Sunday, March 1, 2009

Eggsaustive Eggspose - The Final Chapter

Here it is, the moment you've all been waiting for - the final installment of my series on finding and eating all natural eggs. This is where we put it all to the test - get the free range eggs, get the feel good factory eggs and compare how they cook and taste.

The contenders:

- Cyd's Nest Fresh Free Roaming Organic Brown: As discussed in the previous posts, this was the grocery store brand I chose based on a few factors. They're local, they use organic feed, the hens aren't caged, and while the chickens are pretty far from what many people would consider truly free range, at least they've gone to the effort to get certified by an independent organization as following humane practices.

- Jay Hill Farm's free range eggs: This nearby farm sells organic vegetables and free range eggs year round. I had a few email exchanges with Rowan of Jay Hill Farm regarding what free range actually means to them. Their chickens eat weeds and veggie scraps from their farm, commercial feed, non-organic due to affordability, but at least non-gmo, and whatever they can get outside. They roam around in a large enclosure from early in the morning until evening. She said that they tried letting them truly roam free in their fields, but there were too many predators around. I can believe that, as I live nearby and frequently have foxes in my backyard. So, while I was disappointed that their feed isn't organic, these chickens are probably leading contented lives and getting a substantial portion of greens and insects in their diet, which seems like a reasonable compromise.

The challenge:

  • Poached - this most difficult cooking method would be a good test for comparing the freshness and firmness of the the two varieties
  • Fried - this, the most delicious of all egg cooking methods, would allow me to taste both eggs at their best.
Quick diversion - frying an egg is easy right? That depends on who you ask. It seems easy, once you are practiced enough not to break the yolk, but achieving that elusive balance of crispiness and tenderness, softness of the yolk and firmness of the white is not easy. My husband pointed this out to me a few years ago. Pre-kid, we used to eat breakfast out every week or two. I liked to bounce around, trying different places, but he always wanted to go to this greasy place near our house called Marie's. It's been an establishment in Boulder since the 70s, I think. One day, I asked him what he saw in Marie, and he said, the fried eggs (always the same cook, not Marie) are better than anywhere else, in fact, they're always perfect. After a few years of paying more attention, I have to say I agree - Marie's makes perfect fried eggs.

You know who else does?

Not me. Mine aren't bad. They're passable to the untrained eater. But they don't have that je ne sais quoi thing going on.

It's my husband - the expert critic is also the expert chef. So I recruited him for the experiment. I poached, he fried.

Round 1 - Poaching:

I've decided to give my poaching method here because I've tried many different methods, only one of which works for me.

Bring 3 inches of water to a boil in a wide, deep saucier and then lower the temperature until the water is barely simmering. A saucepan will also work, but the flared edges of a saucier make getting the eggs in and out a little easier. A saute pan doesn't work because the eggs don't cook on top if the water isn't deep enough.

Add 1 Tbs. of white vinegar to the water.

Grease a ladle, then holding the ladle upright (I use my mouth to hold the ladle), crack the egg carefully into the ladle. Lower the ladle into the water, hold it without submerging for a few seconds until the egg white starts to color on the edges, then slip the egg gently into the water.

After about 4 minutes, remove the egg with a slotted spoon, tipping the spoon for a few seconds to drain off the water.

Season lightly with salt and pepper.

So how did it go? I don't know if there were about 10,000 stars aligned perfectly that night or what, but I made two perfect poached eggs, an unusual feat for me.

The whites of both held together tightly in the water, the yolks of both were incredibly rich in color. I did notice that the yolk of the free range egg was much bigger in proportion to the white than the other egg. When I first started cooking the Jay Hill egg, you can see that the white looked sloppier than the other egg, but it actually help together nicely.


Jay Hill

Round 2 - Frying:

So what is the secret method of my husband, egg snob and chef? I don't know exactly, as it's a tightly guarded secret. I have picked up a few clues though:

  • Equipment: small, non-stick pan. Wide, flexible, silicone spatula.
  • Olive oil for the fat.
  • Cook mostly on one side without touching before turning.
  • Low to medium low heat
As you can see from the pictures below, both eggs turned out nicely. By the second set of eggs, we knew we weren't imagining the larger yolk on the free range eggs - the difference is quite noticeable in these pictures.


Jay Hill

The decision:

Well, I am sad to say that after my exhaustive search for the perfect egg, and our carefully planned scientific experiment, I couldn't taste one bit of difference between the two eggs. In retrospect, I should have added a third contender - the cheapest factory eggs I could find - you know, 69 cents a dozen in a styrofoam container.

Ah well, they may taste the same, but I'm still going for the Jay Hill eggs for all of the other reasons I've discussed.

This may seem like an anti-climactic way to conclude my long, suspenseful series on finding the perfect egg in Boulder if it weren't for one thing... take a look at those pictures above. Those are some fine looking eggs, and we got to eat all of them for dinner.

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