A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Tomorrow, our apartment will host the Great Egg Scramble-Off of 2007, where we will, though careful scientific investigation, verify the method for Exquisitely Perfect Scrambled Eggs. But in the meantime, in honor of Radical Fun Day 2.0, I present an Ode to Eggs. Sadly, this subject is not especially friendly to vegan radicals – but y’all still rock in my book, okay? Peace.
Eggs are the most perfect food in existence. They dissolve on our taste buds, subtle and sublime whether served cooked or raw; their chemical properties allow for technical feats of cooking wizardry; their nutritional profile provides a source of protein and nutrients unrivaled in the realm of affordable foods; and, though often factory farmed these days, they can be one of the most environmentally friendly forms of food. Even their infamous high cholesterol only adds to their perfection. After all, were not their consumption a restricted, half-guilty pleasure, they would be reduced to the level of carrot sticks and oatmeal, delicious but banal. Eggs beckon us coyly with their flexibility and flavor, then hide, blushing, behind the guise of forbidden fruit.
Let us embrace the egg.
As a child, my favorite foods revolved around eggs. My aunt’s row house in London encompasses many of my fondest food memories, from potatoes glistening with the juices from Sunday roast beef to blackberries picked in the back garden, staining our thorn-scratched fingers with tart juice. However, the most memorable dish of all was her meringues; I have never seen their like. Smooth kisses of vanilla-tinted ivory, they dissolved in my mouth with a satiny, crisp texture, often accompanied by fresh-whipped cream but just as perfect on their own. I still have dreams about those meringues.
Then there was my mother’s cholent. This traditional Sabbath dish would simmer overnight in her clay baking dish, mingling the strong tastes of beans, wheatberries, and beef into a gloriously thick stew. My favorite part of the dish, though, was the eggs. When she laid them onto the top of the stew before baking, shell and all, the slow cooking infused them with a tea-brown hue and a smokey richness. Before serving, my mother would peel them and slice them in half, and their bright yellow yolks shone forth from the pot.
One of my favorite egg preparations, though, was the simplest: “Best Egg,” we called it. A freshly hard-boiled egg, still finger-searingly hot, would be peeled, dropped into a cup, and mashed with a fork along with butter, salt, and fresh-ground pepper, melting the fragrant butter and transfiguring the egg into an object of such satisfying sumptuousness that, for the short period of time I ate it, no other food in the world could distract me.
Cooking on my own, I experimented with many egg preparations: fluffy souffles, crusty bread puddings, pepper-tinged shakshoukas, golden challah loafs, cool egg salads. I learned different egg dishes for different moods; some mornings called for crisp-edged fried eggs, oozing their golden hearts onto buttered toast, whereas some evenings made me crave a bowl of salty ramen, cooked with fresh vegetables and starring a luscious egg poached in the broth. My biggest ovulary pleasure, though, has become scrambled eggs. I’m not talking about the kind you scoop up from a breakfast buffet or eat with your Waffle House hash browns; those can be perfectly tasty, of course, especially with a generous topping of salsa and shredded cheese, but they use eggs as a means to an end. In perfect scrambled eggs, the egg itself is the end. Butter, salt, and perhaps a splash of milk may lend the egg depth and seasoning, but the egg stands alone. Soft sunshine-colored curds melt onto the tongue in fluffy, custardy waves. Airy pillows of barely-firm egg part beneath the fork, untouched by flecks of browning or outside flavoring, a pure and divine epiphany of earthly ambrosia. I can think of few greater carnal pleasures than a plate full of those pristine eggs, their only accompaniment a few wedges of crunchy whole-grain toast for textural variation.
Eggs are, indeed, the most perfect food in existence.