Egg-static About April
Spring has sprung and the hens are responding with loads of eggs. It’s an ideal time to discover the taste and health benefits of farm fresh eggs.
Article by P. Allen Smith | photo by Jane Colcasure
April is inextricably connected to eggs in my mind. Easter is one reason for this because the secular symbol of the holiday is an egg, signifying rebirth and new life. Raising chickens is another reason I associate eggs with this month. At my farm, we can hardly keep up with the number of eggs we’re collecting; spring’s longer days mean my chickens have increased their laying, after slowing down over the winter, and are producing vigorously.
Flavor and Nutrition
All those eggs my hens lay make their way to my kitchen where they get turned into quiches, omelets, frittatas and flans. Fresh eggs elevate these dishes to a marvelous level with their rich flavor. These eggs travel from the backyard to the table in the same day they’re laid. Not only do fresh eggs taste great, from a health standpoint, they pack serious benefits, containing less cholesterol, more A, D and E vitamins, and more omega-3s than traditional eggs produced in processing plants.
Backyard or Farmer’s Market
If you want to venture into the world of backyard poultry, give Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, White-faced Black Spanish or Buff Orpingtons a try. Leghorns are the best heritage breed for egg production and the other birds listed are also hardy egg-layers and have pleasant dispositions. However, if you’re not interested in raising backyard chickens of your own, don’t fret; you can still enjoy the flavor and health benefits of fresh eggs. Drop by the local CSA and see what’s available. Farmer’s markets are another good place to find local, fresh eggs. Even some grocery stores are beginning to carry fresh eggs. Check and see.
While chicken eggs are the most popular and traditional eggs in the cooking arena, they do not lack contemporaries. Duck, goose and quail eggs also contribute to the kitchens of the world. Now, I’m a poultry lover, so I also raise ducks and geese, and along the way, I’ve discovered a few differences between their eggs and those of my chickens. Duck eggs, for instance, have a shell that is thicker and harder than that of a chicken. Additionally, they possess a somewhat stronger flavor, firmer texture and a larger, thicker yolk. Duck eggs are higher in albumen and fat, resulting in a creamy texture desirable to chefs who bake with them for fluffier and richer cakes, pastries and custards. Interestingly enough, individuals who are allergic to chicken eggs may find they can eat duck eggs without a problem. Similarly, goose eggs boast a rich flavor, thanks to their diet of foraged foods, and the fist-sized, thick-shelled eggs are about 2 to 4 times the size of a chicken egg with a slightly larger yolk, proportionally, and thicker whites. Chefs often use goose eggs to make pasta or in dishes that require a large number of eggs. Hard boiled goose eggs can also be found sliced across salads or served with asparagus and have a very strong “egg” flavor. On the other end of the size spectrum, stands the quail egg, a miniature delicacy. The main draw of quail eggs is their diminutive size; on a small open-face sandwich like a croque madame, the tiny eggs are a novelty. As far as taste goes, quail eggs do not differ much from chicken eggs, so again, they are mostly used in dishes where their bite-sized appeal is showcased best, like in appetizers or a fancy add-on( think a petite egg on a salad, seafood or gourmet pizza), rather than dishes like frittatas.
Tips for selecting and storing fresh eggs
Eggs need to be stored properly to preserve their integrity. Now what that entails is the subject of great debate. On one side, proponents of leaving fresh eggs at room temperature rally and on the other, champions of cool-storage techniques assemble. The “warm-eggers” say cool eggs don’t bind as well in baking, lose flavor in the fridge and that fresh, free-range eggs can keep for up to a week at room temperature, especially if they have not been washed. Washing eggs removes a thin membrane called the bloom which prevents bacteria from entering the porous shell. Most cookbooks advocate storing eggs at a temperature under 40 degrees, i.e. the fridge, where they can last up to five weeks.
If you’re up to your neck in eggs, you’ll want to learn to pick fresh ones and how to avoid the bad ones, pun intended. There are a few ways to asses an egg’s freshness. One indicator is the yolks, which flatten and spread out more as they age. Another option is the water test. A fresh egg will sink in water, but an older one will float. Most importantly, avoid eating eggs that have cracks in them and to preserve flavor, store eggs away from potent foods like garlic as they can absorb the flavor.
P. Allen Smith is an award-winning designer, gardening and lifestyle expert and host of two public television programs, Garden Home and Garden to Table, and the syndicated 30-minute show P. Allen Smith’s Garden Style. Smith is one of America’s most recognized and respected design experts, providing ideas and inspiration through multiple media venues. He is the author of the best-selling Garden Home series of books. Allen is also very active on social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Learn more at www.pallensmith.com.