Chef Fehmi: Incredibly edible eggs

Chef Fehmi Khalifa

Since the great culinary era of the French chef Auguste Escoffier, eggs have occupied a very special corner in international gastronomy. Most home cooks view them as the easiest of foods to prepare.

However, experienced chefs consider eggs complex and deceivingly delicate. In fact, to them, the journey from an apprentice to an executive chef is not complete without mastering the intricacies of eggs. So let us go on an edible journey to unravel the egg mystique and expose its secrets altogether.

This incredible oval culinary gift packs enough protein punch to knock out the most expensive cuts of meat. In its simple applications, it can be hard boiled to perfection in salted water in just 10 minutes. It can be pan-fried on medium-low heat to deliver an energizing breakfast in less than 5 minutes. Or, it can be poached in simmering acidulated water until the succulent yolk becomes enrobed in an ivory blanket of pure albumin.

The more complex nature of eggs lies in their extreme sensitivity to temperature, fat and acid. For instance, if the egg whites are cold, straight from the refrigerator, they will never rise to the meringue-peak occasion. Similarly, yolks and fats can form great emulsion partnerships only if a balance between the two is respected; 3 ounces of fat is the maximum quantity a yolk can absorb.

Other things you should consider when you pick up this small little jewel is that the yolk packs approximately 70 calories, it is rich in calcium, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin A all of which are essential to our bodies well-being. Keep in mind if you have high cholesterol, you should use the egg whites only and avoid the yolks, as they are high in cholesterol.

Eggs, particularly yolks, are the backbone of sweet and savory custards. Whether you are making a flan, a quiche or an ice cream base, the rule is the same, low and slow. Egg yolks are very sensitive to sudden heat change. Therefore, it is imperative for the yolks to loosen up while they gradually warm up in order to dissolve into custard. Abrupt bursts of heat will cause the yolks to scramble and lose their thickening properties.

Americans consume eggs every day by themselves not to mention in the numerous other items we eat such as in batters, cakes, ice creams, mousses, soufflés, dressings and sauces. To enjoy this culinary treasure in more ways than just poached, fried or scrambled, you need to understand some basic rules, and with a little practice, you can conquer this corner in gastronomy with ease.

1. For the perfect hard boiled egg: Gently lower the eggs in salted boiling water for 10 minutes then cool them down in an ice bath. Lengthy cooking changes the appearance of the yolk from bright yellow to copper color.

2. For the perfect poached eggs: Break the eggs one at a time in a bowl and drop them gently in acidulated (citrus juice or vinegar) simmering water till the egg white solidifies — 3 to 4 minutes. For the perfect shape, swirl the simmering water before adding the eggs, this twister effect spins the egg and reshapes it perfectly.

3. For the perfect pan-fried eggs: Use a non-stick pan set on medium-low heat and enough melted butter to brush the pans surface. Cover with a lid if you desire sunny side up or flip eggs for the ultimate over easy eggs.

4. For the perfect omelet: Whip the eggs for 5 minutes and add 1 tablespoon of cream per egg, then cook slowly in a non-stick pan with melted butter on medium-low heat. Using a heat resistant rubber spatula stir the bottom up until most of the eggs are set. Add the fillings and fold in two.

5. For dressings and sauces such as Caesar dressing, mayonnaise, Hollandaise and Béarnaise: Add the oil or melted butter to the beaten yolks at a very slow steady stream especially in the beginning. Too fast a stream or too much oil or fat will result in separated ingredients. Remember 3 ounces of fat or oil is the maximum amount a yolk can handle.

6. For the perfect sauces such as Zabaglione and Crème Anglaise or any other type of custard: Tempering of the egg yolks is the key. By tempering I mean bringing the temperature of the yolk gradually up for it to relax and loosen up and therefore completely integrate into the flavored milk or cream. It is this yolk metamorphosis that gives the custard its smooth silky texture.

Eggs are simple, versatile and nutritious yet complex in their reactions to heat, fat and acids. If you follow my simple instructions, your egg intimidation will vanish forever!

Bon Appètit!

Chef Fehmi is owner of Your Own Personal Chef, a caterer and a cooking instructor. Visit, e-mail or call 508-951-4901.