Welcome to week 2 of my cooking techniques course. Last week was knife skills. This week, eggs.
Of course, I walked into class this morning with all of my very very very dull knives to sharpen. Brian, one of the school’s purchasing managers and my new best friend, sharpened all my knives for me. But more on that later.
First, let’s get to the food.
A few tidbits about eggs. The fresher the egg, the thicker and more dense the white (“albumen”) and the more prominent the little umbilical cord (“chalazae”). To check for freshness before cracking, place in a glass of water – if it sinks it’s fresh; if it floats, that means that the air cell (that little bubble you sometimes see in hard-cooked eggs) is big and the egg is less fresh. Since eggs shells are gas permeable, the older the egg, the more air enters, creating a big air cell.
Always crack an egg on a flat surface (a countertop is great) to avoid getting shells in the eggs.
Separate yolks from whites using your hand rather than passing from jagged egg shell to jagged egg shell.
Eggs boil at 180ºF, water at 212ºF. So be careful when adding eggs to hot water and other liquids if you don’t want them to scramble.
Always beat egg whites at room temperature. Copper bowls are best, but if you don’t have one, add a pinch of cream of tartar or sugar to help stabilize the whites.
We cracked and cooked no less than sixty eggs, folks. That’s more than five dozen. And we definitely cracked five baker’s dozen because some of them inevitably made it into the garbage. Between the twelve of us, we pretty much ate them all. If you’re counting, that’s about 5 eggs per person.
When I was first learning to speak French, my teacher used English-French puns to help us learn pronunciation. In french, un œuf is an egg. The pronunciation is not entirely obvious, especially when you’ve only barely mastered the alphabet. So she told us, “one egg is enough.” One egg, un œuf is pronounced like “enough.” Sort of. If you don’t think about it too hard.
Puns are never funny by the time you explain them.
Moving on and back to cooking, we started class this morning with a few egg basics.
Note, I did not say hard-boiled eggs. Because hard-cooked eggs are not boiled. Instead, you put the eggs in a single layer, add water to cover eggs by at least 1 inch, cover and bring water to a boil and then remove the pan from the heat. Let eggs stand in hot water for 10 minutes. That’s it. Run under cold water or put in an ice bath until completely cooled. A little trick – the air cell usually forms at the bottom (the fat end), and if you crack it there, it’s easier to peel because you more easily get under the shell membrane (that thin, translucent film under the shell).
Soft-cooked (“coddled”) eggs.
Same as hard-cooked, but you let the eggs stand in the water off the heat for only 4-6 minutes.
This is the basis of the eggs Benedict (no bacon for me) that my team made. In a saucepan, bring 2-3 inches of water to a boil. Here’s a trick so you don’t have to pull out your ruler: unless you have abnormally long or short fingers, your index finger is about 3 inches from tip to palm. From finger tip to second joint is about 1.5 inches. So, just stick your finger into the (not yet boiling) water to make sure you have enough (un œuf!).
Prepare a bowl of ice water next to your stove. Boil the water and then lower the heat to a simmer. Break a cold egg into a small bowl. Hold the bowl very close to the water (I actually put the bottom of the bowl into the water) and quickly tip the egg into the simmering water. Cook until the white is set and yolk begins to thicken but is not hard. This takes about 3-4 minutes. To test the egg, gently lift it out with a slotted spoon and gingerly touch the white. It should feel firm. If it’s not yet done, slip it back in to the simmering water for another 15-30 seconds. When the egg is ready, take it out of the simmering water and slide it into the ice water for about half a minute to stop the cooking. Then drain on a paper towel.
To make the eggs benedict, toast an English muffin brushed with butter, top with poached egg and then hollandaise (see below). If you’re eating bacon/ham, put it between the muffin and egg.
Next, we moved on to egg-based “mother sauces.” The main components of hollandaise and mayonnaise are egg yolk, fat, acid, and an emulsifying aid. Hollandaise is a cooked sauce, mayonnaise is uncooked. Hollandaise uses butter, lemon juice, and cayenne. Mayonnaise uses oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and mustard (dry or prepared). After mixing the yolks with the acid and emulsifier, add the fat very slowly. Really slowly. Teaspoon by teaspoon, and whisk to incorporate in between additions. You can increase the amount of fat towards the end, adding a tablespoon at a time. Season with salt and pepper and other flavorings at the end.
