Don't tell James Beard Award-winning food writer Michael Ruhlman that eggs are trending.
True, he's got a new book out this spring, "Egg," that's all about the sunny little kitchen staples. And he's certainly aware that more people are catching on to the fact that the egg is "just this really fabulous, versatile ingredient." But the problem with eggs being trendy is that it implies they could - or maybe even did - fall out of fashion, which is not something he'll entertain.
The egg, after all, can be "the height of refinement or the quintessential simple peasant dish. It can be four-star cooking or it can be a last-minute on-the-run lunch," he says. "What can't it do?"
Eggs, of course, are a basic ingredient and not likely to become tomorrow's shrimp aspic. But their popularity is definitely on the rise.
According to the American Egg Board, consumption is at a seven-year high with Americans adding three eggs person for each of the last three years, bringing the 2013 per capita total to just over 250 eggs.
Kevin Burkum, senior vice president of marketing for the egg marketing group, sees the increase as being partly about the shift toward protein-based breakfasts as well as the fine dining trend that has turned eggs into the same type of dish-finishing flourish as bacon.
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"The fact is there is nothing that isn't improved when you put a well-cooked egg on top of it," says Ruhlman.
Andrea Slonecker, who also has a new book out, "Eggs on Top: Recipes Elevated by an Egg," would agree. "People are finding the value in a beautiful egg as a source of protein, as the main attraction in their meal," she says.
At its simplest, eggs come with a built-in sauce that can add taste and interest to a salad, a plate of steamed vegetables or a bowl of rice. And at the higher strata of kitchen techniques, it's the key to perfectly-executed souffles and fancy desserts.
For the home cook, Slonecker advises not overcooking eggs, which can get tough fast. Instead, stop just before they're done because there'll be carry-over cooking after you take them off the heat. And think outside the egg carton; not every egg must be scrambled. Slonecker sometimes poaches eggs in milk or browns butter, perhaps with a little sage, and then cracks the egg into the pan.
Ruhlman's book began when he started pondering all the many, many ways eggs can be cooked while he was writing "Ruhlman's Twenty," a book about cooking techniques. He called in his wife Donna, who in addition to being his photographer has better handwriting, and asked her to start writing the methods - in shell, out of shell, boiled, fried, blended, etc. - on a piece of rolled parchment. The resulting egg flow chart was what he ended up showing publishers.
"That was my book proposal, this 5-foot-long piece of parchment paper," he says. "And that's how the book came about. It came about with my wanting to explore something."
So this is one instance where, without a doubt, the egg came first.
Oven eggs with olive oil and dukkah
Think of this recipe from Andrea Slonecker's "Eggs on Top" as an eggy take on the practice of dunking bread in seasoned olive oil. The eggs are essentially oven-poached in olive oil. Serve with hunks of pita or other bread for scooping up the soft eggs, oil and all.
This recipe is intended to serve one, but is easily multiplied for more. To do so, increase the size of the skillet or baking dish by 2 inches for every 2 eggs you add. For example, if tripling the recipe to 6 eggs (to serve three people), use a 12-inch skillet or baking dish.
Dukkah is an Egyptian seasoning blend made from ground spices and nuts. It is increasingly available at gourmet shops and some grocers (and is easily found online), but also is simple to make. Slonecker's recipe for dukkah is included below. It can be refrigerated in an airtight container for several weeks.
Start to finish: 15 to 20 minutes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon dukkah seasoning
Toasted bread or pita, for dipping
Heat the oven to 325 F.
Pour the oil into an 8-inch oven-safe skillet or shallow baking dish. Crack the eggs into the skillet or baking dish (without breaking the yolks). Sprinkle the dukkah over the eggs, then bake to desired doneness, 10 minutes for loose yolks and 15 minutes for partially or fully set yolks. Serve with bread for scooping and dunking into the eggs and oil.
Start to finish: 15 minutes
Makes 1â 2 cup
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1â 2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1â 2 tablespoon cumin seeds
3 tablespoons roasted, unsalted pistachios or hazelnuts
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1â 4 teaspoon salt
Heat a small, dry skillet over medium. Add the coriander and peppercorns and toast, stirring constantly, until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the fennel and toast, stirring, for another 30 seconds. Add the cumin and toast until pungent. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool completely.
Once cool, transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Grind until fine, but not reduced to a powder. Add the nuts and grind again; be careful not to reduce the mixture to a paste. The mixture should resemble breadcrumbs. Stir in the sesame seeds and salt. Refrigerate in an airtight container for several weeks.
Eggs in puttanesca with angel hair pasta
We puts eggs on top of pizza, so why not pasta? Michael Ruhlman gives it a go in this recipe for egg-topped puttanesca with angel hair pasta from his book, "Egg."
Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (15 minutes active)
1 Spanish onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat side of a knife and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup dry red wine
28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, pureed (or 10 fresh Roma tomatoes, broiled for 15 minutes and pureed)
1 bay leaf or 2 teaspoons dried oregano (or both)
1â 2 tablespoon fish sauce or 4 anchovies, roughly chopped
1â 2 cup pitted and chopped Kalamata olives
2 tablespoons capers
1 pound angel hair pasta or thin spaghetti, cooked al dente, then tossed with extra-virgin olive oil or butter and kept warm in a covered pot
In a large saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil, adding the salt as you do. Stir until the onion and garlic are tender and translucent, then add the red pepper flakes and stir to cook them and coat them with the oil.
Add the wine and bring it to a simmer. Add the pureed tomatoes, the bay leaf and/or oregano, then bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook the sauce until it's nice and thick, about 1 hour.
The sauce can be prepared in advance up to this point, allowed to cool, and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Remove and discard the bay leaf and add the fish sauce (or anchovies), olives and capers. If the sauce was refrigerated, bring it to a full simmer over medium heat, then turn the heat to low. One at a time, crack each egg into a ladle, then lower it into the sauce, making a small well in the sauce with the ladle to contain the egg. Cover the pan and cook until the egg whites are set, 3 to 6 minutes.
Divide the warm pasta among 4 serving dishes. Spoon the sauce over the pasta, topping each portion with an egg and finishing each dish with more sauce as needed. Serve immediately.
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