My sons are eating their favourite lunch. It’s ‘jammy eggs’, large eggs boiled for just under seven minutes so the centre of each yolk is barely set, then halved while still warm. These are daubed with mayo (not too much – it’s all about the protein). A generous shake of Frank’s hot sauce comes next. Sometimes this goes on toast (though, you know, carbs), but most often not. If there are roast tomatoes around – cooked slow and low until they’re scorched and sweet – they’re added too.
The status of eggs has rocketed in the past five years. It’s partly because we’re trying to eat less meat but still want the feeling of fullness that a big steak brings. We need, as my sons know, protein. Those bowls of quinoa, black beans, roast peppers and avocado can take an egg, its thick yellow yolk spreading slowly and tempering the spiciness of the beans.
We know what eggs are capable of. Keen cooks and chefs need to understand how they work so they can make hollandaise (and its offshoots), mayonnaise, soufflés, meringues and ice cream, but I’m not offering the kind of dishes you learn at cookery school. After all, I didn’t fall in love with eggs because of the twice-baked cheese soufflé (a classic), but because of the ‘egg in a cup’ I was given as a child. The cup was blue, so the colours of the egg sang out. If I close my eyes, I can still smell this, nutty toasted soldiers and a soft-boiled egg mashed with a bigger chunk of butter than I would allow myself now.
You don’t need much skill to cook everyday egg dishes, but you have to know some basics. Except when you want a fried egg with a frilly edge, you should be gentle. If you cook eggs on a high heat, they become rubbery. If you scramble them slowly over a low heat, you end up with a creamy, almost luxurious dish. If you hard-boil eggs for too long a horrible grey ring appears round the yolk. Make jammy eggs and you can add them, warm and soft, to salads, or chop them and pile them on toast (sticking some chopped anchovies and shallots on top). Cook omelettes carefully, pushing the eggs with a wooden spoon into the middle of the pan, then tipping the pan so uncooked egg fills the space left behind.
Gone are the days when eggs were dull, the food you turned to when there was nothing else to eat. ‘Go to work on an egg’ was a popular advertising slogan during the 1960s. Now it seems you can go further.
Eggs, with their smooth shells and subtle colours, are among the most beautifully packaged ingredients in the kitchen. And they’re not just from hens. You might know keen cooks who would prefer some of the following to one made with chocolate.