Eggs are one of the most basic, most important and most valuable foods. They are easy to prepare, easy to digest and inexpensive.
The shells of eggs are porous and can become contaminated with bacteria. Look for eggs stamped with the Lion Quality Mark, which shows that hens have been vaccinated against salmonella. Every egg is also stamped with a 21-day 'best before date' to ensure they are as fresh as possible.
Eggs are graded by size, but also the way in which the birds have been reared. A code will be printed on your egg; the first number refers to the farming method – 0 = organic, 1 = free range, 2 = barn, 3 = cage. This is followed by the country of origin, and then a code identifying the farm where your eggs were produced. Organic eggs are laid by hens who have been reared in the most humane way possible, with the standard of housing and feed governed by strict criteria. They have freedom of movement, are fed organic feed and are grazed on organic land. Free range is next, then barn eggs. These are laid by uncaged birds, which have the freedom to move around within a building (but with no access to the outside). Next boxes, perches, dustbaths and foraging material are also provided. Caged eggs are the cheapest; they’re laid by hens that have very limited room to move around and no access to direct sunlight.
It is not advisable to serve lightly cooked or raw eggs to the young, pregnant women, the elderly or those whose immune systems are weak.
Crack eggs open by tapping on the edge of a bowl until the shell is broken, pull the two halves of the shell apart and pour the egg into a bowl. They can be fried, poached, boiled, scrambled or made into omelettes. Egg white, when whisked, traps air and is used to lighten souffles and to make meringues. When whisking egg whites, ensure that the bowl and whisk are grease-free – just a trace of yolk or grease can reduce the volume of the white. To maintain the maximum volume when folding egg white into a mixture, use a metal spoon or spatula, adding a little at a time. Yolks can be emulsified with oil or butter to make mayonnaise and hollandaise sauces. Whole eggs are used to bake many kinds of cakes and desserts. Most recipes call for a size 3 or medium egg.
Keep eggs in their carton on a cool place for up to two weeks. Store away from strong smelling foodstuffs as they absorb flavours easily. Don’t use cracked or dirty eggs. A fresh egg will feel heavy and well filled, and will sink to the bottom if put in a glass of water. Take eggs out of the fridge 30 minutes before use as they will whisk to a better volume when at room temperature.