Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Occupy Your Kitchen: The Egg: The Symbol of Life

Some foods are so universal as to be subconsciously disregarded, to be relegated to an afterthought: a line item on a grocery list to be ticked off, something that is scrambled together in the fog of morning and washed down with coffee.

I am speaking of course of the noble egg, perhaps the first among equals of super foods.


But for anyone who cooks, or better still, bakes for a living, the egg is literally and figuratively the glue that binds together an entire universe of preparations as infinite as the night sky on a clear night above the high desert.

Or do I mean dessert?

I recently encountered a carton of eggs costing over $8 per dozen at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco.

What does one cook with $8 eggs? Short answer: anything and everything you would cook with $2 eggs.

Better question: what do you do with $8 eggs?

The answer, for me, this morning: as little as possible.


The egg is a topic I could wax philosophically about endlessly, but for now I just want to talk about the cost of an egg.

A $8 egg carton is from a chicken that is pastured. A pastured chicken is a free-range chicken that actually forages food.

To be called "free-range" a chicken only needs to be "given access to" the outdoors - the "range" may be a small enclosed patch of grass, and the chicken frequently chooses to stay indoors, perhaps out of fear, but more likely because it does not know there is an outside to which it has been given access.

Moreover, an $8 carton of eggs comes from chickens that are not put on a diet of feed. That this is not more controversial is something that I cannot understand.

Chicken feed can contain grains, many egg "manufacturers" (especially the health-food store variety) boast that their chickens are given a "vegetarian only" feed.

Chickens are not vegetarians.

Please re-read that! Especially for those of you who tend to anthropomorphize animals (I'm looking at you, people who buy vegetarian cat food and wax philosophical about the horrors of the gavage).

Chickens are omnivores, much like humans, and should eat a mixture of grubs, insects, fruits and foliage as part and parcel of their diet.

One reason vegetarian feed is favored among the community of sadly misguided hippies and the people who exploit them is out of fear of prions.

Regular chicken feed routinely includes beef, pig, horse and who-knows-what-else bone and meat meal: extruded and extracted pink slime in pellet form mixed with industrial corn and probably more nefarious adulterants (hormones, antibiotics, ground baby).

One thing that is supposedly not allowed in chicken feed is chicken, just like downer calves and beef carcasses are not to be fed to cows. Supposedly. But a downer calf is fair game for chicken feed, as is the carcass of any diseased, non-chicken critter.

So, vegetarian feed may be a lesser evil, but it is still a forced, unnatural diet fed to chickens that are not truly "free-range" despite claims to the contrary.

So why so expensive? Because these eggs must be rushed from farm to table, they are not stored in warehouses. Because you need land, and plenty of it, to be commercially viable (as opposed to a single building with a 36" by 36" hole cut out for "free-range" access). Because makers of pastured eggs are not large, efficient agri-businesses that are subsidized by tax-payers and shielded from the finicky realities of the free market.

So my question to you is: can you afford not to eat $8 eggs?

[ Ed. Note: the answer, of course, is that we can't afford to continue to make low-quality food the only option for lower-income grocery budgets; which is increasingly 99% of us. Do some research, maybe you can pen a chicken in your backyard - although in California that means that in addition to all the raccoons, dogs, cats and other predators you also have to contend with cougars and mountain lions. No, I don't mean versions of OS X. ]

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To Poach An Egg:
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 quarts of boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
Bring water to the boil and add salt and vinegar.

Crack two of the freshest eggs you can find directly into the water, cover and reduce heat to low.

Poach eggs for 3-5 minutes (soft poached to medium poached).

Remove eggs onto a "staging" plate with a slotted spoon. Allow to rest.

After the eggs have rested, you can pour off the excess water from the eggs and transfer them carefully to whatever application you intend to use them for.

For example, toss Italian parsley, arugula and frisée in a dash of vinegar and citrus juice, salt and pepper and a tiny amount of The Good Stuff™ (pristine, gold-plated, diamond crusted olive oil).

Break the yolk and mix with your salad to form a creamy dressing.

Allow yolk to run down your chin, shamelessly, like a Nigella Lawson promo.

Delight in the sexy unctuousness of a perfectly poached egg.

Know that all is right in the world, secure in the knowledge that the chicken who bore your breakfast egg frolics in the sunlight happily gorging itself on nuts and grubs.