Before I launch into this snippet, I would like to thank Bellatrix, Nymphadora, Minerva and Poppy, the lovely ladies (or 'laid/ies') who provided the eggs which made this story possible. Named after females in the Harry Potter books, the hens are owned by my good friend 'The Dog' and his family, and must admit I had a chuckle when I heard about their individual personalities.
For instance, Bellatrix is a Black Australorpe and she is big, glossy black and scary. As such, she rules the roost. Nymphadora is a White Sussex, white with black speckled neck feathers. She is broody and chases the pigeons away. Minerva is a Hydrid, Russet red colour; an 'egg laying machine' who pops into the house to say 'hello' anytime there's a door left open, and she is also the friendliest. Poppy is a Buff Orpington, smaller, caramel colour, but has one bung leg, and is, therefore, a tad ostracized by the others!
Another friend, Louis, also acquired his first cluster of hens. 'Until I had chickens, I didn't realise the meaning of the term 'pecking order', Louis, told me with a wide smile. ‘Ethel, Hilda and Winifred each have their own idiosyncrasies and have quickly worked out who is 'top chook'. At only 14 weeks old, they're still learning how to be chickens... it was fun watching them discover their wings! They love foraging in the garden and it's great to see them enjoying themselves. We're very much looking forward to the first egg, which should, hopefully, be sometime soon’.
I'm envious of my friends and their chickens, especially the bounty of fresh eggs they provide and I do love to barter vegetables from my garden for the occasional dozen. My father kept a few chickens (and a duck) when I was a child. Though I have only vague memories of them, I know that my mother loved cooking with the fresh eggs. My preference, too, is to use only free-range eggs, as they offer the utmost in quality and freshness.
It's well known that consumers often experience quality problems with supermarket eggs. To this end, the Australian Egg Corporation developed an Egg Quality Program to address the issue. Honestly, as consumers we need to be savvy and buy from retailers with a fast turnover (such as the local farmer's markets). When shopping, assess the storage of the eggs, check use-by dates and ask when the stock came in.
According to an article in Choice magazine, potentially hazardous foods are required by law to be kept below about 5ºC so that pathogenic bacteria (the ones that make us sick) and toxins don’t grow (or grow slowly). But eggs aren’t classed as hazardous in Australia—so, while they’ll last longer in the fridge, it’s an issue of quality not safety, and it’s up to retailers [and consumers] whether they find space in their refrigerators. Some do, others don't. According to the article, if you keep eggs in the fridge they will stay in good shape for six weeks. Whereas, if you store them at room temperature they’ll last only a week! Interesting, no?
A few more facts. For best results in cooking, allow eggs to come to room temperature before use. To check for freshness, place an egg in its shell into a bowl of water. A fresh egg generally sinks to the bottom. Breaking an egg open is also a good indicator. Fresh eggs have a well-centred, round yolk and thick, jelly-like white (deliciously fresh!). Older eggs have a thin, runny white and flat yolk, which thins more and more as the egg ages. Interestingly, old, thin egg whites beat up faster than really fresh whites; whereas fresh egg whites provide a more stable foam.
On that subject, did you know that using a copper bowl improves the foam when you whisk egg whites? According to food sleuth and cookery writer, Shirley O. Corriher, in Cookwise, 'For years scientists ignored the copper bowl, insisting that chefs just imagined that it improved egg white foam. ... In fact there is no sizeable difference in the volume of raw egg whites beaten in a copper bowl compared to those beaten in a noncopper one', Corriher explains. 'There is, however, a major difference in the volume of the cooked dish! How can this be?' Apparently, after conferring with a leading egg researcher, Corriher discovered that, 'the particular protein in egg whites that links together around the air bubbles in conalbumin, loves to combine with copper. ... and if eggs whites [are] in contact with copper for more an a minute or two, this combining might take place ... [and] you would have copperconalbumin [which] is much more stable, does not dry out easily, and even has a higher temperature of coagulation'. Fascinating, no!? Makes my much-loved $9.00 second hand copper bowl a great investment.
My recipe for souffle omelette is based on the omelette making-technique that my mother taught me. Omelettes were a popular standby at our place when I was little and they still are. Peter and I often 'shake the fridge' to make an omelette, as renowned chef and cooking teacher, Diane Holuigue, would say.
This recipe was originally published in 2011, but I've reinvigorated it because I think a good omelette recipe should be on every cook's repertoire. As an update, my friend The Dog now lives in Washington DC and only of his hens still lives. That is 'Mabel' (the White Sussex hen, who was formerly known as Nymphadora) who, with her companions, went to live at Lark Hill Winery under the care of Sue Carpenter when my friends moved overseas.
SOUFFLE OMELETTE WITH CHERRY TOMATOES, HERBS, MUSHROOMS & SNOW PEA SPROUTS
3 free-range eggs, separated
1 tablespoon water
light spray olive oil
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped
4-6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 button or Swiss brown mushrooms (or combo), sliced
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
a little grated Parmesan
snow pea sprouts, trimmed
Beat the egg yolks and the tablespoon of water lightly with a fork until just combined. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff. Gently fold the egg yolks into the whites. Heat a frypan (a wok also works well), spray the pan with a little light olive oil and melt the butter until it foams. Pour the egg mix into the hot pan and as it begins to cook, place the mushrooms and tomatoes over the top. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue to cook for two or three minutes (I like my omelettes to be well browned). Sprinkle with grated Parmesan. You can serve this as an open-faced souffle omelette. If you wish, pop it under a heated grill briefly until the cheese melts. Or, fold the omelette over and garnish it with snow pea sprouts. This quantity will make an omelette for one.
Incidentally, have you ever tried to photograph a chicken? It's not that simple. Renowned photographer, Alan Benson, and I had great fun one afternoon during the shoot of a 'cornucopia' for the markets I was managing at the time. We asked the local grain store owner to hypnotise one of his chooks so that we could sit the bird nicely on a bed of straw. He turned the bird upside down and stroked it on the breastbone, then sat it down. To our amazement, it worked!
Tell me dear readers, do you keep chickens? Do they have names and individual personalities? Do you keep your eggs in the refrigerator? And are omelettes a go-to meal at your place too?
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I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.