Don’t tell James Beard Award-winning food writer Michael Ruhlman that eggs are trending.
True, he’s got a new book out this spring, Egg, that’s all about the sunny little kitchen staples. And he’s certainly aware that more people are catching on to the fact that the egg is “just this really fabulous, versatile ingredient.” But the problem with eggs being trendy is that it implies they could – or maybe even did – fall out of fashion, which is not something he’ll entertain.
The egg, after all, can be “the height of refinement or the quintessential simple peasant dish. It can be four-star cooking or it can be a last-minute on-the-run lunch,” he says. “What can’t it do?”
Eggs, of course, are a basic ingredient and not likely to become tomorrow’s shrimp aspic. But their popularity is definitely on the rise.
According to the American Egg Board, consumption is at a seven-year high with Americans adding three eggs person for each of the last three years, bringing the 2013 per capita total to just over 250 eggs.
Kevin Burkum, senior vice-president of marketing for the egg marketing group, sees the increase as being partly about the shift toward protein-based breakfasts as well as the fine dining trend that has turned eggs into the same type of dish-finishing flourish as bacon.
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“The fact is there is nothing that isn’t improved when you put a well-cooked egg on top of it,” says Ruhlman.
Andrea Slonecker, who also has a new book out, Eggs on Top: Recipes Elevated by an Egg, would agree.
“People are finding the value in a beautiful egg as a source of protein, as the main attraction in their meal,” she says.
At its simplest, eggs come with a built-in sauce that can add taste and interest to a salad, a plate of steamed vegetables or a bowl of rice. And at the higher strata of kitchen techniques, it’s the key to perfectly-executed souffles and fancy desserts.
For the home cook, Slonecker advises not overcooking eggs, which can get tough fast. Instead, stop just before they’re done because there’ll be carry-over cooking after you take them off the heat. And think outside the egg carton; not every egg must be scrambled. Slonecker sometimes poaches eggs in milk or browns butter, perhaps with a little sage, and then cracks the egg into the pan.
Ruhlman’s book began when he started pondering all the many, many ways eggs can be cooked while he was writing Ruhlman’s Twenty, a book about cooking techniques. He called in his wife Donna, who in addition to being his photographer has better handwriting, and asked her to start writing the methods – in shell, out of shell, boiled, fried, blended, etc. – on a piece of rolled parchment. The resulting egg flow chart was what he ended up showing publishers.
“That was my book proposal, this 5-foot-long piece of parchment paper,” he says. “And that’s how the book came about. It came about with my wanting to explore something.”
So this is one instance where, without a doubt, the egg came first.