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Food & Wine

All things eggs: Comfort food as science project

Above Photo by Erin Gleeson/Special to the Town Crier;
Hankering for a seasonal use for eggs? Local author Erin Gleeson’s matzo brei dresses up eggs, below, to suit the season with scallions, above.Left Photo by ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

As Passover and Easter come in quick succession over the next two weeks, eggs will see a special love in the kitchen. A consummate comfort food and champion of brunchtime as well as Easter baskets, eggs can anchor a light springtime meal any time of day sans Easter ham or Seder brisket.

Approaching the poach

Abandon hard-boiled eggs to the dye vat and backyard. A poached egg drapes lusciously across a dish, molten yolk loosely bound in a parcel of protein-rich white. The trauma of poaching misfires has launched a dozen consumer products, but one can approach the pan with an air of scientific inquiry.

Start with a wide pan filled with a few inches of water and bring to a light simmer, so that bubbles rally on the pan bottom but rarely roil the surface. Into this gentle water bath you’ll be slipping the eggs one by one not from a height, but rather by swooping in near water level. (Crack each egg into a bowl first, to help you control its descent.)

Coagulating the egg white quickly – before it has a chance to roam across the pan in a feathery mess – requires high but gentle heat. Food scientist Harold McGee says that for a dramatic experiment, heat your water in a tall pot and doctor it with a half tablespoon of acidic white vinegar and a tablespoon of salt per quart of lightly simmering water. With a little luck, McGee predicts your egg will slowly rise until it surfaces after three minutes, perfectly cooked.

Lift each egg with a slotted spoon and drape it across a range of recipes. Eggs Benedict is only the beginning – plant your eggs across a salad, in the style of the French, or on toast, as so beloved by the English. Perch them on potato pancakes, across slices of ham or take inspiration from my friend, chef Wylie Ballinger, who likes his eggs slid over a miso-marinated pork chop with braised beans, kale and bacon marmalade (which I’ve found stocked in local shops, or alternatively bought from scratchtruck.com).

Feeling spicy during this spree of springtime holidays? Go rogue, slipping eggs not into plain water but a molten mess of sautéed tomatoes, onions and spicy red peppers, topped with a sprinkle of cumin. Tunisian Jews introduced a version of this dish, Shakshouka, to Israel, where it’s served at all seasons. But the ultimate spring egg dish for the Jewish set in America has to be matzo brei.

Delicious debate: Matzo brei

Matzo brei (rhymes with “fry”) showcases the unleavened “bread” (really a cracker) that does heavy lifting during Passover week. The combination of soaked matzo and beaten eggs, fried in fat, provides an excuse to sneak some glorious chicken fat (schmaltz) into your diet, though it’s not a mandatory ingredient. In fact, a partisan divide gapes between the sweet camp (matzo brei cooked with butter, served with jam or sugar) and the savory separatists.

Food writer Ruth Reichl calls for an entire stick of butter in her classic version, heated to a glistening foam that cooks the matzo/egg mixture to a crisp conclusion.

A Jewish deli in Florida cooks up the classic with onions fried to within an inch of their lives. In London, as a poor student I made matzo brei tossed with the local market’s bargain-basement “trimmings” of smoked salmon.

Vegans have reimagined the dish, pureeing silken tofu spiced with turmeric, onion and garlic to approximate an egg alternative.

And Erin Gleeson, a local food writer and photographer, worked by a rule of threes this spring with her Bay Area edition: three soaked matzos, crumbled, mixed with three beaten eggs and three chopped scallions. Gleeson fries the dish in olive oil, dropping heaping spoonfuls into the pan. She recommends topping each serving with olive oil and sea salt.

For her illustrated recipe and original photos, visit theforestfeast.com, where she’s posted a range of plant-based Passover classics. And check back next month for an interview with Gleeson, whose first book hits stores Tuesday.

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