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La Deliziosa Vita

Happy eggs come from happy chickens

Why now, more than ever, it’s important to know where your eggs come from
Left to right: Heritage breed chickens foraging at Eagle's Dell Farm in Cocalalla, Idaho; eggs laid in the pasture at Eagle's Dell Farm; soft-boiled pastured egg topped with coarse sea salt. Photos: Sara A. Marshall

In March, when my stepsister Sara in Idaho asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told her eggs. Three days later, I received two dozen rainbow-hued chicken eggs and a dozen duck eggs, all from her farm (eaglesdell.com). I’ve visited Sara and met her chickens, ducks, and geese — they’re pets with a purpose. She sells the eggs at a local market, has a regular network of neighborhood customers, and, of course, cooks with them. 

CAGE FREE IS BUZZWORTHY

I’ve been writing for years about the many reasons to buy eggs from pasture-raised chickens — not “cage free,” which means only that each bird gets 1-to-2 square feet of space and don’t necessarily have access to the outdoors. Cage free is still better than battery-raised, where several chickens are kept in wire cages piled atop each other in warehouses the length of several football fields. While cage-free hens are able to walk a bit, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests, battery hens spend their entire lives like New Yorkers on a subway train in a space the size of a letter-sized sheet of paper. They can’t flap their wings or roost, and because of the unnatural setting, they turn on each other, causing factory farmers to snip off their beaks.

Battery cages are used by 90 percent of egg producers in America, which means those “buy one get one free” cartons of eggs at supermarkets are cheap, but the method used to raise the chickens is cruel. It’s also unsanitary: Every breakout of salmonella where eggs have been the source came from factory-farmed battery cage operations. As we’re seeing with the latest coronavirus and every pandemic before it, the way we humans treat our fellow animals eventually catches up with us.

PASTURE-RAISED IS BEST

That’s the main reason I buy eggs from pasture-raised, happy chickens like Sara’s, allowed to forage in grassy green fields, pecking the earth and eating a natural diet, supplemented with high-quality, organic feed. Even at farmers’ markets, it’s important to ask whether the chickens are pastured because sometimes they’re not.

Besides producing a clear conscience, eggs from pasture-raised chickens taste better. You’ll find orange-hued yolks with rich, grassy notes and firm, creamy whites. They’re also better for your health, with one-third less cholesterol, one-fourth less saturated fat, two times more omega-3 fatty acids, and more vitamin A, E, and D.

Lest you think city dwellers can’t have chickens, it is legal in San Francisco to keep up to four. “People can have four pets, and three of any one species,” says Deb Campbell of San Francisco Animal Care and Control. “So for instance, you could have a dog and three chickens.” Campbell also says that chickens are available for adoption at most shelters, including San Francisco’s (1200 15th Street at Harrison, 415-554-6364, [email protected], sfgov.org/acc). They screen potential adoptive homes carefully and there’s a small fee per chicken. 

Note: During the stay-at-home order, shelters are closed, but they’re still looking for adopters and foster homes (even short term). If you’re stuck at home, fostering is a rewarding way to get homeless animals out of the stressful shelter environment while staving off your own loneliness (and if you foster a dog, you’ll also have an exercise buddy).

WHAT TO DO WITH THOSE EGGS

In the spring, when chickens are producing at their maximum, I like to make deviled eggs. I’ve run several recipes in the past for more exotic varieties, including smoked salmon and candied bacon deviled eggs (search “eggs” at marinatimes.com for those), but my go-to deviled eggs are the ones my friends have dubbed “the best deviled eggs in the world.” These are smooth, creamy, no-nonsense deviled eggs, tending toward the classic version with a few twists. The ingredient measurements are a starting point — taste as you go, adding as much or as little of each ingredient as you like. If you’re one of those people who fears peeling eggs, watch my easy-to-follow video of tips and tricks (again, at marinatimes.com). 

