What came first, the chicken or the egg? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the chicken unless you subscribe to the theory of Spontaneous Generation, where a rock shaped like a chicken eventually turned into a chicken. I’m pretty sure the original form of chickens looked more like the egg with a central core like the yolk (or cell nucleus) surrounded by the albumin or egg white (like protoplasm) which eventually contained enough dividing cells to form a rudimentary animal. Okay, enough of this scientific gobbledygook. Though nature’s original intention was the primary makins’ of another chicken, the uses for the egg go well beyond just another cock-a-doodle-doo!
For starters, for you fitness buffs who regularly consume this protein supplement or that protein supplement, you need not look further than the humble egg. The egg white is primarily protein (actually mostly water but the solids are almost pure protein) and very high quality protein to boot. Depending on which reference is used, the Biological Value (or BV) of egg is anywhere from 94 to 100 — pretty much the standard by which other proteins are compared. And me thinks an egg white omelet is a lot tastier than any protein shake.
The egg yolk contains about a third of the total protein found in the egg along with the B-vitamins folic acid, riboflavin, pyridoxine, cyanocobalamin, choline and biotin as well as Vitamin A, iron, potassium, calcium and phosphorus. The yolk also contains fat — roughly three to five grams per egg though only a quarter of this amount is saturated fat. It also contains that nasty compound, CHOLESTEROL. The stuff that arterial plaques are made from! Stop this column immediately! Can’t be discussing a food that’s bad for us right?!
Well, it’s not that simple. While cholesterol does contribute to atherosclerosis (or hardening of the arteries), it’s also a necessary compound that produces our sex hormones (without those hormones, we’d all just be asexual mushrooms) along with the insulation (myelin) of all of our nerve cells. And while dietary cholesterol can raise serum cholesterol, the biggest dietary culprit in raising serum cholesterol is dietary saturated fat. Plus, it’s not like the egg yolk is pure cholesterol, it’s only about 200 to 300 milligrams of cholesterol. In reality, the cholesterol circulating in our blood is only about 20 percent dependent on dietary sources. Our livers account for about 80 percent of what’s in our blood. That’s why I’m in the camp that believes you can consume more than the two to three egg limitation per week that’s usually recommended by the USDA. I feel you’d be better off eliminating those traditional breakfast meats and dairy products, which contain their fair share of saturated fat and are more likely to raise your serum cholesterol.
Since I was mentioning breakfast, let’s start there — with your standard breakfast including eggs. Poached, sunny side, over easy, scrambled, boiled or mixed with other players and baked as in the Italian frittata or the Spanish tortilla. I personally like my yolks runny. Doesn’t that increase the risk for salmonella? Technically yes, though it’s been estimated that salmonella infects only 1 in 10,000 or so eggs. And it seems that the risk may be a little higher on the eastern side… and Hawai‘i is as far west as the U.S. goes (okay, maybe parts of Alaska are further west). And if you do ingest salmonella, it’s usually self-limiting and isn’t a problem unless you’re in the elderly, infantile or immuno-compromised population (OK, I know I’m approaching elderly). Plus that’s what antibiotics are for and that is the day job for me. So I personally am willing to take the salmonella/runny egg yolk chance.
The penchant for runny egg yolks started many moons ago. Initially it was watching dad carefully apply a couple of drops of Tabasco on each sunny side yolk and save the yolk for the last bite. Eventually it was watching Mr. Abe consume his daily breakfast. I walked to school with Michael every morning during our Kapunahala Elementary days and would wait for him seated at their dining table (I think he purposely took a long time getting ready just so his mom would drive us to school). While waiting, his ojiichan — Mr. Abe — would have a traditional Japanese breakfast. It often included a single egg — not fried, boiled or poached. In fact it was served still in its shell. When Mrs. Abe brought out a bowl of steaming rice, Mr. Abe would crack the egg over the steaming rice then quickly mix it along with shoyu and tsukemono and consume it with broiled fish, miso soup and other Japanese delicacies. I’m not sure if he had an egg every morning, but it seemed that way. Or maybe I was so entranced by his tamago meshi that the memory kept repeating in my brain.
Since those hanabata (childhood) days, I’ve always been a fan of the runny egg yolk. Whether it was watching Mr. Abe mix it with steaming gohan, watching Dad save that last bite of the whole sunny side yolk, or simply seeing that yellow orb of goodness mixed in the perfect Caesar salad dressing or steak tartare, in the words of Tony Bourdain “I’m a total egg slut.” However I also do have my favorite egg yolk applications that involve more than the cursory amount of heat, sometimes scrambled, sometimes boiled.
Very early in childhood, my favorite meal was eggs scrambled with French cut green beans and quartered Vienna sausage. I still remember mom trying to dissuade me after asking me to choose my birthday meal. “Vienna sausage, beans and eggs,” I requested. “No, it’s your birthday, choose something else,” she said. “OK, eggs, beans and Vienna sausage,” I countered. Though I rarely partake in that childhood staple anymore, I do occasionally have scrambled eggs, with butter and green onions. Simple? Yes. Healthy? Not really since margarine won’t do — only real butter and more than just a pat. But it’s something about the marriage of eggs, real butter and fresh green onions that make one plus one plus one equal 15.
I previously shunned boiled eggs, even during those childhood Easters, feeling it was a waste of a perfectly good yolk. I enjoyed coloring them but never really enjoyed consuming them… That is until Chef Keith Endo of Vino added his Sicilian-style eggs to the menu. Boiled eggs in a ragu of red peppers and pepperoncini with pancetta and capers, served on toasted bread to sop up the juices, it’s a perfect marriage of sweet, spicy, salty, crunchy and savory in one dish. In usual Gochiso Gourmet fashion, I’ve created my own take on Chef Keith’s Sicilian-style eggs.
12 eggs, medium- to hard-boiled
3 large red bell peppers, julienne
1 poblano pepper, julienne
1/2 bottle of pepperoncini, julienne
5 medium cloves fresh garlic, sliced
2 tbsp drained and rinsed capers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp oil from sun-dried tomato bottle
2 tbsp liquid from pepperoncini
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp tomato or sun-dried tomato paste
1 heaping tbsp honey
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Chopped parsley (optional)
Sauté the garlic in the oil until it begins to brown, then add the peppers. Cook until the fresh peppers begin to soften, then add the capers. Cook another two to three minutes then add the pepperoncini and liquid, balsamic vinegar, tomato oil and paste and honey, then sprinkle with the black pepper. Cook until the liquid almost evaporates, then take off of the heat.
Toast baguettes — grilling is even better — until they develop a crisp texture. Place halved boiled eggs on top, then spoon on pepper mixture. Garnish with parsley and serve.
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, Hawaii and can be reached at email@example.com.