The Incredible Egg!
It’s not really possible to overstate how important the simple chicken egg is in the kitchen. Eggs are the base for a myriad of dishes, from rich custards to ethereal meringues. Eggs can be scrambled, fried or poached for a nutritious meal. The yolk emulsifies mayonnaise and the white is indispensable for the pastry chef’s glue, royal icing. In fact, the egg holds such culinary importance it is said that each of the 100 folds of a chef’s toque represents one way the chef can cook an egg.
An egg’s culinary superpower comes from the way its proteins bond together. Eggs are comprised mostly of water, with protein molecules dispersed throughout. The water molecules outnumber the protein molecules 1000 to 1. In a raw egg, the proteins take the form of long chains that are folded onto themselves and are dispersed among the many water molecules, so a raw egg flows as a liquid. Picture individual knotted up rubber bands floating in a liquid.
When an egg is heated, salted, comes in contact with an acid, or is whipped into a foam, the protein chains break the bonds that form the compacted shapes, open up, then form new bonds. Now imagine those knotted up rubber bands unwinding and grabbing onto each other to form a solid mass. This creates a three dimensional network of proteins that trap the water. The trapped water is unable to flow so the egg becomes a solid.
Whites & Yolks
There is more to an egg than just water and protein, especially within the yolk. The yolk is about a third of a shelled egg’s weight. It packs a load of nutrition and most of the calories. The yolk is comprised mostly of water and protein, but also some fat and lecithin. It’s the lecithin that gives the yolk it’s emulsifying powers.
The egg white is about two thirds of an egg’s weight. The white is about 90% water, with the remainder made up of protein and traces of vitamins, minerals, and glucose. Unlike the yolk, egg whites have no fat, so they don’t add richness like a yolk does. But egg whites have great capacity to create structure.
Here’s some Eggstra information about eggs!
The very design of an egg, with it’s protective shell, allows it remain fresh for several weeks in the refrigerator. Although the egg will be edible for several weeks, the contents of the shell becomes more alkaline (less acidic) over time. As the egg white becomes more alkaline, the albumin proteins repel each other which makes the white more runny and clear in appearance.
To judge the freshness of an egg crack it onto a plate and look at how it spreads. A fresh egg will have a white that looks plump and thickly clings to the yolk. An older egg white will be runny and spread across the plate.
Because of the change in the protein, older whites will whip faster and get slightly more volume. But fresh whites whip up to a more stable foam. This is why fresher whites are better for egg foam cakes since a more stable foam can rise higher.
As the egg ages, the yolk will take in water from the egg white. As the yolk takes in water the membrane surrounding the yolk stretches and weakens. The weakened yolk membrane can make older eggs are very difficult to separate without breaking the yolk.
Even an unbroken egg will loose moisture as it ages because the shell is slightly porous. Loss of moisture causes the egg contents to shrink and the air cell at the wide end of the shell expands.
To test the freshness of an unbroken egg place it in a bowl of water. A fresh egg will sink because the air cell is very small. An older egg will sit higher in the water due to the expanded air cell. A very old egg will float at the top of the water.
Eggs will deteriorate 4 times faster at room temperature than under proper refrigeration. Kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator, eggs will stay fresh for several weeks. Once they’re out of the shell they should be used right away or frozen.
You can freeze whole eggs (shelled, of course), yolks or whites. Egg whites can be frozen as they are. Egg yolks should be mixed with sugar or salt before freezing to preserve their texture-use 1 teaspoon of salt or 1 tablespoon of sugar for each pint of yolks. Whole eggs require ½ teaspoon salt or 1.5 teaspoons sugar per pint.
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