Eggs are something we could talk about forever. We eat them for any meal of the day. For many people, they’re the first thing you learn to cook. And even for world class chefs, mastering something as simple as a plain omelette can become a total obsession. Rachel Khong has written a book called All About Eggs. It’s a deep look at recipes and uses from across different cultures, including eggs from very different birds. Our contributor, The New York Times columnist Melissa Clark, sat down with Khong to talk about her favorite discoveries from the book. Khong also gave us a recipe for Scotch Eggs.
Melissa Clark: In your introduction, you write that this book is about eggs, but it’s also about humankind and our connection to one another. What do you mean by that?
Rachel Khong: This book is all about eggs; it's also about the ways humans are eating and preparing eggs. We eat eggs all around the world. Pretty much anywhere there are birds, people eat eggs – which is, essentially, everywhere. Eggs are a common vocabulary. If you're in a foreign country and don't know the language, the odds are high that people there are eating eggs, and you can order an egg. The book shows how similar we are despite so many cultural differences.
(Photo: Chris Ying)
MC: There are a lot of similarities with different cultures about the way that we prepare eggs. What are some of the differences? What are some unique recipes?
RK: One of the recipes that I came across is a dish called virgin boys eggs. In Eastern China, it’s a springtime delicacy they’ve been doing for centuries. It's hard-boiled eggs steeped in the urine of prepubescent boys. It's a tradition that they've had for a long time and still do. It's apparently good for you as an anti-inflammatory.
MC: Have you had it or just heard about it?
RK: I have not had it. I drew the line there.
MC: Back to the similarities, I love that so many techniques are used cross-culturally. You write about shakshuka.
RK: Shakshuka is a dish in North Africa and the Middle East. It’s eggs poached in tomato sauce; it’s delicious with a hunk of crusty bread. Since it's so delicious, lots of other cultures do that kind of thing as well. Like eggs in purgatory in Italy, which is also eggs in a spicy tomato sauce. There's a dish in Mexico that's the same sort of deal but with native green peppers. Things like eggs hard-boiled and steeped in tea. In Taiwan and China, they crack the eggs so that there's a beautiful marbling that happens all around the egg; it's a street snack. You can even find it at the 7/11 stores in Taiwan. That's similar to a type of egg they make in Iran, something they make overnight so they don't have to cook during the Sabbath. They steep the eggs in onion skins, which causes the eggs to be brown on the outside and have a beautiful pattern on the inside.
All About Eggs
by Rachel Khong
MC: We always think of chicken eggs. Maybe some of us can get duck eggs. But there are different types of birds whose eggs we eat.
RK: Duck eggs are very rich. They have a dark orange yolk and are great for things like cakes that need a rich yolky yolk. Quail eggs are used in Chinese medicine. We have a recipe for deep fried quail eggs called kwek kwek, which is a street food in the Philippines.
I was excited to learn about some cool bird eggs that I had never heard of before. One of them is from a bird called the tinamou. And the tinamou is a South American bird that lays beautiful eggs that look like they've been dipped in paint. They're iridescent; sometimes they're purple or turquoise. They look like fake, plastic eggs – beautiful duck egg-size eggs that farmers in Chile are trying to popularize. They have more iron than regular chicken eggs, so their whites are a bit pink. No one’s sure why the eggs are so beautiful; one theory is that they attract male incubators to the nest to come sit on the shiny, beautiful eggs.
Another egg that people eat near the Arctic Circle is that of a seabird called the guillemot. Their eggs are conical, speckled, turquoise eggs that are seasonal; you can only get them in the springtime in Iceland. People will repel down cliffs to harvest them from the edge of these cliffs. And the speckled patterns are actually useful. The guillemots lay their eggs in large communal nests at the edge of the cliff; these speckled patterns help the birds find the eggs that belong to them.
MC: Oh, wow! It's like a little marker, so you know which one is your little baby chick?
RK: It’s like being at a party and writing your name on a cup.
Melissa Clark is a food writer and author. She is a food columnist for The New York Times, and has written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Every Day with Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart. She is the author of Dinner in an Instant, Cook This Now, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite and 32 other cookbooks.