Eggs are both a productive cell and a very tasty food. They're made up of a yolk, which is predominately fat and takes up one-third of the space, surrounded and protected by the white – mostly water and a little bit of protein. As a whole, they are delicious, and yet when yolk and whites separate, they become extraordinary. Yolks are the basis for many an emulsion, turning a cupful of oil into a luscious aïoli, or whisked until triple their size to become airy zabaglione. The whites tend to be a little temperamental, but when treated correctly become billowy and fluffy, giving lightness to a sponge, or crispness to gorgeous meringue kisses.
Fairly common nowadays are quail eggs – very pretty, small, blue, speckled. Slightly larger and richer duck eggs are used a lot in Chinese cooking, more often than not preserved or salted. Fish produce eggs that are referred to as caviar or roe, and these are delicious salty morsels that pop on your tongue. There are endless other edible eggs, for example gull eggs are an English delicacy, and I know of a producer who is farming snail eggs and selling them as a gourmet item. (Apparently, there’s a trick to massaging the snails for their roe.)
Poached The secret to perfect poaching is a big pot of water and the freshest of eggs. As they become older, whites become looser and don’t hold their shape as well. A little vinegar in your poaching water can also help, as it sets the proteins in the white and gives you a nice shape (use fresh eggs and this won't be an issue).
Boiled Hard-boiled eggs are curiously bouncy but nicely matched with a salsa verde. They’re often found mixed with mayonnaise or curried and put in a sandwich – very delicious fresh but not so good a few hours later. Soft-boiled eggs served with Tabasco and soldiers make for an excellent breakfast.
Fried I think the perfect fried egg dish is the one made at Kylie Kwong's restaurant, Billy Kwong. A wok half-full of hot oil, the eggs poured in, the whites form a crispy lace and the yolks remain runny and soft. Served with a spicy XO sauce, fresh chilli and shallots, it’s a fine example of just how good fried eggs can be.
Scrambled If you’d like a taste of Sri Lanka for breakfast, fry off red onion, green chillies and curry leaves in a pan until they caramelise and the chilli starts to burn the inside of your nostrils. Add whisked eggs and gently cook.
The influence of eggs expands to so many different dishes and uses. Without them, the world of pastry chefs would crumble; we would be left without the silkiness of fresh pasta, and breakfast would have to seriously re-think itself. Also lost would be a very excellent trick my mother taught me involving a glass of water, a matchbox, a broom and a chicken egg.
Photographs by Benito Martin. Styling by Jerrie-Joy Redman-Lloyd.