Back to basics with eggs

The basis of many breakfasts, lunches,
dinner and desserts…the humble egg remains
a key ingredient in most kitchens.

Eggs are an inexpensive and nutritious source of protein, packed with vitamins and minerals. They are the ultimate in convenience food and their versatility in cooking – from sweet to savoury – means that most food enthusiasts use eggs on a regular basis in the kitchen. But there is more to eggs than meets the eye and understanding this basic ingredient will ensure you get the most out of it in your foodie endeavours.

Nutrition

Chicken eggs supply essential amino acids and several vitamins and minerals, including retinol (vitamin A), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid (vitamin B9), vitamin B6, vitamin B12, choline, iron, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. The egg is also one of the few foods to naturally contain vitamin D.

The eggs white contains the bulk of the protein while the egg’s fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids are in the egg yolk.

A large hen’s egg yolk contains approximately 60 calories (250 kilojoules); the egg white contains about 15 calories (60 kilojoules).

The diet of the laying hens can affect the nutritional quality of the eggs. For instance, chicken eggs that are especially high in omega 3 fatty acids are produced by feeding laying hens a diet containing polyunsaturated fats and flax seed meal.

Food safety

Salmonella is the main food safety risk when it comes to eggs. When it comes to ready-to-eat dishes, the FSAI recommends the following for controlling the risk of salmonella in eggs:

  • Pasteurised egg is the safest form of egg to use in ready-to-eat dishes.
  • Eggs produced under the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme or an equivalent body in another EU member state are the next safest source.
  • The use of unstamped/ungraded eggs should be avoided as these are not controlled under the national salmonella testing scheme. Controls on such eggs may not be as strict as those used in the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme. All stamped hens eggs are sourced from flocks that are subject to statutory controls for salmonella
  • The use of duck eggs, irrespective of source, is not recommended in ready-to-eat foods that are not cooked, since these eggs are commonly contaminated with salmonella.

People most vulnerable to salmonella poisoning are babies, toddlers, pregnant women, the elderly and people whose immune system is weakened. If you are preparing eggs or egg dishes for these people, it is safest to use pasteurised egg. Eggs must be thoroughly cooked – until both the yolk and white are solid – to kill any salmonella that may be present. It is also advised that you wash your hands before and after handling raw eggs and dispose of broken egg shells immediately. Clean up spills as soon as they happen and clean and disinfect surfaces, dishes and utensils after working with raw eggs. (Source: www.fsai.ie)

Selecting and storing

When choosing your eggs, freshest are always best. Never buy eggs that are cracked or broken and keep an eye out for Bord Bia’s Quality Assurance Mark – if it carries the Origin Ireland Q Mark then you are assured that the eggs were laid and packed in the Republic of Ireland. It is worth noting also that Ireland is one of only four EU countries (the other three are Scandinavian) which have an EU approved salmonella plan and since the introduction of the Bord Bia Scheme over 10 years ago, there has been no salmonella outbreaks in Bord Bia Quality Assured flocks.

For many, the way in which the bird is reared is a key factor when buying. Organic eggs are the most expensive, being laid by hens who have been reared in the most humane way possible and with strict governing criteria regarding their housing, freedom of movement and feed. Eggs that carry a ‘free range’ label must have been produced in registered establishments complying with legislative requirements relating to housing, open air runs and stocking density.

Store eggs in a clean, cool, dry place – ideally in the fridge. Keep eggs away from other foods to prevent cross-contamination

Did you know?

  • You can check how fresh an egg is by dropping the egg, unbroken, into a glass of water. A fresh egg will drop to the bottom of the glass and stay there. A slightly older (but still safe to eat) egg will hover in the middle, while a stale egg will float to the surface.
  • To check if an egg is fresh or hard boiled, spin it: if it wobbles, it’s raw but if it spins easily, it’s hard boiled.
  • A hen can lay about 250 eggs per year.
  • Blood spots in eggs is a sign that there was a rupture of blood vessels in the yolk at the time of ovulation but this does not mean that the egg is unsafe.
  • A sign of a fresh egg is a cloudy egg white, while the sign of an aging egg is a clear egg white.
  • If a boiled egg is overcooked, a greenish ring can sometimes appear around the egg yolk due to the iron and sulphur compounds in the egg. This will not affect the taste but you can avoid it occurring by not overcooking and by cooling the eggs quickly after cooking. Run cold water over the just-cooked eggs or place them in ice water (not standing in water) until they have completely cooled.

Andrew’s Tip Tips

Andrew Rudd at Medley (www.medley.ie) offers his top tips when cooking with eggs

Eggs need to be at room temperature before you use them – this makes them easier to separate. Keep them in the fridge at all other times, as salmonella bacteria multiply quickly at room temperature.

I always like to use free range eggs – the yolk is stronger which also makes them easier to separate and usually offers better colour and flavour.

Serve egg dishes safely. Keep hot egg dishes hot and cold egg dishes cold.

Always use a saucepan just large enough to fit the number of eggs you’d like to cook or a bit larger. Don’t forget that layers of eggs stacked in a pot will cook unevenly.

Refrigerate leftover cooked egg dishes and use within three days. To speed the cooling process in the fridge, divide a large portion of food among several dishes.

Eggs

Eggs

Quail Eggs

There is minimal difference in taste between quail and chicken eggs, although the petite size of the egg lends itself to a more delicate addition on the plate and the yolk is richer as the yolk to white ratio is bigger. Their pretty speckled shell range in colour from dark brown to blue. Serve hard-boiled with sea salt for a simple culinary treat.

Hen Eggs

Chicken eggs are the most commonly eaten egg in the world – by a wide margin. They come in various sizes, from small to extra large, and various shades of brown, white and, less commonly, blue. The colour of the shell comes down to the breed of the hen that laid it and the colour of the egg yolk is determined by the hen’s diet.

Duck eggs

Generally larger than hens’ eggs, duck eggs also have a thicker shell than chicken eggs, giving them a longer shelf life. Containing more albumen, many people like to use them in baking as this can help make cakes and pastries fluffier and richer. The eggs have more protein and are richer than chicken eggs but also contain a higher fat content and more cholesterol per serving.

Goose Eggs

Also larger than hens’ eggs, goose eggs are richer with a firmer texture. The yolks are more custard-like and, similar to duck eggs, goose eggs have a thicker shell than hens’ eggs.