Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Which came first… the Chicken or the Egg?

Lately, my obsession with chickens has been rekindled. The scratchy, clucky and bossy type - at least they have been in my experience.

When I was about five years old, my parents bought me two baby chicks to care for… sadly, Snowy and Jonno were both killed by the dog next door. So, they got me another two.  I named one (Emily) and my friend the other (Jonno) and I’m glad I got creative with my naming because it was again the chick named Jonno who unfortunately perished at the paws of the white and fluffy rat over the fence. They say it’s important for chooks to have at least one girlfriend around so that they don’t become lonely so I think my parents were initially a bit worried about Emily being by herself (they had geese before I was born and when the female died, the gander went crazy of a broken heart).

Their worries were unfounded however because Emily quickly became acquainted with Cybil, my dear late sister and friend:

In fact, Emily bossed Cybil around. Poor old dog, she probably didn’t know what had hit her (or pecked her in the nose as the case was).

< Photo of Cybil and Emily – coming!! > 

I was always keen on chooks but since Dad has been down at the community garden working with them (and bringing fresh eggs home!), my interest has been tickled again. The latest non-fiction book I hoed into was not, for a nice change, a physiology textbook. Rather, it was Jackie French’s ‘Chook Book’.

My nerdy, library-and-in-particular-fiction-loving 10 year old self was quite a fan of Jackie French and my young adult (age-wise anyhow) self is also a fan, except this time of her non-fiction works. Apart from being busy in her work as part of the ACT Children’s Ambassador, a patron of Club Cool (a programme that encourages children to read), director of the Wombat Foundation and writing books (duh), she and her husband somehow manage to care for a four hectare garden. Reading the description of her place on the biography section of her website made me green with envy…. oh how I wish for 800 fruit trees!

Anyhow, there were a couple of things I learnt from Jackie French’s book that I found particularly interesting… mainly because I hadn’t heard of them before. Apart from the different breeds of chickens, etc, the things I was most fascinated by were the 'how-to' of eggs! Here are a few that kept me entertained and opened mouthed for even hours afterwards... 

  • Store eggs bum-up to suspend the yolk inside the white (this produces a nice even whiteness around the yellow when the eggs are hard-boiled)
  • Never wash eggs as the shells are porous, just brush them clean
  • When using just the egg whites, pierce a small hole in the smaller end of the egg and let the white ooze out before putting tape over the hole.  Stored this way in the fridge, blunt end down, the yolks will keep fresh for several days; yolks can also be slipped into a glass of cold water and stored in the fridge for a day or two. They can also be dropped into boiling water and stored as hard-boiled yolks for salads, etc
  • Egg yolks are usually in the blunt end so when cracking the egg, hold the blunt end in your dominant (cracking) hand and try to catch the yolk in the blunt end; the white will easily slip out of the pointed end
  • Room temperature eggs are less likely to crack when you boil them, the whites whip better and yolks are fatter and higher when you fry them
  • One or two extra yolks adds creaminess to scrambled eggs (as does 1T orange juice as long as it’s not from a navel orange); don’t use milk for scrambled eggs – use 1T butter per egg and crack the eggs directly into the pan

Now I’ve always prided myself on being able to make perfect soft-boiled eggs. According to Jackie French though, I’m doing it all wrong! So this is the method I’m going to be trying out the next time I’m craving a soldier boy covered in creamy golden goo:

  1. Prick a tiny hole at the fat end with the needle if one is handy (stops shell breaking)
  2. Put eggs in saucepan, just cover with cold water and put on heat
  3. As soon as the water begins to boil, take it off heat and leave for 2-4 minutes (white hardens at 2, yolk at 4 – around 3 minutes would give my kind of egg: solid white but a slightly runny yolk into which you can dip toast!)
    Note: eggs are hardboiled after 15 minutes done this way
The book wraps up with about 20 pages of recipes that use chicken and/or eggs. I never really took notice of how many eggs one inadvertently consumes over the course of a day... cakes, salads, stir-fries; the list goes on. One of my mum's ways to use up veggies that are nearing their use-by date is to fry them up with egg. Below is a photo of a simple yet delightful cucumber, zucchini and egg stir-fry she invented on one such occasion. 
And the sushi she made on the same night... organic egg rolls, cucumber and perilla leaves with unfortunately-not-organic chicken, garnished with organic rocket.

Which brings us back to the question: which came first – the chicken or the egg?

- Matilda

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