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Get cracking: beaten

Categories: Expert guidance

In an ongoing series, cookery writer and Borough Market regular Jenny Chandler explores eggs in all their various forms. This week: scrambled eggs and omelettes

Words: Jenny Chandler
Image: Paul Thompson 

What to cook when time is short and you’re ravenously hungry? The answer must surely be an egg. Eggs are readily available and keep well, too. When it comes to storage, we have that inevitable question: fridge or room temperature?

There are reasons for refrigerating your eggs. It will slow down the deterioration of the texture, keeping the whites thicker for longer and making the yolk more likely to remain intact. Chilling will also reduce moisture loss through the porous shell and stop any potential multiplication of salmonella bacteria (should they be present).

However, you’re always better cooking with a room temperature egg: it’s less likely to curdle when combined with fats and you can create more volume when you whisk it. I store my eggs in a cool corner of the kitchen, only buy a few at a time so that deterioration is not an issue, and I’m selective about who I serve undercooked or raw egg dishes to (young children, the elderly, pregnant women or anyone with a compromised immune system will be missing out on the mayo).

A silky serving
Perhaps the simplest and most comforting of dishes is scrambled egg—simple in the sense that it requires no extras, just butter to cook it with, a splash of milk (or cream if you’re feeling indulgent) and some good seasoning. Yet a silky serving of lightly scrambled eggs is pretty hard to come by when you’re out and about. It’s my benchmark dish for any hotel breakfast or cafe brunch.

Perfect scramble is cooked gently and slowly with a light folding action rather than feverish stirring (one of those square-bottomed wooden spoons is perfect for the job) and removed from the heat while still rather custardy and undercooked. By the time it arrives on the plate, the egg will be that wonderful velvety texture rather than the twangy rubber variety you’re more likely to discover languishing in one of those dreaded canteen dishes.

In Britain we add smoked salmon or herbs just prior to serving; the Spanish reverse the process in their revuelto, where ingredients such as prawns, wild mushrooms, spring garlic or chorizo are cooked in the pan, then the beaten eggs are gently stirred through until they begin to set.

Slap up lunches
An omelette makes the quickest of slap up lunches; it can be whipped up in under a minute. A non-stick pan is a boon, since you want to cook the thin layer of beaten egg until the bottom is set but not leathery and the centre is still slightly creamy or ‘baveuse’, and be able to roll your masterpiece effortlessly on to a plate.

Omelettes can be stuffed, herbs and flavouring can be stirred into the mix (think of that Indian street food classic, the fabulously spiced masala omelette)—just keep in mind that whatever the flavour, high heat and speed are key to producing a light, soft texture.

The fabulously thick Italian frittata and the Spanish tortilla, however, turn all the omelette rules on their head. Here beaten eggs are stirred together with cooked vegetables and then fried slowly over a low flame, so that the outer edges set rather than toughen as the omelette cooks through, expertly turned along the way.

Beaten egg heaven
These omelettes can be sliced like a cake, make great picnic food and are fabulous vehicles for leftover vegetables, plenty of herbs and perhaps a spot of cheese or cured meat—unless, of course, you’re Spanish, where the tortilla is virtually sacrosanct and the ingredients left well alone, an example of egg perfection with little more than fried potatoes and a little seasoning. Beaten egg heaven.

Read Jenny’s recipe for revuelto de gambas here