9:39 PM, Apr. 5, 2012
Marc Dysinger estimates he has cracked 2 million eggs over the course of his culinary career, largely over the last decade he has spent as chef-owner of Sneakers Bistro in Winooski.
“Eggs were the first thing I ever learned to cook as a kid,” he said. “Nothing beats a basic breakfast of home fries, two eggs over easy, bacon and buttered toast.”
Not surprisingly, eggs feature prominently in the menu of Sneakers, one of the go-to breakfast and brunch destinations in the Burlington area — and they go far beyond the basic breakfast, as good as that is.
This weekend, the restaurant will offer its usual range of specials: an omelet (fresh salmon with artichoke pesto, tomato and chevre), an additional eggs Benedict (grilled beef tenderloin medallion on warm brioche in a bowl of lobster bisque topped with two poached eggs, grilled asparagus and Bearnaise sauce) and another egg-dependent special: chai-battered challah bread French toast with plum-berry compote.
Tuesday morning, Dysinger was baking the rich challah bread (“made with a whole mess of yolks,” he explained) while chatting about eggs.
“It’s what we’re known for,” Dysinger said. “It’s the rocket we’re built on.”
Starting with breakfast
From breakfast through dinner, eggs are an indispensable ingredient and tool in the kitchen for both professional chefs and home cooks.
“Eggs are the backbone of so many recipes,” Dysinger explained. “They’re a thickener, a binder, a leavener; they enrich and they can be the main player, too.”
Starting with the first meal of the day, there is Sneakers’ famous array of Benedicts served on their own house-baked English muffins. (Dysinger jokes he invented and named the dish after Dirk Benedict from “The A-Team”.)
At Sneakers, he explained, Benedict refers to anything with poached eggs and an emulsion sauce: the classic Hollandaise in which egg is a major component, or Bearnaise, essentially a tarragon-flavored Hollandaise.
Hollandaise is one of the famous French “mother” sauces. “You owe it to yourself to try making Hollandaise,” Dysinger said, “although it can be tricky.” (See recipes.)
In general, Dysinger believes, eggs are deceptive in their simplicity. “Everyone seems to think that eggs are easy, but eggs are very personal. People like them how they like them,” he said. “That’s our business: to get it right.”
Eggs in season
Although eggs are available year-round, if chickens are following their natural cycles they do start laying more as days get longer in spring, one of the reasons they are symbols of springtime holidays like Easter and Passover.
Katie Webster, a Jericho-based freelance recipe developer and food stylist for magazines such as Eating Well, Parents and Fitness who also blogs, remembers an elegant Easter Sunday salad served annually by neighbors during her childhood.
“It was so beautiful: endive leaves fanned out with chopped, hardboiled eggs at the center served with an intensely shalloty vinaigrette,” she recalled recently. “They served it on their good china and I remember thinking it was so elegant, so sophisticated.”
For a quick lunch next week, Webster anticipates using leftover hardboiled Easter eggs in a hearty chopped salad with hearts of romaine, radishes, carrots and apples. Another seasonal option she likes is a spinach salad with bacon, eggs and red wine vinaigrette. (See recipe at her blog, healthyseasonalrecipes.com)
Quick and versatile
During her training at New England Culinary Institute, Webster also recalls being struck by the versatility of egg
“They’re kind of like magic. They do so many different things,” she said. “They’re almost irreplaceable.”
“They’re important for clarifying a classic consomme,” she started. “They do that fabulous emulsion thing with the lecithin in the yolk, a natural emulsifier, in sauces and so many other recipes. They act as a leavener in baking. How their proteins act is so cool on a molecular level. Even in their simplest form: a soft-boiled egg with a perfect drippy yolk, they’re special.”
From a practical standpoint, Webster said, she relies on eggs for quick family meals. Thanks to her year-round community-supported-agriculture share and neighbors with chickens, she always has eggs on hand.
“A couple months ago, my pantry was really bare except for eggs,” she recalled. “So I whipped up a frittata with some potatoes, kielbasa, scallions and a little cheese. A frittata is basically an open-faced omelet and they’re really versatile. You can throw in whatever’s in the fridge, whatever’s in season.”
Webster’s Texan mom inspired another family favorite: migas. This Tex-Mex dish features leftover corn tortillas torn into pieces, sauteed and then scrambled with eggs. She usually adds whatever vegetables she might have on hand, like roasted poblanos and corn in the summer, before topping the dish with salsa and cheese. “I love the contrast of textures,” she said, “they’re both crispy and soggy.”
Eggs are also back in the good graces of nutrition professionals, Webster said.