacity for making a small quantity. Mine recently died, so I am using my full-size processor; just be very careful at the outset to get your emulsion going when you use a full-size processor to make fewer than 2 cups.
Most mayo recipes call for two fresh, large egg yolks for each 1-1/4 cups oil, but you can use only 1 yolk, or even 1 whole egg, or both, and any oil or combination of oils. It all depends on the taste and texture you are after: experiment to see what you like. Similarly, your acid can be lemon juice, any vinegar (even balsamic, which will produce a brownish but tasty product for flavorful foods), or combination, depending on what you’re going for. (Mayo in the photo was made with the yolk/whole combo, cider vinegar, and corn oil). I don’t recommend using 100% olive oil, particularly extra-virgin, unless making aioli; it is too strong, to say nothing of the cost. Even for aioli, a light olive oil mixed with another relatively neutral-tasting oil yields a more palatable product for some tastes; again, experiment. Keep your addition of vinegar or lemon while making mayonnaise to perhaps 2 teaspoons for these proportions while making it; once the emulsion is stable, you can thin or flavor your mayonnaise with more lemon or vinegar if you like. If your mayonnaise breaks at any point while making it, stop. Try whisking in a teaspoon of hot water (a method of thinning and bringing together the finished product as well), or use the standard fix: Treat the broken mayo as oil/vinegar, and start over: beat another egg yolk, and beat the broken mayo slowly in. It will come back together. But “breaking” is largely an issue of handmade mayonnaise; the food processor is virtually fool-proof.
Food safety issues around mayonnaise are associated with eggs themselves, and the risk of salmonella infection. You minimize this risk by buying top-quality, properly produced eggs. If your eggs are fresh, whole, clean, shell eggs bought from a reliable, preferably pastured, source and are stored and handled properly, mayonnaise presents no greater, and perhaps slightly less, risk than other raw or minimally cooked (below 140 F) egg products, such as some custards, meringue, or even a sunny-side up egg. In fact, mayonnaise is acid, and salmonella do not thrive in acid environments; if your eggs are safe, your mayonnaise is likely to be, too.
My Standard Mayonnaise
This makes approximately 1 ½ cups. Some variations are listed below the recipe.
1 yolk and 1 whole egg (large)
½ scant tea salt
2 ½ tea cider vinegar
1 ¼ cups corn oil
½ tea boiling water to finish
Have all ingredients at room temperature. Place egg yolk/egg in food processor with salt and half the vinegar. Pulse briefly. Through the feed tube, begin dribbling oil drop by drop with motor running, pausing from time to time to give it a chance to be absorbed. As the emulsion comes together, you can add the oil in a steadier stream, but still slowly. About half-way through, add half the remaining vinegar. When all oil has been added and you have a beautiful, creamy, glossy emulsion, add the remaining vinegar and ½ teaspoon boiling water, and pulse briefly. Taste for seasoning; if it needs more salt, dissolve a little in another ½ tea of boiling water and blend in. If not using immediately, store in glass jar in the refrigerator; properly made, it will mound softly but firmly. Homemade mayonnaise keeps well for up to two weeks, but is best if used sooner. Some permutations:
Herb mayonnaise: Use lemon instead of vinegar. Add 4 T chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as tarragon, chervil, parsley, chives, basil, or mint, to your taste, plus a little black pepper and extra lemon. You can add them at the beginning or to the finished product (preferred). Good for fish, vegetable, egg or cold meat salad, and tomato or onion sandwiches (yes, onion sandwiches).
Chutney mayonnaise: Mix a few tablespoons of homemade or store-bought chutney into a cup of mayonnaise for chicken salad. Nice twist for a Waldorf salad, too.
Tartar sauce: To one cup mayo, add 1 T each finely chopped sweet onion and parsley, and 2 T chopped dill pickles; stir in a little lemon juice and salt to taste. An optional addition is 1 T chopped capers. A classic for fried shellfish.
Other thoughts: Anything that will infuse flavor and not destabilize the emulsion can be added: fruit syrup or jam, horseradish, maple syrup, relish, chopped dried fruit, chopped nuts, grated cheese. Mayonnaise sweetened with minted fruit puree or syrup and lightened with whipped cream can be very nice on a cold, juicy fruit salad.
American Aioli
Makes 1 generous cup of thick sauce, suitable for a dip, my favorite use for aioli; it will absorb substantially more oil if you want it more fluid. You can also control texture with the water and lemon. For aioli, I prefer to form the emulsion without acid so I can control the taste and texture better, but you can add it with the yolks if you prefer. The soaked breadcrumbs of traditional Provencal aioli is omitted—this is really a garlic mayonnaise.
3 very fresh cloves garlic
2 egg yolks (all yolks preferred for this)
¾ cup extra-virgin (or lighter) olive oil
¼ cup corn oil
¼ tea salt
2 tea lemon juice and 1-2 T boiling water to finish
Crush/mash garlic to a paste with salt with a mortar and pestle, and add this to yolks in the food processor. Pulse briefly, then follow above directions for adding oil. When finished, blend in the lemon juice and boiling water to achieve the flavor and texture you want. Excellent with fish (salt cod is traditional), vegetables (particularly barely blanched carrots and green beans), fried foods of all kinds, or cold meat.

1 comment:

Mira8 said...

I remember that "brown eggs are local eggs" jingle from the 80s.