Today, I can authoritatively answer that age old question – “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” (I have read the first few pages of both The Origin of the Species and The Selfish Gene). The egg came first – on the grand scale (as the egg must have evolved before the chicken), on the practical scale (as every chicken has to come out of an egg first, anyway) and, finally, on the economic scale (because, as I said in my last column, eggs were a commodity long before chicken meat became one).
In the spirit of doing things backwards, my last column (lost already in the mists of time) addressed the chicken. So, suitably, this one (belated, due to my inability to carry out simple tasks like type an email address into an address book) focusses on the most useful tool in both the cook and the three year old’s arsenal – the egg.
The egg is extremely versatile, from relatively simple preparations like fried, scrambled or poached (in our house, entirely theoretical) eggs, to the backseat (but, nevertheless, utterly crucial) role which they play in baking. They are both the easiest and quickest thing in the world to cook (who can beat fried eggs on toast with a nice bit of tasty old gouda for convenience?) and one of the most difficult (soufflé, anyone?)
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Contrary to popular belief, the protein in a cooked egg is almost twice as bio-available (or easily absorbed) as that of a raw egg. This means that the raw egg protein shake is bollocks, invented by bodybuilders to make them look tough. So, unless home-made mayo is your thing (and trust me – it is really, really, really good), cooked eggs are the way to go.
My favourite egg recipe is the frittata, a bastardization of a Spanish dish (tortilla) which only ever contains potato, eggs and sometimes a little bit of sautéed onion. The frittata is great because it is a delish way of getting rid of food in your fridge that you don’t quite know what to do with. I almost always include cooked potatoes in mine (I cook extra the night before, just for that purpose) to give it a bit of substance, but the sky is the limit. Just don’t go too wild – the best thing about this is its simplicity. Three or four ingredients will suffice.
To make it right, you will need a thick-bottomed, cast-iron fry pan (which you could pay a shitload of money for, so trawl second-hand stores. Unless it is cracked or warped, buy it. It’s the best kitchen investment you will ever make).
To get it into working order, scrub it down good and proper with detergent. Then, rinse it really well, coat it in cooking oil and bang it in the oven (on high) for a few hours, reapplying oil when it gets dry. Now, this is the most important step: never wash the pan with detergent again. Wipe it out with a cloth, or if it’s really grotty, wash it under hot water with a brush and dry thoroughly. Girls (and boys too), if you have an iron deficiency – and especially if you don’t eat red meat, a cast iron pan is the way to go, as it increases the amount of easily absorbed iron in your food. It won’t solve all of your problems, but it will help.
Anyways, crank your oven up to 200o and sauté half an onion (if you want to add something like capsicum, now is the time) for ten minutes on low in enough butter or oil to cover the pan; don’t brown or burn the onions. Add the rest of your ingredients, cooking them if they need it. In a bowl, whisk enough eggs (I don’t know how big your pan is, do I?) to not quite cover the ingredients, with a little bit of cream or milk. Then, pour the mixture into the pan. Take the pan off the heat while you add some fresh herbs, cheese (parmesan is really good), salt and pepper to the top. Cook for approximately ten minutes (or until firm) in the oven. Cut wedges out of the pan and eat with a salad. Enjoy.