Cracking good meals
Explore the splendid panoply of egg recipes for an Easter feast, says Felipe Fernández-Armesto
This article is taken from the April 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
Bob woodward was bolder. Kate Adie faced worse dangers. But I recall admiringly, from my childhood, the fearless pair of reporters who once tested Paris’s grandest restaurants by waiving the menu and ordering fried eggs.
Most maîtres recoiled, goggling, like Bateman-cartoon characters, with bulging eyeballs. Others responded in unprofessional disdain. At La Tour d’Argent, however, waiters with unflickering eyebrows disclosed, from under silver dish-covers, crispy whites, creamy yolks, rivulets of foie gras and sprinklings of sliced truffles.
As Easter approaches, eggs are on my mind. No ingredient provokes more controversy over the depth of cuisson and the consistency of finished dishes. The Tour’s crispy whites delight some diners and disgust others, who demand different stages of viscosity, or, like a companion of my undergraduate days, relish fried yolks but reject albumen as sickening.
My fellow denizens of the US always overcook eggs, presumably because factory farming nurtures bacteria that only heat can kill. In Indiana an omelette resembles a folded bath-sponge; boiled eggs are unyielding and scrambled versions have the texture of pellets. Fried eggs come in two categories: if you like them “sunny side up”, you admit to tolerance of runny whites. “Over easy” specimens are reliably consistent but aesthetically unattractive, mottled with brown butter-stains, like an old man’s hands.
I am too aged to learn how to flip them with a spatula at just the right moment of coagulation. In any case, I never respect individual taste in serving eggs: different dishes call for different textures.
My fellow denizens of the US always overcook eggs, presumably because factory farming nurtures bacteria that only heat can kill
A cheese omelette must have a melting centre, but if tuna or shrimps or haddock or mushrooms form the filling, the consistency is best when yielding but not firm; tomatoes, ham or asparagus, say, demand a soft but dry inner coating.
Spanish omelettes should extrude little liquid when sliced, though the Betanzos-style examples, favoured in my homeland in the north-west, are relatively deliquescent. A frittata, for preference, is slightly chewy. Curried eggs must be hard-boiled almost until they bounce.
If you abstain from eggs for Lent, or even just for Holy Week, neither conscience nor digestion will suffer from contrastingly eggy dishes to precede and follow your paschal lamb on Easter Sunday.
Something involving them boiled, with mayonnaise, is good to start with — perhaps with prawns or langoustines and paprika mayonnaise, slightly thinned with dry vermouth or with gin and vermouth mixed as for a dry martini. If your routine allows for a hot first course, huevos flamenca is recommendable as one of peasant cookery’s unfathomable gifts. Its origin and the meaning of the name are as mysterious and disputed as those of Andalucía’s equally enlivening flamenco music and dance.
Individual Spanish earthenware pots or cazuelitas are essential. The cook spreads thick sofrito (tomatoes cooked to the consistency of sauce with herbs of the family’s choice and just-browned onions), dotted with blanched peas (young, small and sweet, as the season supplies), flakes of garlic, soft strips of peeled red peppers, and tiny cubes of chorizo and jamón serrano, before breaking an egg into each dish and baking on a high heat until the whites set.
Having started with huevos flamenca, anyone who ends the meal with a liquorous soufflé and vanilla custard, or with îles flottantes, or crème brûlée will have no sense of an excess of eggs.
For a lone diner, small party, or inexperienced cook, a sweet omelette is a life-enhancing alternative. Ignore conventional recipes. The whites should be sergeant-major stiff and gently cooked in butter. If yokes slightly thickened with syrup are withheld until cooking is well under way, a buoyant, frothy mixture will rise in the pan, to be faintly browned or blushed under the grill. Walnuts in honey or bibulous griottes, bound with morello cherry jam, make perfect fillings.
If the omelette seems too chancy, or the party is too large, and a soufflé too difficult, Spanish monks and nuns have created egg-based confections, so rich in sugar that they make eaters feel gratifyingly abstemious: ordinary digestions cannot withstand large quantities, nor can ordinary palates crave indelicate portions.
For a lone diner, small party, or inexperienced cook, a sweet omelette is a life-enhancing alternative
For tocinos del cielo — literally, bacons of heaven — egg yolks are slowly blended with clear syrup and cooked to an almost solid consistency in a bain marie. Yemas de Santa Teresa, psychotropically powerful yokes, aptly named after Ávila’s incomparable Carmelite ecstatic, are best if the syrup is very thick but lightened in flavour with the aroma of lemons: rolled into balls, chilled and dusted with icing sugar, heart-threatening, creamy sweetmeats result. By stirring very finely ground almonds into the mixture, you can make marzipan of unrivalled intensity.
If you eat too much, you may feel as if Lenten penance extends into Easter. In judicious quantities, the confections will be as restorative as a resurrection, and will get you ready for spring as sure as eggs is eggs.
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