'An egg is always an adventure', said Oscar Wilde1. An adventure and a meal. 'If you have an egg in the house, you have a meal in the house', is one of the better truisms.
Eggs, the oval reproductive body of a fowl - especially a hen - are used as a key ingredient in everything from angel cake2 to zabaglione3. They help cakes to rise, sauces to thicken and crumb coats to stick as well as making meals for all occasions.
A wire basket piled high with eggs adds a nice countrified touch to the kitchen, but the fact is that eggs keep much better in the fridge, especially during warm weather. Our ancestors, before refrigeration, stored eggs in ash.
Fresh eggs tend to do a superior job, though eggs that are only just past their use-by-date can still be used so long as you cook them well.
Bad eggs are rare these days, but you'll know when you strike one.
Consumers in Britain and America have been warned off using raw or very lightly cooked eggs because they can carry a salmonella bug that causes food poisoning. New Zealanders and Australians can still enjoy home-made mayonnaise, however, because that particular strain of bacteria hasn't been found inside eggs in the South Pacific. If in doubt, cook your eggs thoroughly is a sensible rule to follow.
Cracked eggs are a bit more risky though, and should be restricted to things that are going to be thoroughly cooked - fruit cakes for instance. Dirty eggs can be contaminated on the outside too, and should be washed in warm water and dried just before using - unwashed eggs have a natural protective coating that helps keep them fresh.
The colour of an egg yolk can vary from the palest yellow to deep orange but it makes no difference to the flavour or nutritional value of the egg. Neither does the colour of the shell, which comes out brown or white according to the kind of hen that laid it.
Master the basic methods of boiling, baking, poaching, frying and scrambling eggs, and you'll always be able to whip up a quick snack at a more modest cost than most so-called convenience foods. Scrambled eggs that burn onto the base of your pot can be a curse. Turning down the heat so they cook as slowly as possible helps, but a good non-stick pan is the real answer. The more you pay and the better you treat it, the longer a non-stick finish is likely to last. So don't use metal utensils in the pan, and avoid excessive heats.
Soggy poached eggs are a turn-off, so try these tips: Use fresh eggs so the white stays good and firm. Add salt and a dash of vinegar or lemon juice to the cooking water, which should be gently simmering as you add the eggs. And when you lift eggs out, blot up excess moisture with a paper towel.