After the unfortunate announcement of a recall of some lot codes of our beloved Schultz organic eggs due to Salmonella, it feels like the right time to highlight how to safely handle and cook eggs in our own kitchens. While such contamination is relatively rare among our local, organic farms, the Centers for Disease Control reports that in 2010, Salmonella food poisoning in the US was still three times higher than the goal set by federal regulators.
There’s not much any home cook can do about contaminated eggs beyond avoiding cross-contamination while handling them and then cooking them thoroughly. Contaminated eggs don’t look or smell any different than healthy ones.
Here are safety tips you should follow:
Refrigerate raw eggs as soon as possible after buying them. Foodborne microorganisms reproduce every 20 minutes (and faster, at the higher end of this temperature range) between 45–145°. Keep the eggs on the top shelf of your fridge, which is the coldest. Never store eggs in the door of the fridge; it’s the warmest place in your fridge.
Use a refrigerator thermometer. If you don’t have one, acquire one—you will probably be surprised to discover that your fridge is a lot warmer than you thought. The temperature on the middle shelf should be below 40°.
Don’t wash eggs in the sink before using them—you will only spread any contamination that may still lie on the surface of the eggs to other foods and utensils that enter the sink. Crack the eggs neatly, throw away the shells immediately, and wash your hands once you’ve finished handling raw eggs.
Don’t use utensils that have touched raw eggs to stir or otherwise handle ingredients that will not be cooked before they’re eating.
Tempting though it is, you shouldn’t eat raw cookie or cake dough. Yes, you probably do and will. Please compromise, at the very least, by keeping foods containing raw eggs from children and people with impaired immune systems, because they are most susceptible to Salmonella infections.
Eggs contain secrets within secrets. Hidden beneath their cryptic shells lie proteins that are folded upon themselves like bedsprings. To cook well with eggs, envision this: these egg protein, which are found in both white and yolk, can either remain coiled upon themselves or be sprung loose to expand, forming bonds with their companion proteins. If you want to prevent this from happening—say, because you want to produce a soft, almost curdless scrambled egg—you’ll use salt as well as fat over and above what the yolk provides. Salt and fat (let’s say in the form of cream) prevent the coiled proteins from fully unfolding and forming the latticework that leads to solid and/or curded eggs.
Treat eggs gently and cook them slowly, and they reward you with rounded, lovely mouth feel and texture.
A perfect example of this is the famous (non)boiled egg: if you want a perfect “hard-boiled” egg, simply place your eggs in a cast iron pan deep enough to cover them with cold water, bring the water to a simmer, clap a lid over the pan, turn off the heat, and let the pan sit for 12 minutes. The eggs will cook in the declining residual heat of the pan, and you will have none of those sickly, ochre-colored yolks that bedevil so many hard-cooked eggs. (If you do not have a suitable cast iron pan, simply cook the eggs at the lowest possible heat for 10 minutes after the water reaches a simmer, put a lid on the pan, turn off the heat ,and allow the eggs to sit for an additional 10 minutes.)
Here’s the simplest and most cloud-like expression of foiling an egg’s yearning to unfold its proteins into a chewy scramble that I know of:
Heat an 8-inch cast iron skillet on MEDIUM (no higher!) for 2 minutes. Lightly beat up 4 eggs; add a 1/2 tsp. of kosher salt (or ¼ tsp. sea salt), a glug of Cedar Summit heavy cream, and fold those in. When the pan is hot, add about 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil to it, heat for about 30 seconds, and pour in the eggs.
Leave them alone until you can see that they have cooked around the edge of the pan. Use a silicon spatula to lift the edge, and encourage the uncooked eggs to run underneath. Do this every minute or so until the eggs have become high and puffy. Don’t stir them at all.
In about 4 minutes, you will have a cloud of eggs with a nicely browned bottom. Slide the cloud out of the pan, give it a little licking of butter and/or freshly ground pepper, maybe some minced parsley, and eat. You have prevented the bonds from unfolding with the addition of the cream and salt, and the result is pan-cooked eggs with none of the graininess or toughness usually associated with scrambled eggs.