Great Egg-spectations


Great Egg-spectations

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

If you speak to any great chef, there are chances that he will put the cooking of an egg as any chef’s great test. Eggs are one of those things that people get really specific about and one preference can be vastly different from the other. Eggs are not like a plain dosa that everyone likes crisp, or a milkshake that everyone likes cold. When it comes to eggs, there is no common rule. We stand alone with our unique eggadillo (sorry I was punning on peccadillo, but clearly I have failed).

This is not just about some people liking boiled eggs and others who prefer omelettes. This is about the boiled egg chap (for instance, my husband) only liking a perfectly warm, fresh, without-a-hint-of-black, half-boiled egg, with an underdone yolk held snug inside the firm whites, that when cut open does not spurt out like sunshine, sprinkled with salt and fresh pepper and ideally cut with a thread that does not eat into the comely shape of a half oval. (Ordering an egg with him at a restaurant makes me grind my teeth.)

Then there is the fried-egg brigade, which has made an art form out of cracking eggs over a wok of hot oil. There are odes written to an egg fry that talk about everything from temperature to the thickness of the pan to timing to technique, and finally talk about consumption – some like their egg all gussied up with onions, chillies, and vegetables, or dressed down to the bare minimum, allowing the eater to contemplate the sunniness of everything under the sun, as they dig deep into the golden centre. Between the omelette and the bull’s eye, as it were, there are several descriptors for fried eggs: half-fry, full-fry, bina palti, palti maarke, with ample scope for variegated possibilities of the sun being upside or downside, runny or solid, on the plate.

My friend, Rita, makes it a point to order eggs when eating out. That’s the best way, she believes, to judge a restaurant. The one time I agreed with her, was when we ordered egg-drop soup at a small, unheard of Asian restaurant in the US, along with house special chow mein and sticky rice with a sesame-enriched tofu gravy, all terrific, dreamy-sounding dishes, building up our appetite as our hungry stomachs growled. The soup came first and it was perfect. Silken threads of beaten egg had been dropped into hot broth at a perfect time, temperature, and angle, as described in the books. The warmth of the spices and the freshness of ginger and lemongrass stood out. It felt like we were slipping into a slow food coma. The restaurant became our favourite haunt for a long time and the one 4.5 star restaurant that I really liked was given the thumbs-down forever by Rita. The egg- drop soup was presented with mangled egg, “without a hint of character”.

I recently found myself sitting with my husband and recounting our recent trip to the US. I didn’t talk about the countryside or the colours of fall. All I talked about was this plate of eggs served at our last bed and breakfast

But by far the worst is the scrambled-egg brigade. Sit with them for breakfast one fine morning and they will begin talking about consistency until your coffee grows cold. There is just no pleasing the scrambled-egg stalwart. He is not only anal about water shedding and other flavour-related issues, but also about where on the plate the egg is presented and what is its relationship with the toast. Watching one of these people place their order, is like watching a documentary and a really bad one at that.

The conversation on preference has now moved over to different opinions on the origins of the egg itself. We want to know if they are organic, reared free range, ethical, and hatched by hens with no mental health issues. My friend Gargi has an interesting take. Life was simpler, she believes, when, as a kid she ate the best-tasting duck eggs, blissfully unaware about anything but taste. It was just food, to be eaten and enjoyed.

I would have agreed with her, except that I recently found myself sitting with my husband and recounting our recent trip to the US. I didn’t talk about the countryside or the colours of fall. All I talked about was this plate of eggs served at our last bed and breakfast, somewhere in the thick of Door County in Midwest America. I vividly remember the tray filled with a fluffy, light yellow mush, speckled with bits of freshly cracked black pepper. Long did I ponder about the secret to that recipe. Was it butter, milk, cream, or the cooking temperature? Was there some cheese slipped in discreetly? Was it the kind of skillet used, or grease?

So yes, I’m an egg snob too. I may not be a Humpty Dumpty bobbing about in a sea of egg epicures or an egg gourmand with a hollandaise nose and Benedict palette, but yes, I’m now an egg snob. And I’m willing to bet that if you enjoy your egg, you’re one too.