chef tested hard to find and unusual products


ODE to the EGG

By Susanne E. Wilder

Here capers grace a sauce vermilion
Whose fragrant odours to the soul are blown
Here pungent garlic meets the eager sight
And whets with savour sharp the appetite,
While olives turn to shadowed night the day,
And seasoned egg in slices rims the tray.

Tenth Century Caliph Mustakfi's Dinner Party

Nature's perfect package in the dynamic symmetry of the egg is the symbol of a new beginning. Legends about eggs have proliferated throughout the eons. Early Phoenicians thought that a primeval egg split open to form heaven and earth; Native Americans believed that the Great Spirit burst forth from a giant golden egg to create the world. In all of the early legends the chicken is never mentioned, making the answer to the question of which came first the chicken or the egg-obvious. From appetizers to desserts and around the world in every cuisine, eggs feature as a delicious and nutritious ingredient. What other single natural food item has such a plethora of uses, enriching, thickening, glazing, leavening, lightening, binding and emulsifying? Every day part from breakfast to a late night supper often utilises the egg it's simply up to the cooks imagination.

Eggs and Cholesterol
In the past, the cholesterol in eggs has been their Achilles heel, forcing them onto diet 'Avoid' lists. Coupled to the demise of the cooked breakfast, this has seen egg consumption here in Australia plummet from a hearty 5 eggs per person per week in the 1940s to only just over two eggs today. Eggs in moderation are also good source of protein without a major problem of cholesterol.

Older figures from the 1960s had once pegged their cholesterol at 250-300 mg per egg, so one egg took you close to the National Heart Foundation's recommended limit of 300 mg a day. But more recent analyses place their cholesterol at only around 150- 200mg, much lower than earlier thought and much lower than other high-cholesterol items like brains, kidney, liver, prawns and calamari.

Unless you are one of those people genetically 'sensitive' to cholesterol, cholesterol from food does not automatically become cholesterol in the bloodstream. The main influences on blood cholesterol are heredity and saturated fats in the diet.

And eggs are not high in saturates. A medium 60gram egg has only 6 grams of fat. Of this, roughly less than 2 grams is saturated fat, with the remaining 4 grams being the healthy mono-unsaturates and polyunsaturates.

Packed with Goodness
For a very modest 355 kilojoules (85 calories), an egg gives you every vitamin except vitamin C and a host of essential minerals. Worth mentioning is vitamin B12, which is hard to obtain on vegetarian diets, and folate, a B vitamin which can help minimise birth defects.

Eggs are also a surprising source of two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, natural compounds related to the beta-carotene of carrots and usually found only in vegetables and fruits. These two anti-oxidants are now under study for their role in preventing macular degeneration of the eye, a common cause of blindness in people over 60, as well as other health ailments.

Types of Eggs The new feeds used with fish oils, flax or linseed add Omega 3's and reduce cholesterol by 300 mg to 150-200. Even sodium may be reduced to 50 from 70 milligrams in a regular egg by the feed alone. Hens fed on alfalfa, greens and corn produce a darker yolk. White or brown eggs are a byproduct of the breed, with no difference in nutritive value or taste.

Here is a list of the newest types of eggs available now for even greater health benefits and flavour. Side by side in a competitive taste test the rich flavour of the free-range Margaret River Eggs won hands down. Every recipe is thus enriched with greater flavour. Jan and Kim Harwood, report, Our 8 thousand free-range birds are happy hens and thus there is also a big difference in egg production.

Regular eggs Anything labelled as just 'eggs' comes from hens kept in small wire cages holding up to five birds (see label, right). Each bird has a minimum floor space of about 500 square centimetres the minimum height of the cage is 40 cm; just high enough for hens to stand up. Hens in cages have their beaks trimmed when in sheer frustration they peck at each other.