By the way, the myth about older eggs being easier to peel than fresher eggs is just that: a myth. I hard boil and peel Sara’s eggs, gathered a few days before, without any problem. The white, or albumen, in a farm-fresh egg has a low pH level that causes it to bond strongly to the inner shell membrane when cooked, making it difficult to peel. But after a few days the pH increases, making peeling easier. Most supermarket eggs are already three to five days old when they hit the shelves. My research has shown that the ideal egg for peeling is between 5 and 10 days old. Anything older than 10 days becomes harder to peel because the chemical composition deteriorates so that when the egg is boiled you get a rubbery white that adheres to the shell and, even worse, unappealing gummy bits throughout the yoke.

Making eggs any style involves technique (see the next part of this column for my fool-proof methods). But once you learn the basics, eggs are a great centerpiece for a variety of quick and easy meals.

WORLD’S BEST DEVILED EGGS

(serves 2–3)

6 hard-boiled eggs (see method below)

2 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon sriracha, gochujang, or other
chili sauce

⅛ teaspoon spicy brown mustard

1 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
(preferably Meyer)

1 teaspoon ponzu (citrus soy) or regular
soy sauce (preferably low sodium)

⅛ teaspoon white pepper

Paprika for garnish (plain, smoked, or spicy, depending on preference)

Slice hard-boiled eggs in half lengthwise and gently scoop yolks into a medium bowl. Place whites on a deviled egg tray.

Using a fork, mash the yolks until smooth (for even smoother yolks, put them through a sieve or ricer). Add the mayonnaise and whip until combined. Add remaining ingredients (except for paprika) and whisk until well mixed.

Using a teaspoon (or a pastry bag for a fancier “restaurant quality” look), put an even mound of yolk mixture into each white, sprinkle with a generous amount of paprika, and serve.

PERFECT HARD-BOILED EGGS 

Gently lower desired number of eggs into a medium-sized saucepan and add just enough water to completely cover. Bring water to a strong simmer and then turn off heat. Leave pan on burner and cover. Set timer for 11 minutes for just-done hard-boiled eggs (best for eating right away), 15 minutes for harder-boiled eggs (best for deviled eggs, which you want cooked thoroughly because they may sit at room temperature). 

PERFECT SOFT-BOILED EGGS

Add one inch of water to a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Carefully place desired number of eggs into the water and cover the pan. Cook for exactly 7 minutes. Remove from heat and run under cold water for 30 seconds. I prefer medium soft-boiled eggs, so that the whites are fully cooked and the yolks are slightly runny. For softer boiled eggs (slightly soft whites, very runny yolks) cook 5–6 minutes. 

PERFECT POACHED EGGS

Fill a low-walled, wide saucepan with water and set over medium-low heat. Crack desired number of eggs into individual ramekins or small bowls. When the water is gently simmering, add a splash of vinegar (this helps the whites to stay together). Using a slotted spoon, stir the water to create a whirlpool (this winds the egg whites around the yolk) and gently slide the eggs in one at a time. Set the timer for 4 minutes. Using the slotted spoon, remove each egg gently from the water and set on a plate lined with a kitchen towel or paper towel to drain. 

PERFECT SCRAMBLED EGGS

Crack two eggs per person into a medium-sized bowl. Whip the eggs with a wire whisk until thoroughly combined and frothy. Meanwhile, heat a medium-sized nonstick skillet over low heat. Add two tablespoons of butter and swirl it around to evenly coat the surface. Pour the beaten eggs into the pan and watch closely. As soon as curds begin to form, crank the heat to high, and stir gently but consistently with a wooden spoon. (For larger curds, fold the eggs rather than stirring them.) Remove the eggs from the heat just before they are done (if they look done in the pan, they will be overdone on the plate) and serve immediately.

PERFECT FRIED EGGS

Heat a frying pan over low heat for five minutes. Crack eggs into individual ramekins or small bowls. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Working quickly, pour eggs into separate sides of pan. Cover the pan, increase heat to medium-high, and cook for exactly 1 minute. Remove pan completely from heat and let stand covered 1 minute for slightly runny yolks and opaque whites, and about 2 minutes for medium-set yolks. For over easy eggs, gently wiggle the spatula under the egg and carefully flip it over without lifting it off the pan’s surface. Wiggle the spatula back under the turned egg, bringing the white out until it lays flat in the pan. Slide the egg onto a plate and serve immediately.

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