Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Omelette Exploration 2: Good Eggs

You can make omelettes out of almost everything that is a liquid.  I have known people who have made coffee omelettes when all they had in their house was instant coffee and butter.  I have heard stories from the Second World War of people short of food making omelettes from the blood of livestock.  I have never tried anything beyond the use of eggs.  However, strictly omeletting is as much an approach to cooking as what goes into it.  Thus, it is almost entirely free in how you interpret it, hence my exploration of at least some of the paths you go down with omelettes.

Today I am going to expound my views on the basic ingredient that almost all of us will encounter with omelettes and that is eggs.  There have been campaigns against battery farmed eggs for at least the past three decades.  However, it is not only the cruelty to the chickens, obviously if you have ever encountered a crippled rescue chicken, which is a bad effect of such an approach but also the quality of the egg itself.  I am not a vegetarian and I see good quality livestock products going hand-in-hand with good treatment of the animal providing them.  In terms of egg quality, barn bred hens, i.e. those free to move around but not go outside are not good enough either.

If you have owned chickens you know that often they are not the way people assume.  Many people think they are herbivores.  Many farmers simply feed them corn and/or layer's mash pellets.  In fact chickens are omnivores.  They like fresh vegetables, they like grass but they also love beetles, worms and frogs.  Chickens will fight over eating a frog.  The importance of the meat in a chicken's diet is that it puts Omega 3 into their eggs.  In the UK Omega 3 began to disappear from chicken eggs from the 1970s onwards, so eliminating an important source of this nutrient.  It is easier to get it from your egg consumption than from a tablet, especially if you are not keen on fish.

Picking up an egg you can tell a great deal about the chicken's life.  If the egg is pale in colour then, except with some breeds, it has not eaten grass.  You will expect browner eggs in the summer to those layed in the winter, but certainly you are looking at least for a tan colour to show you a chicken which has run free and eaten what it wants.  If the shell is stippled like the surface of a tiny, tiny golfball, then the chicken was stressed.  In worse cases they will lay small, constrained eggs.  However, if you see this small, hardened pattern the chicken may have been scared, perhaps from a fox attack or from seeing chickens around it stressed.  Thus, this can be a conflicting signal as it might show the chicken is out and about or among other stressed chickens.

Shaking an egg will help you learn more about what the chicken has eaten.  You want the contents to feel 'gloopy' and not watery.  This indicates a chicken that has eaten meat.  Once you open it, you are looking for a bright but dark orange yolk, rather than the yellow too often portrayed in the media.  The more watery and the paler the contents of the egg, the poorer the quality.  A proper free range egg is hard to work with.  It will need to be folded for twice as long as a barn raised chicken's egg.  However, using proper free range eggs you will understand how artists like Vincent Van Gogh used them on paintings.  If  you put a poor quality supermarket egg on a painting if would run off.  A free-range egg dries to a hard texture like Polyfilla.  You can stick things together with it and if you do not soak your plates and bowls quickly you will find you need a knife to really scrape it off.  For cooking and especially adding fillings, this works far better for you when making omelettes (or indeed scrambled, poached or fried eggs) that something sloppy sliding all over the place and lacking both the flavour and the nutrients you need.

Free range eggs are more easily available than ever.  Lidl sells them.  Also look around your area as many people are keeping chickens (though in back gardens rather than on balconies of flats as they do in Belgium) and you can typically buy from them at a very good price; recycle your egg boxes with these people and even get to know the ladies who are providing your basic omelette ingredient.

Next I will be looking at some of the different ways I have experimented with in making omelettes from the Lyons housewife approach to the mille-feuille method to mini-omelettes in a row.

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