Egg basics

In my kitchen, being out of eggs is right up there with being out of onions, garlic, and chocolate!

The egg is packaged by nature to have a long shelf-life–as long as they are treated properly between hen and home.  I want the hen to be treated properly as well so I buy my eggs from the farmers’ market where I know the farmers.  That gives me better eggs–yellower yolks and more omega-3 fatty acids nutritionally, and better flavor.  (Cook’s Illustrated had a blind tasting of eggs with differing levels of omega-3 fatty acids and guess who won?  High omega-e fatty acids did give yolks a richer taste.) Color of the shell has nothing to do with quality of the egg–that has to do with the breed of chicken and how its diet.

The down side of eggs?  Well, there’s Salmonella but a little care is purchasing, storage, and cooking really takes care of that–buying fresh eggs from someone you know is a good start.  Your vendor should have the eggs refrigerated and you should keep them cool until you get to your refrigerator.

Once home, store eggs in the refrigerator, either in the carton or in a closed container.  If your refrigerator has those little plastic dents on the door to hold a dozen eggs, ignore it.  That’s not the place to store eggs for several reasons: it’s not cold and there are frequent temperature changes as you open the door.  Eggs need some protection to avoid moisture loss, and agitation of opening and closing the door can affect texture/consistency of the whites particularly.  You can also store eggs in a closed container to further retard moisture loss, but can accentuate

The expected “shelf-life” of eggs is really several weeks past the sell-by date (for supermarket eggs).  Eggs seldom spoil, although  some moisture loss will occur, nutritional value remains good for a long time–after all, think of the purpose of the egg.  Eggs can pick up odors in the refrigerator since the shells are porous.

Because of the potential for Salmonella food poisoning, eggs do need to be cooked carefully, but from one or two eggs anyone with a normal immune system is very unlikely to get Salmonella enteritis from a sunny-side, over-easy or soft-cooked egg if handled properly.  For one thing, egg dishes should be served promptly and not left sitting out.

For soft-cooked eggs, it is possible to “pasteurize” them by holding them at a temperature of 140 ° F for 30 minutes–this is a temperature that does not continue to harden the yolks, but will kill bacteria.  Eggs which reach a cooking temperature of 160 ° F are safe.

Sometimes you need to know egg sizes since they are not interchangeable. Harold McGee, in Keys to Good Cooking gives the following weights for egg sizes:

  • jumbo = 2.5 ounces or 70 grams
  • extra-large = 2.25 ounces or 63 grams
  • large = 2 ounces or 56 grams
  • medium = 1.75 ounces or 49 grams
These equivalents will let you correct for the size eggs that you have and what is called for in a recipe, since eggs purchased at the farmers’ market are not likely to be of uniform sizes.
For more detailed discussion of eggs, see Keys to Good Cooking and Kitchen Science by Harold McGee. There are also lots of fun and useful egg facts in these two books.

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