Barn-laid eggs These eggs come from chickens housed in large barns (below right), divided into pens, with each containing up to 1000 birds. They have the freedom to spread their wings, stretch and socialise, as well as dust-bathe, perch and scratch for food. Barn-laid egg producers are generally accredited by the RSPA, which endorses this system as a more humane alternative to the caged system. The RSPCA allows beak trimming, which is used in both the barn and cage systems as well as some free-range systems.

Free-range eggs These eggs come from hens that are free to move over an area of open ground during the day. In supermarkets you'll see a number of other eggs labelled as free-range from larger producers. Usually they're not certified and follow either their own internal free-range guidelines, or those of the Australian Egg Industry Association (AEIA). The AEIA guidelines are curious in that one guideline says beak trimming is not permitted while the very next says if the bird's welfare is at risk, minimal beak tipping is permitted. I reckon their welfare is at risk because the poor birds are squished into the cages!

Vegetarian eggs These eggs come from hens that are fed a diet with no meat or fish ingredients. Usually, the eggs come from caged birds, although the RSPCA recently endorsed some barn-laid vegetarian eggs. Free-range hens can't produce 'vegetarian' eggs because there's no way to control what they find or pull out of the ground to eat.

Omega-3 eggs These eggs come from hens that are fed a special diet containing a higher proportion of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, producing eggs with higher omega-3 fat content. 'Omega-3' eggs usually come from caged birds. Hens are fed a special diet based on canola and linseed to produce eggs that carry about 60 per cent more omega-3 fats than ordinary eggs. Their cholesterol is not altered but their type of fat is a healthier one. Omega-3 fats are important in the diet, but it's not easy to eat enough of them. They're good for the heart and can also lower blood pressure. The best source is fish and fish oil, and now eggs.

Despite these differences, all eggs have approximately the same amount of protein, total fat and cholesterol.

Eggs must always be refrigerated and in a closed container. When stored at room temperature, they lose more quality in a day than in a week in the refrigerator. The shells are semi-permeable and expose them to other odours and damage. Some engineer with no knowledge of good foods designed that ole egg container in the refrigerator door.

The principles of egg preparation are often overlooked in books and food service kitchens. Yet, what I learned at the Cordon Bleu and tested at Sunset Magazine, near San Francisco, has proved invaluable time and again.

Eggs definitely fit into fast and aesthetic appeal with imaginative techniques, variations of fillings, toppings and sauces. For example, a tender properly hard-cooked should never be boiled or called hard-boiled. A green sulphur ring around that yolk is a sure sign of overcooking or boiling. The best was is starting with cold water to cover eggs by 2-inches. Bring this, uncovered, to a boil on medium-high heat. Then cover, remove from heat and let cook 16-19 minutes in this hot water. Even the simple soft cooked egg can be prepared perfectly resting 3-5 minutes by the above method. Finish cooking process by running cold water over eggs.

• Australia produces around 200 million dozen eggs per year.

• The average Australian eats about 140 eggs a year.

• 92% of eggs are from battery (caged) hens, including 1% vegetarian and 2% omega-3 eggs; 2.5% are barn-laid and 5.5% are free-range, including 0.1% organic.

• There are about 1000 egg producers in Australia, but of these, eight producers own 45% of the flock.

• Barn-laid and free-range eggs cost around a dollar more per dozen than eggs from caged hens.

Until we eat again!
Susanne E. Wilder, CFE is a Home Economist (Washington State University), Reformed Cordon Bleu chef, nutrition consultant, food stylist for print and film, writer, author of 6 cookbooks, culinary consultant in the food industry, and web chef at Freemantle Markets with three decades of experience in the foodservice and consumer food segments. She will be teaching Culinary Courses at 19a Kunzea Place in January on Tuesdays, day and evenings!

Avocationally, Susanne is also a Hatha Yoga instructor, as well as a roller-blading, biking, kayaking, and fishing bon vivant! Currently she is working on new formulas and PR for specially selected clients, a murder food mysteries series, new cookbook and consulting for a variety of organic food clients. 0407 649 437 08 9756 8502


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