there are eggsHow eggstraordinary, eggcelent, eggceptional--are there not but one thousand corny though cliche options to form a cheeky yet oh so clever jeux des mots with the incredible edible egg? That eggsasperating debate of who preceded who, the chicken or the egg? And did the chicken really only cross the road to get to the other side? The idioms endure endlessly toward eggsaustion. But what can be said of the egg in praise, in gratitude?--an egg arrives as a friendly feast: smooth- no hard edges, gentle and kind. Oval and wobbly- a personification of a laugh. Small- portable for those in and for those out. Versatile- a thousand and one possibilities for preparation. Vital- if lacking the world of baking would forever stand at a still. Constant- no matter where in the world, the egg may be prepared differently, but it is always the same recognizable egg. Happy- a bright spotted sunshine in a pillow of whispering white clouds. The egg is perfect. Consumed universally world wide in myriad shapes, sizes, and colors continually through the centuries. A gem in the world of gastronomy. So we give our friend a nod. On y va.
There is no point on the human timeline to place the dawn of egg-consumption. In our modern time the most commonly consumed egg is the chicken egg, though other fowl and reptile eggs are common edibles in variant regions around the world. Why the chicken? Food historians attribute the preference to the birds domestication in China around 1500bc. Domesticated fowl for the purpose of egg cultivation took place in ancient civilizations all over the globe; in Egypt and throughout the middle east evidence of ostrich and pigeon egg consumption has been discovered as well as evidence of eggs used as binders in baking. The Romans ate peafowl eggs, and were later introduced to the chicken by the English, Gauls, and Germanic tribes. And the American chicken? Whence did he cometh?
Obviously the chicken and the egg arrived on American shores with Christophe in the north and the Portuguese and Spanish colonizers in the south around the 1500's. Or did they? Over the past few years the chicken story of the Americas has been under heated debate as archaeologists and historians ponder the notion of a pacific migration of the bird--or rather introduced to the people of Peru by the Polynesians two hundred years prior to Spanish conquest. A continued historic debate? Yes. Either way, the chicken made it, so why did the chicken cross the (both) ocean? Why to get to the Americas of course where combined North and South America today produce more chickens and eggs than anywhere else in the world. cluck cluck.
The egg has a world history of consumption, hence what follows is a world history of its preparation. In America the preferred egg of choice is the scramble or omelet, though over easy, sunny side up, eggs Benedict, and hard boiled all take close seconds. In France the egg is enjoyed unanimously either semi-soft boiled in an egg cup (oeuf a la coque), or as egg en cocotte, a mixture of egg and cream baked in a ramekin. Marbled eggs are popular in China, a cracking of the shell half way through the boiling process followed by saturation in a combination of tea, soy sauce, and spices creates a visual veining affect, complete with dipping sauce. Americans are all too familiar with Mexican huevos rancheros, and egg custards are found throughout Europe and Asia, as is the white-only whipped confection of meringue. Oeuf, æg, ovo, ei, huevo, we all love eggs for better or for worse.
The iconic and cultural image of the egg is one of, obviously, nourishment, fertility, and life. A magical power? A charm of fertility, of luck? Jack found his lucky goose who laid for him the golden eggs. Around the world for Easter and celebrations of springtime and rebirth we paint eggs in colors of every hue, and at the same time form their likeness from chocolates and candies of every kind. What is more fun than the egg toss competition at a festival? Does the egg indeed have mystical healing powers for a hangover? Perhaps we merely covet their simplicity yet grand ability to provide so much for so little. In the United States eggs are a relatively inexpensive grocery, but the amount of protein and nutrients proffered are extraordinary.
The dark horse on the back of the egg however is that nagging little word; cholesterol. Eggs are high in cholesterol, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is bad for you. Blood cholesterol does not increase by consuming cholesterol, but rather by high consumption of processed flour, sugar and fat. How about that. Gluten frees of the world, we win, in the end. So the egg is healthy, the egg is satisfying, and the egg is healing. Whether chocolate or not.
How do we at the Salty Cod prefer our eggs? Many ways over, though above all others soft boiled, in a egg cup. The white becomes hard, and the yellow remains viscous though cooked. Sprinkled with salt, with paprika, with whatever is always a smooth creamy texture that though short, is worth it. As Clotilde Dussolier says in her books, ouefs a la coque will cheer you up as you hack off their heads. Louis XVI is said to have been very gifted at the egg hat removal technique, Louis being the one who popularized the now house hold necessity that is the egg cup; the singularly most important piece of personal dishware one will ever own in a lifetime. You do not have an egg cup? There is still time, though you must hurry.
Eggs in my household?--well there are now a lot of eggs to be eaten by my darling friends and house mates. that is for certain. Happy, healthy, and healing. Eggs could feed the world, but sadly they don't. I guess our world is not perfect after all. But there's still time damn it. Inside every egg is a little sunshine waiting to get out. Help it. Boil an egg for a friend.
So why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side. Smart poulet. We'll follow suit. Just make sure to look both ways. cluck cluck.