Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ten years of eggs for breakfast and counting….

I’ve been eating eggs for breakfast for, oh, I don’t know, 10 years? Maybe more, but it’s something like that. I never believed the naysayers who said eggs were bad for my cholesterol levels (they’ve been proven wrong, anyway) and have eaten one, usually two eggs a day for years. I just got the results back from my yearly physical and in my doctor’s words my cholesterol levels are “great”.

I even like to have eggs for dinner and when I go to one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, The Odeon, I’ll often order an omelette as my entree. For me, it’s one of life’s ultimate comfort foods: delicious, nutritious, warm and filling.

For as long as I’ve been cooking eggs, I’ve been buying them from the Greenmarket. It used to be there were only one or two farmers who sold eggs at Union Square; I’ve always bought mine from Quattro’s Game Farm, a 50-year old family farm located in New York’s Hudson Valley. The Quattrociocchi family treat their chickens well, letting them spend their days on pasture for most of the year. Along with eating whatever they find pecking around the field, their birds are fed oats and corn ground into feed on the farm. One look at a Quattro egg is all it takes to know their chickens live a good, clean life; the egg yolk from a pastured bird is more orange than yellow, a result of the varied nutrients they take in.  When cracked open, the egg is so firm and fresh it barely moves.

One of the reasons I got into the habit of going to the Saturday Union Square market before 9:00 AM was so I could get my weekly carton of eggs; any later and Quattro’s would more often than not be sold out. Now there are many more farmers selling eggs so I never have to go home empty-handed, but I’m still loyal to my friends at Quattro’s.

I cook my eggs in a cast iron skillet because that’s how my mom has always done it and her mother did the same. In fact, my mom uses my grandmother’s iron pan that is wonderfully seasoned from decades of use.

What do I mean by “seasoned”? That is the non-stick patina cast iron acquires from an initial application of vegetable oil to its surfaces and time spent in a hot oven. Subsequent use will only enhance this coating.

My pans are made by Lodge Cast Iron, a family-owned company located in South Pittsburg, Tennessee since 1896. Manufacturing with iron can emit pollutants into the environment and Lodge has made serious strides to reduce its impact on the environment, earning awards for their efforts from local and state governments.

A well-seasoned cast iron pan should require little, if any, oil or butter to cook food in it. I recently noticed food sticking to my skillets, which doesn’t really bother me – it gives me a good excuse to add a little Ronnybrook butter to the pan – but I decided a re-seasoning was in order.

I went to one of many online sources to get detailed instructions on the correct way to season cast iron. After coating my two favorite pans in vegetable oil, I popped them into a very hot oven for an hour. Or I should say I intended to pop them in for an hour. The genius that designed my apartment thoughtfully placed the smoke alarm on the wall directly next to my oven. Oil baking for an hour at 500 degrees will generate some smoke. Not a ton, but enough that a fire detector located 5 feet from the oven will go off...and off...and off. Needless to say, my pans did not bake for an hour – more like 20 minutes. But even that abbreviated time has helped restore the beautiful, black surface that is so desirable on a cast iron pan.

There are many reasons to use cast iron when cooking; I like that its non-stick surface is chemical-free and that cooking in an iron pan adds a small amount of iron to my diet. It is incredibly long lasting and, as noted, can be handed down from generation to generation. It can go from stove to oven to grill. Cast iron is incredibly inexpensive when compared to other cookware; today my 9” skillet costs $16.99 online.

Chefs love cast iron for its ability to maintain a high, even temperature which produces excellent carmelization and a crispy coating on food. I just read an article on food entrepreneur and Mario Batali sidekick (his words, not mine), Joe Bastianich, and when asked what his favorite cooking tool was, he said his cast iron pan.

During the week while I’m scrambling to get to work in the morning, I do the same to my eggs. I have it down so pat that I can get everything out of the fridge, heat the pan, whisk the eggs, toast the bread, stir the eggs, butter the toast, and plate my breakfast in less than 5 minutes. (I’m happy to report that my new kitchen is just big enough that I can’t stand in the same spot and do all of the above as I could in previous apartments. This one actually requires moving several steps in either direction. You have to have lived in a NYC apartment - my loft-living friends being an exception – to understand how exciting this concept is…)

On the weekends I like to fry my eggs in a pan that is divided in sections so the egg doesn’t spread out too much. I take a nicely toasted slice of multigrain bread from Rockhill Bakehouse or Our Daily Bread, butter it with more Ronnybrook butter, and slip a slice of Cabot extra-sharp cheddar under the hot egg, melting the cheese just so. This summer I became obsessed with Cholula hot sauce thanks to my Vineyard friend, Elliot, who taught me to sprinkle a bit on top of my eggs for a little kick. Perfection!