Melt 8 ounces butter. In a saucepan, mix together 1/4 C water, 2 T lemon juice and a pinch of cayenne pepper and reduce over medium heat down to 2 T. Why take 2 T lemon juice, dilute it, and then reduce it back to 2 T? Here’s the deal: heating an acid activates it, so you need to dilute it with water so it’s not too strong, but you only want about 2 T of acid for the sauce. Cool slightly, and whisk in 3 egg yolks over very low heat until the mix is thick and creamy. Remove from heat and pour warm melted butter in teaspoon by teaspoon, whisking constantly. If the sauce thickens too much, add a little warm water to thin it out; if you need to reheat the sauce, add some extra water and warm over low heat, whisking periodically.
Whisk together 2 egg yolks, 1/4 t dry mustard (or 1 t regular mustard), 1 t lemon juice or wine vinegar. Slowly whisk in 1 C vegetable oil teaspoon by teaspoon as with the hollandaise. If the mix gets too thick, add a little water or lemon juice to dilute. Add salt to taste.
A few mayo notes. The ratio of yolk:oil ranges from 1:1/2 C to 1:1 C. Commercial mayo tends to go to heavy on the oil — that’s why it’s lighter colored than ones you make at home. If you “break” your mayonnaise, i.e., added your fat too quickly without incorporating, you can add another egg yolk and then slowly slowly whisk in more oil.
Mix cooked egg yolks with mayonnaise, mustard, and finely chopped chives and fill hard-cooked egg whites for deviled eggs.
Cheese soufflé was a masterpiece. While I wasn’t able to make this myself, I was an interloper, trying to pick up as many tips as I could.
For a soufflé, it’s important to have your “mise en place” all prepared. Greasing a soufflé dish and sprinkle with cheese. Make a collar out of aluminum foil to help the soufflé rise: rip a piece of foil long enough to wrap around the dish, and then grease top half of the foil, followed by a sprinkle of cheese. Cut a piece of string long enough to tie around the dish.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. (For a dessert soufflé, bake at 400ºF because you want the inside to be a bit gooey.)
Then make a béchamel. In a saucepan, scald 1 C milk (it’s scalding when you stick your finger in and you yank it out because it’s too hot; no need to boil). In another saucepan, make a roux by melting 3 T butter until foam subsides and whisk in 3 T flour. Cook roux for ~ 2 minutes while whisking. Add half the scalded milk, whisk, and then add the remaining milk and whisk again. Bring to a boil while stirring, reduce down to a simmer, and cook until thickened. Then turn off the heat. Season with salt, pepper, a few grates of nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne. (Nutmeg is a great complement to dairy, making cream creamier and cheese cheesier.)
To the béchamel, add 3 egg yolks one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in 1/2 C grated cheese (we used Gruyère).
Clean a copper bowl really well – wipe down with a vinegar-salt solution, rinse with water, and wipe completely dry. Beat 4 cold egg whites until stiff and glossy. (Let’s be honest…at home, I will probably just use my mixer with a pinch of cream of tartar.) Stir 1/4 of the egg whites into the cheese mixture. Then pour the cheese mixture into the egg whites. Use a spatula to fold the remaining egg whites into the cheese.
Immediately and gently, spoon the soufflé mixture into the prepared dish – fill about 1/2 inch from top. Tie the aluminum collar around the dish (cheese obviously facing in).
Bake on the bottom rack until a skewer comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Once the soufflé goes in the oven, don’t open the door for at least 20 minutes. Don’t even touch the door.
While the soufflés were baking, I brought my knives downstairs for a little sharpening. Actually I brought two blocks full of knives (one dairy, one meat) to sharpen. Actually, I brought two blocks full of knives for Brian to sharpen. After a quick inspection, he identified the five that were worth saving. He also scolded me for throwing my knives in the dishwasher.
Brian sharpened each knife on three or four surfaces and then a final honing on a steel. I watched. Well, until I heard that the soufflés were coming out of the oven and I rushed upstairs to snap a few photos.
We also made a few quiches, a frittata di cipolle (onion omelette), and pipérade and scrambled egg (a dish from the Basque region of the Pyrenees). To seal the deal, we made strawberry basil black pepper ice cream.
Luckily, we don’t have to clean all of our own dishes. Because you know how I hate to wash dishes.
Are you ready for another FrEnglish pun?
What happened when three cats fell in the lake?
Un deux trois quatre cinq
Get it? You probably know that un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq is counting from one to five in French. But in FrEnglish, you can read the first three words in French as un de trois, meaning one of three and the last two words transliterated into English as cats sank. So, what happened when the three cats fell in the lake? One of the three cats sank.
Am I the only one giggling?
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