Food - The Amazing Egg

Where would we be without eggs? From the common hen's egg to the slightly rarer goose, duck and quail's eggs. Eggs are a part of our daily diet (except for those of us who embrace the Vegan philosophy and lifestyle) and are a major source of protein, vitamins and minerals such as B6, B12, iron, calcium, riboflavin, folic acid and potassium.

In the past, cardiologists encouraged heart patients to exclude eggs from their diet because of the perceived cholesterol levels. There now seems to be some argument about this, with some saying that little of the cholesterol from eggs is actually absorbed into the body and that it is mostly "good" cholesterol. However, with the prevalence of the prescription of cholesterol reducing drugs, it seems unlikely that a few eggs will do much harm, but that is between the patient and their doctor.

The number of dishes and indeed, whole meals, which can be made with eggs is numerous. Of course there are the normal omelettes, fried, scrambled, boiled and poached varieties, often eaten for breakfast, but a hard-boiled egg can liven up the most boring salad and is delicious mashed up with mayonnaise in a sandwich (particularly with cress).

Few cakes would be complete without eggs as they aid binding and rising. They are the major ingredient in mayonnaise (the yolk), meringue (the white), custards such as quiche, crème brulÃ(c)e and crème caramel and of course, the soufflÃ(c).

The most important property of eggs used in sauces and custards is their ability to emulsify (stabilise or blend) because they contain lecithin. An unstable emulsion would be vinaigrette dressing, so considered because the oil and vinegar will separate, so when making mayonnaise, it is the egg yolk (and mustard, which has similar properties) which holds the olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar together to make the smooth, creamy, end result.

The major part of the egg white or albumen is water, but it is the protein content which enables the white to retain air by forming a film around it when beaten, thus resulting in the light and airy dishes which are mousses, soufflÃ(c)s and meringues. It is possible, however, to over beat an egg so that it won't retain air and the result will be a rather soggy or heavy dish and in the case of a soufflÃ(c), it just won't rise.

Eggs go with many things but an impressive looking and easy to prepare dinner party starter is this:

Butter the inside of a miniature pudding basin or mould (you will need one for each person). Match the size of the bottom of the mould with a cutting ring and cut pieces of toast of that size. Use ready sliced brown or white bread. Put the toast in the bottom of the mould.

Line the inside of the mould with smoked salmon, overlapping the toast and making sure that there are no gaps. Break an egg into each mould, season with salt and pepper and a few chopped chives and put a spoonful of thick cream in each one.

Bake in a bain-marie in the oven at a medium heat for 10 - 15 minutes. This depends on the heat of the oven, the size of the eggs and whether you like your egg yolks to be set or still slightly runny. It might be wise to try this for yourself, before that important dinner.

Turn the moulds out onto plates and garnish with watercress, rocket or other leaves.

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About The Author, Michael Russell
Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to Food