Best laid plans

The Saturday Paper - - Food -

Eggs. They are fun­da­men­tal to my style of cook­ing and have been a much-loved hu­man food source since the dawn of hu­mankind. To­day, the most com­mon egg we eat is the chicken egg. So, what ac­tu­ally makes up an egg? The shell, the white and the yolk, all held to­gether by a few mem­branes. The white of the egg – or the al­bu­men – is 90 per cent wa­ter and 10 per cent pro­tein. It acts as a pro­tec­tive layer for the yolk and a food source for em­bry­onic chick­ens. The yolk – or the vitel­lus – is a mix­ture of pro­tein, choles­terol, car­bo­hy­drates and fat.

A hen is born with all the ova she will ever pro­duce, and as each one “ripens” it is re­leased into the oviduct where eggs as we know them are formed. Once re­leased it takes a jour­ney last­ing about 26 hours through the hen’s oviduct to form the egg with its hard shell. Some breeds, such as the Aus­tralorp, can lay an egg a day, while the more dainty breeds are lucky to lay more than 50 eggs a year. All of this is due to the ge­net­ics of each breed of chicken. I keep sev­eral breeds of hens, sim­ply to get dif­fer­ent coloured eggs. The eggs with dif­fer­ent coloured shells are all the same on the in­side, but it is the bird’s ge­net­ics that cre­ate the egg colour. I have an Aus­tralian ver­sion of the French Marans that lay dark brown eggs, tiny lit­tle Columbian Wyan­dotte ban­tams that lay white eggs, Arau­canas that lay blue eggs and some Aus­tralorp–Arau­cana crosses that lay green eggs.

All eggs start out white. Those that are laid in shades other than white have pig­ments de­posited on them as the eggs travel through the hen’s oviduct. My Arau­canas de­posit the pig­ment oocyanin into the egg as it trav­els along. This pig­ment per­me­ates the form­ing shell and the re­sult­ing egg has a shell that is blue on the in­side and the out­side. My Marans hens de­posit the pig­ment pro­to­por­phyrin very late in the process and thus only colour the out­side of the shell, leav­ing the in­side white. Of­ten this colour can be scrubbed off a lit­tle in the clean­ing. Cross­ing birds that lay blue eggs with ones that lay brown eggs gives a green egg where the brown is laid over the blue.

After all that ef­fort on the hen’s be­half, it seems such a shame to just crack the shell and empty its con­tents into a bowl. Some­times it is lovely to just stop and marvel at it be­fore you pro­ceed to whip up the next sponge or poach some eggs.

An omelette is as good a dish as any to make the most of fresh eggs. For each omelette I like to use three eggs, cream, salt and pep­per, a gen­er­ous amount of chopped spring herbs and a lit­tle hand­ful of gruyere. A good, sturdy pan is es­sen­tial.

Here are some cu­ri­ous but use­ful egg facts from the kitchen. If you have abun­dant whites, keep them in the fridge or the freezer and re­mem­ber that one egg white is 30 millil­itres. Cus­tards start to thicken at 70ºC but will cur­dle above 80ºC. As an egg gets older, the yolk ab­sorbs more and more wa­ter from the white, mak­ing it less round and much more dif­fi­cult to poach per­fectly. And, it is said that the modern egg car­ton was de­signed in Bri­tish Columbia in 1911 by Joseph Coyle. What town did

Coyle hail from? None other than Smithers.

Pho­tog­ra­phy: Earl Carter

AN­NIE SMITHERS is the owner and chef of du Fer­mier in Tren­tham, Vic­to­ria. She is a food ed­i­tor of The Satur­day Pa­per.

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