cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

In a Perfect World

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.


Aran said...

this was quite the history lesson on eggs. love it! i have an egg for breakfast every morning. yes, i love eggs. i love looking at eggs, eating them, baking with them... we consume large amounts of eggs in my family. and my favorite way to eat them? fried in olive oil accompanied by homemade fries and good chorizo!!! and of course, one must dip the fries in the runny yolk... oh heaven!!!

Núria said...

What a master on Eggs!!!! I love the way you adapted the words to the post theme :D

Olé tus huevos, Mallory! Beautiful pictures too. Have you thought about sending them over to foodgawker or tastespotting?

Only the yolk contains cholesterol. And the majority of fat is insaturated (healthy one). Plus we only absorb 40% of cholesterol, the rest is gone through our evacuating system... Let's Eat Eggs!!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, WHERE did you get those egg cups??? They are TOO CUTE for words!! :)

Núria said...

I'm in eggstasy!!! Your photo is in Foodgawker :D

Mallory Elise said...

katie--of course it is from paris. Genevieve Lethu, I think they have stores all over now, but mine was on Rue de Rennes, i walked by it everyday to school, and this little egg cup called me and said i'm yours, come in and get me! that's how you find an egg cup.

thanks Nuria! i had no idea what foodgawker was prior

Christy said...

Hey...sorry I've been mia from your blog (and mine too for that matter). assignments and work have been seriously killing me. Plus I'm getting ready for a much needed holiday in 2 weeks' time. Yay!!

But anyway, I love perfectly soft boiled eggs. Probably because they are about the hardest thing to get right in cooking, and I'm a bit of a masochist. I could never. My boyfriend could though. So go figure.

Oh one thing you didn't mention is Chinese preserved eggs, or century eggs, as they are more dramatically called. It's one of the yummiest, but also strangest manifestation of the egg I have ever seen. Seriously. Go check it out, then run down to a good Chinese restaurant and have a bowl of pork congee with preserved egg. Then you'll know what I mean

pea & pear said...

The egg. It certainly is a little gift isn't it.. and to think I used to hate them... what an ungrateful wench ;) Even though I hate things tasting 'eggy' I must confess I love the egg!!!

Leonor de Sousa Bastos said...

I was reading your profile and I loved the fact that you pretend to speak portuguese!! :)

You were the only one to understand my disappointment about my berliners filling... I'm sure you're more portuguese than what you "pretend" to be! :)

Thank you!!

I loved your blog and the crash course on eggs!

kittie said...

What a wonderful first post to read from your blog! I love the history - as well as your short explanation on how to find and egg cup ;)

In fact, I had soft boiled eggs with toast and peppered cured ham for tea last night - so simple, so tasty!

thegreyrainbow said...

I LOVE the plate with the toasts ("Cheers! A la vie!") along the edge. Wherever did you get it?

Sylvia said...

Congratulation,great and interesting post, I love the cup eggs are so cute

Katie said...

How cool! I never thought about why chicken eggs are the most commonly consumed. I love all of the photos!

Núria said...

(shaking your shoulder) Hey Mallory! Wake up! I miss your posts!!!!! Are you still there?
Hasta pronto :D