Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
‘THE egg,” said one famous French chef, “is the cement that holds all the castle of cookery together.”
How true. As chefs, Joe Famularo and Louise Imperiale wrote in their collaborative book, The Festive Famularo Kitchen: “We couldn’t cook without them.”
The two authors pointed out, “Eggs whip into Italian zabaglione, French mayonnaise and American baked Alaska. They are indispensable as lightening, thickening, binding, and enriching agents. They are necessary for cutlets, fritters and custards; in garnishings, salads and dressings; in sauces and soups. They clarify liquids. They become main dishes. They scramble, fry, boil, poach and bake.”
In the Philippines, hard-cooked eggs are quite common. They are one of the important ingredients in such popular dishes as morcon, pansit malabon, luglug, pansit bihon, sarciado, galantina, tamales and potato salad.
A close look at the egg shows that it is “almost the perfect food”: a large chicken egg has 75 calories, 6 grams of protein, 215 milligrams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of potassium, and 1 gram of carbohydrate.
An egg also contains 4.5 grams of fat, including 1.5 grams of saturated fat, along with varying amounts of 13 vitamins – including iron, phosphorus, and magnesium – and numerous minerals. Except for vitamin C, an egg has just about everything.
When you eat an egg, you won’t waste anything – except the shell. You can fully digest the contents without much ado. By the way, you can also eat the shell if you want to; after all, it’s an excellent source of calcium.
Eggs can be included in almost everyone’s diet. Easily digested, they are one of the first solid foods fed to infants and to the ill and convalescent. Eggs also aid rapid growth in children and teenagers and provide quick, easily prepared meals for adults and the elderly.
Despite all these, eggs are still the much-maligned food. “Go easy on eggs,” advised those Americans who considered eggs to have contained high cholesterol. Listen to the explanation of Linda Braun, the consumer services manager for the American Egg Board: “When the cholesterol scare started in the ‘80s, eggs were an easy target. Americans like to think if they can remove just one thing from their diet, everything will be all right. Unfortunately, eggs were that one thing.”
Filipinos followed suit. “I don’t eat eggs because my American friends told me they contain high level of cholesterol,” explains a former fashion model.
But then, that’s jumping to a conclusion without knowing the actual facts. Unknown to many, 100 grams of eggs has only 144 calories, compared to salmon, 203; ham, 374; cheddar cheese, 398; and hamburger, 377.
Salmonella poisoning is another thing. Contaminated eggs, we all heard, were causing several cases of food poisoning each year. Granted, the illness ware rarely fatal, but it still guaranteed a bout of high fever, intestinal misery, and days of down time on the couch.
Again, let’s get the facts on the table: Some eggs do harbor salmonella bacteria. Some people get sick from eating them. But even a daily eggs-over-easy lover runs an extremely low risk.
You see, when an egg forms inside the chicken, relatively few bacteria are passed along. Yet, it takes millions – maybe billions – of bacteria to produce symptoms in a healthy person. Bacterial population booms are rare in any new-laid egg because fresh egg white is “bacteriostatic” – meaning it won’t permit bacteria to multiply.
Experts, however, advised that young children, the elderly, and people with illnesses or immune-system problems should probably stick to well-cooked eggs.
How can you determine if an egg is fresh or not? Well, an egg is fresh if it has the following characteristics:
1. The egg has cloudy or milky white color. The cloudiness indicates that the carbon dioxide naturally present in a newly laid egg has not yet escaped as a gas through the shell. As the gas escapes, the whites become clearer.
2. A fresh egg will cover only a small area in the frying pan because its white is still thick and large and stands high and firm around the yolk. The amount of thick white decreases the longer the egg is stored, and the egg tends to spread and cover more surfaces on the pan.
3. The shell of a boiled fresh egg does not peel easily. The longer an egg is stored, the more it loses its carbon dioxide content and becomes easier to peel when cooked.
4. The cord-like formation that you see in an egg white, called challaza by scientists, anchors the yolk on both sides while the egg is developing. The challaza disappears as the egg grows older.
5. To test an egg for freshness, put it in a pan of water. If still fresh, the egg will sink; if no longer fresh, it will float.
Now, which came first – the egg or the chicken? Most scientists say the chicken. Those who argue that it’s the egg say it has something to do with Adam being created first. But that’s another story.