In this time of bad-news eggs and the sorry conditions in which they are produced, let’s talk about good news eggs: delicious, pasture-raised eggs and the lessons they teach about freshness.
They cost more; boy, do they! But their cost, I believe, better reflects the true cost of producing good food. Nicholas D. Kristof, wrote in his column, Cleaning the Henhouse, for The New York Times on Thursday, September 2, 2010: “Industrial operations—essentially factories of meat and eggs—excel at manufacturing cheap food for the supermarket. But there is evidence that this model is economically viable only because it passes on health costs of the public—in the form of occasional salmonella, antibiotic resistant diseases, polluted waters, food poisoning and possibly certain cancers.”
Many years ago, I attended a presentation by an internationally renowned chef (No, I don’t remember who and isn’t that convenient.), who was not embarrassed to say about the meat in one of his creations,” Happy cows make happy food.” Twenty-five years later we know a lot more about the mind-body connection than we did then. And if it’s true for people, why wouldn’t it be true for the animals we eat for food as well?
Generally, the chicks that grow up to be the laying hens for pasture-raised egg producers do not have their beaks clipped. Or any other part of their body adjusted to better suit efficient production. They wander barnyards and pastures during the day, eating insects and other goodies including, perhaps, a garden plant or two and taking occasional rides on the backs of other farm animals. They are fed organic feed similar to what they forage for themselves and without hormones, fillers, or antibiotics. At night, they return to their coop where they are safe from predators. In return, they produce eggs with firm whites with nearly a jellied texture vs. a watery one, and yolks of a vibrant color that stand up proudly in the whites. All this you may have noticed for yourself.
Pasture-raised eggs recently taught me an unexpected lesson in freshness. For a recent tour and tasting I led for San Francisco’s Castro Farmers’ Market, I planned to make eggs stuffed with Lorna Sass’s Parsley-Lemon-Tahini sauce. All I did was to mash the yolks with some of the sauce; adjust the flavors with a little fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper; stuff the shells; and then sprinkle them with Turkish Halabi pepper.
I bought my eggs, as I do weekly, from Shelly’s Farm Fresh, at the Castro market. The eggs define fresh having been laid that day or the day before. Her hens roam pastures planted to an Omega-3 Chicken Forage Blend resulting in eggs higher in Omega 3s than commercial eggs. Such pasture-raised eggs have helped eggs regain their reputation as health food. But we eat them because they taste great.
As you no doubt know, fresh eggs can be hard to peel. So, I planned ahead and bought a dozen eggs two weeks before the scheduled tasting. That should be plenty of time, I reasoned, for the eggs to begin to shrink in their shells, causing the natural bubble that forms in the fat end to expand and allow for easy peeling. If an egg bobs, losing contact with the bottom of the pan, it is too old and should be tossed.
A kitchen coaching client had wanted to learn the best way to hard cook eggs and had brought a half dozen fresh from the store. I didn’t hold out much hope for peeling them, but I used a technique I learned on the Cook’s Illustrated website: immerse cooked eggs in cold water, crack them all over, and let them cool completely in the cold water. In this way the shells loosen and the eggs peel easily. It worked.
But when I put Shelly’s two-week-old eggs in a pot of cold water, they all sat close against the bottom. I expected at least some of them would lift their butts up because of the air bubble under the shell. Nope. And when I went to peel them? Well, all I can say is, it was a labor of love. So, if you want to make stuffed eggs with your very fresh, pasture-raised eggs—and they are worth the effort—do plan well in advance.