An egg is such a versatile ingredient, morphing into so many different textures – the light puff of a soufflé, the firm bite of a hardboiled egg, the creaminess of a scramble. For me, an egg is also one of those standby ingredients when time is tight, tempers frayed or the fridge is almost empty.
You can’t get a much quicker or more satisfying meal than an omelette. Fill with some chopped and lightly fried potato and a little grated cheese, lightly fried mushrooms, smoked salmon or anything else that takes your fancy – and you have a quick, nourishing meal. A frittata (called a tortilla in Spain) is a great portable food, as it slices into portions easily. The filling is mixed into the egg base and you can really go to town with your choice of fillings. I like to add whatever is in season – chopped fresh herbs, sliced roasted peppers, some lightly cooked asparagus, even sliced chorizo or smoked fish.
Boiled eggs are invariably my comfort food of choice, served with little soldiers of buttered toast. For the perfect boiled egg, start with the freshest organic eggs at room temperature. Drop them into a pot of simmering water and cook for 4 minutes. Remove at once from the water and stand 30 seconds before cutting off the tops. Try two boiled eggs for breakfast and you’re set up for the day.
When it comes to poaching eggs, there are lots of differing schools of thought. Here's my fail-safe method for perfectly formed, soft poached eggs every time. Firstly, you need really fresh eggs as these have whites which hold firm around the yolk. Fill a frypan or non-stick pan with water to a level of about 6cm. Add 1 tsp salt and bring to a rolling boil. A little vinegar (no more than a teaspoon) added to the water will help to seal the egg white and prevent it from spreading. Any more vinegar and the taste becomes overpowering.
Break a very fresh egg into a cup and slide it into the water. Once you add the egg, reduce the heat to a light simmer and poach your egg for 3-4 minutes or until done to your liking. I like mine cooked so the white is set but the yolk is still soft.
If you want to check your eggs are really fresh, just sit them in a bowl of cold water. When eggs are super fresh, they lie flat on their sides. As they age, air collects in the air sac at the end and they start to sit up in the water. The older the egg, the more air and so the more it will sit upright in the bowl. When it is rotten, an egg will float. While the freshest egg is best for poaching or frying, you want a slightly older egg if you are making meringues or pavlovas, which require a really fluffy, voluminous mass of beaten egg white. In this case go for an egg that’s maybe 7-10 days old. And it should be at room temperature for maximum volume.
When separating eggs it's important you don't get any yolk mixed in with the whites, as this prevents the whites from foaming. Break eggs one at a time over a small bowl, passing the yolk from one half of the shell ( or your palm) to the other while the white drips through into the bowl. Check there is no yolk in the white before tipping the white into a large clean mixing bowl and repeating the process again.
Leftover egg yolks can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days if covered with cold water, and the whites will keep in the fridge with no water just a cover. Unlike yolks, egg whites can be successfully frozen. Thaw at room temperature before using, they will fluff up perfectly.
Annabel Langbein is the star of the new TV ONE series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook (7pm Saturdays).
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See the cookbook Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook for all the recipes from the TV show.