Jump To Section
What Are Eggs?
Although many animals produce eggs (including ducks, quail, sturgeon, and, uh, humans), the most important egg in the kitchen comes from the chicken. Palm-size chicken eggs include a protein-packed white, vitamin-full yolk, and all that’s necessary to nourish and protect a baby chick. When eggs are collected for human consumption, they become one of our most nutritionally complete foods.
5 Things to Consider When Shopping for Eggs
- Color: It’s a common misconception that the color of an eggshell tells us something about the quality of the egg. It doesn’t. It is simply a reflection of the breed of chicken that produced the egg. Shell color is cosmetic and has nothing to do with quality or taste. In most regions of the United States, the majority of chicken eggs are white. But in parts of the Northeast, particularly New England, brown eggs are more prevalent. Such regional differences are a function of supply and demand. The same is true in many other countries. The color of an egg yolk is directly influenced by the makeup of the chicken feed. Contrary to another common misperception, the color of an egg yolk does not reliably reflect the nutritional value of an egg.
- Grade: The United States Department of Agriculture provides the following grades for egg quality: US Grade AA: The whites are thick and firm, the yolks are high and round, and the shells are clean and unbroken. They’re great for frying and poaching, and any other preparations in which appearance is important. US Grade A: This is the grade most often sold in stores. They’re similar to Grade AA, but their whites are not as firm. US Grade B: Their whites are thinner and their yolks wider and flatter than the whites and yolks of higher-grade eggs. You won’t often come across them in stores because they’re usually used to make liquid, frozen, and dried egg products, as well as other products containing eggs.
- Size: Most recipes call for large eggs. The biggest variable in egg size is the age of the chicken. Generally the older the chicken, the larger the egg. But egg size also tends to vary by breed and weight of the bird. Hatching environment is another important factor. Heat, stress, and overcrowding have all been shown to lower the size of eggs. Whether you use whole eggs, whites, or yolks will depend on the recipe and purpose.
- Freshness: Locate the best source for fresh eggs in your community. That might mean talking to purveyors at your local farmers’ market, or writing down the brands available at the grocery store in your notebook and doing your own research about their practices. Buy a few different brands, crack one of each egg onto a plate, and look for whites that hold their shape and bright, healthy yolks.
- Living conditions: Cage-Free: USDA-regulated term that simply indicates hens do not live in cages. Cage-free hens do not necessarily have a lot of space or outdoor access. Free-Range: USDA-regulated term that means hens have continuous access to an outdoor space. The access—and the outdoor space itself—may be quite limited. Pasture-Raised: A term not regulated by the USDA, pasture-raised implies that chickens have enough outdoor space to forage for food. The exact conditions can vary from farm to farm, so check with your specific supplier.
Egg Nutrition Facts
Eggs used to get a bad rap as cholesterol bombs. The truth is that they’re high in nutritional value and low in calories. Eggs have all nine essential amino acids, the building blocks in proteins, and their yolks contain choline, which promotes cell activity and liver function and helps in the development of memory functions in infants. Eggs also have a low sodium content, making them good sources of protein for those with high blood pressure who have to monitor their sodium intake.
The yolk is the source of most of an egg’s vitamins, including iron; B vitamins including thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B6, vitamin B12; vitamin A; vitamin D; and vitamin E. A good source of linoleic acid, some minerals, and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, eggs yolks are one of the most nutritious foods humans eat, while the white is a high-quality protein on its own. All that, and they’re delicious.
Health Benefits of Eggs
While whole eggs are high protein, egg yolks contain significant amounts of fat (4.5 grams total fat per yolk, with 1.6 grams of that saturated fat, 0.7 grams polyunsaturated fat, and 2 grams monounsaturated fat); to decrease fatty acids consumption, stick to egg whites, which feature roughly 3 grams of protein.
7 Classic Ways to Cook Eggs
- Hard-boiled eggs: These are the eggs you want for making deviled eggs and Easter eggs.
- Soft-boiled eggs: With hard whites and jammy yolks, soft-boiled eggs are perfect with a little olive oil, flaky salt, and black pepper.
- Scrambled eggs: Try folding in a little crème fraiche or goat cheese for extra creaminess.
- Omelets: The easiest way to turn a couple of eggs into a meal, whether you’re making a classic French omelet, a Spanish omelet, or a loaded omelet with meat and veggies.
- Poached eggs: For eggs benedict, layer poached eggs with canadian bacon, english muffin, and hollandaise sauce.
- Over easy fried eggs: Ideal for a breakfast sandwich with bacon and arugula.
- Sunny side up fried eggs: Pair with hash browns, pork hash, or anything crispy and savory.
12 Ways to Cook With Eggs
- Meringues: Egg whites and sugar come together in fluffy meringue, but there’s more than one way to make it: learn the differences between French, Swiss, and Italian meringues before making your own.
- Baking: Eggs are also magical emulsifiers, or binders, that marry fat and liquid into a smooth mixture. When you’re beating eggs into butter and sugar for a cake batter, you're binding the butter (fat) with the sugar (a liquid when heated).
- Mayonnaise: Making mayonnaise at home is easier than you think. You just need egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, and oil. Homemade mayonnaise makes a healthy base for salad dressings if your diet requires you to avoid dairy products.
- Hollandaise and Béarnaise: Emulsify egg yolks with butter, acid, and herbs.
- Crème anglais: Gently cook egg yolks with milk, cream, sugar, and a vanilla bean to make the classic French dessert sauce.
- Shakshuka: Poach eggs in spicy tomato sauce and top with feta cheese and fresh herbs.
- Alice Water’s Egg in a Spoon: Baked an egg in the fireplace using a long metal spoon.
- Scotch egg: Coat a soft-boiled egg in sausage, breadcrumbs, and rolled oats, then bake until crispy.
- Huevos rancheros: Top tortillas with beans, avocado, salsa, cilantro, cotija cheese, hot sauce, and fried eggs for a Mexican-inspired breakfast.
- Chinese soy sauce eggs: Marinate boiled eggs in soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and Chinese five spice powder.
- Egg salad: Chop hard-boiled eggs and mix with homemade mayonnaise, dijon mustard, salt, black pepper, and minced fresh dill and chives.
- Brunch strata: This breakfast casserole is basically a savory bread pudding. Combine eggs with cream cheese and heavy cream, then pour the egg mixture over cubed stale bread. Add your favorite cooked meats, cheeses, and veggies and bake until eggs are fully cooked.
Become a better home cook with the MasterClass All-Access Pass. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by culinary masters, including Chef Thomas Keller, Alice Waters, Dominique Ansel, Gordon Ramsay, and more.