Seven ways to cook eggs for affordable and easy meals
Eggs or milk — which is nature’s most perfect food? If I had a vote, it would definitely be eggs. Good any time of day, they are versatile and nutritious.
At only 78 calories each, eggs are a rich source of protein and vitamins. A large egg contains about 6 grams of protein. Eggs have vitamin D (good for bone health and the immune system) and choline (which helps metabolism, liver function and fetal brain development). Egg yolks can be good for the eyes; they are significant sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been found to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people 55 and older.
Of course, egg yolks are also known for their cholesterol, a fact that put them on the no-no list a few years ago. A typical large egg contains 186 mg of cholesterol, more than half the amount previously recommended for daily consumption. Cholesterol is an artery-clogging factor in heart disease.
In 2015, citing a lack of scientific evidence for a numerical goal, the Federal Dietary Guidelines dropped their concerns about eggs. In support, The Harvard School of Public Health looked at a population of 117,000 nurses and found no difference in heart disease risk between those who ate one egg a week and those who ate more than one egg a day. The Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that eggs tend to satisfy obese and overweight people more than a bagel breakfast with an equal calorie count. Eggs look to be a good diet food, too!
There is lots to know about the humble egg. The now defunct (unfortunately) Lucky Peach magazine published a great small book on eggs a couple of years ago, “All about Eggs” by Rachel Khong. She noted that among conventional egg producers, unsavory practices are commonplace. There’s “forced molting” — starving chickens so they’ll molt at the same time, go out of production for a couple weeks and return with rejuvenated reproductive tracts, making them better layers of better-quality eggs. There’s painful, stressful “beak trimming,” which prevents cannibalism and violence when hens are kept in close quarters.
There’s no question that seeking out better eggs is worth it. But when it comes to terminology, what do “cage-free,” “natural,” “organic,” “omega-3” and on and on really mean? Here’s a quick guide:
- Natural: Means nothing. Think about it. Everything comes from nature, even gasoline and Velveeta. The USDA declares that egg products are natural when they contain no artificial ingredients, added color and are only minimally processed. Anything other than an Easter egg would probably qualify as natural.
- Cage-free: According to the USDA, a cage-free chicken can “freely roam a building, room or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle but does not have access to the outdoors.” Though this is an upgrade from the conventional battery cage (roughly 8.5 inches by 11 inches), cage-free facilities, while allowing their hens more space, have much higher mortality rates (often the result of hen-on-hen violence) and lower air quality than facilities that use cages.
- Free-range: Unlike cage-free hens, free-range hens must have access to outdoor space. It doesn’t have to be much — sometimes it’s a cat door to a screened-in porch.
- No Added Hormones: This simply means the egg-laying hen did not receive hormones, which is a funny thing to mention, because administering hormones and steroids to poultry is prohibited across the board by the FDA. All eggs sold in the U.S. are hormone-free.
- No Added Antibiotics: This term is regulated by both the USDA and FDA and means an egg-laying hen received no sub-therapeutic antibiotics. But only a very small percentage ever receive added antibiotics to treat sickness, and their eggs are “diverted from human consumption” anyway.
- Vegetarian-Fed/Feed: “Vegetarian Fed/ Feed” means an egg-laying hen was fed a diet devoid of any animal products during its production, which is actually kind of sad! Hens aren’t naturally vegetarian, but omnivorous (they love worms and bugs). That said, conventional hens that aren’t vegetarian-fed are not likely to be fed those worms and bugs they love so much either, but a diet rich in animal byproducts, from feather meal to chicken litter. So really, when you’re buying vegetarian-fed eggs, it’s a lesser-of-two-evils situation.
- Local: A term regulated by the USDA, “local” eggs must have come from a source flock located less than 400 miles from their processing facility or within the state where the eggs originated and were processed.
- Organic: Eggs marked with the USDA’s National Organic Program label were laid by uncaged hens that are technically free to roam and have access to the outdoors in addition to being fed an organic diet produced without conventional pesticides or fertilizers. That all sounds good and is, for the most part, great — organic is a pretty decent option. But the problems with organically produced eggs are the same as those for free-range: the absence of cages in a barn or poultry house doesn’t usually translate to a wealth of free-roaming space per hen, and what qualifies as access to the outdoors can be as insignificant as a cat door to a wired-in patch of cement.
- Omega-3 Enriched: Eggs with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids come from hens that were fed diets high in fatty acids: anything from flax to chia seeds to fish oil to algae, added to a bird’s regular wheat- and/or corn- and/or canola-based foodstuff. Omega-3-enriched egg cartons are required by the USDA to state the amount each egg contains. It can have five times the concentration of omega-3s than conventionally raised or free-range eggs.
The French, among others, are very particular about cooking eggs. I remember my French chef instructors telling me that it should take several minutes to properly scramble an egg. Here’s a simple recipe which illustrates the technique.