Eggs have been on my mind a lot this past month as I worked on breakfast recipes. They have a unique place in cooking; there’s really nothing like an egg. Well, there are substitutes, but they can only go so far in standing in for eggs — I wouldn’t try to make scrambled flax meal, or gelatin sunny side up, or poached mayonnaise. Eggs warrant their own article, and that’s what they’re getting this week.
Most of us have strong preferences about how we like our eggs, but it’s more than a matter of taste — there are also safety and ethical considerations, which begin when we’re buying. I noticed recently that my usual supermarket had put up shelf tags saying CAGE EGGS under all the eggs that weren’t free range, free run, or organic. So now it’s impossible to ignore the conditions our eggs are produced under, not that we should, anyway. (I have only one complaint about the free-range egg industry — it seems to think all its eggs have to be brown to show how healthy they are. It’s not as if white eggs had been bleached.)
As for the safety issues, we’ve all been told how to avoid salmonella — cook eggs thoroughly, avoid any that are cracked. In a moment I’ll deal with what “cook thoroughly” means, but first I want to note a couple of things you may be unaware of: You can buy eggs that have been pasteurized in the shell to destroy salmonella; a process was developed in the 90s that manages to do this without cooking them. Also, the FDA recommends that you keep eggs in the carton, even if your fridge has one of those egg racks on the door.
Now that I’ve passed on advice from the U.S. government, here are their standards on when an egg is safely cooked:
Scrambled eggs: Cook until firm, not runny.
Fried, poached, boiled, or baked: Cook until both the white and the yolk are firm.
Egg mixtures, such as casseroles: Cook until the center of the mixture reaches 160 °F when measured with a food thermometer.
Foodafety.gov also has some suggestions for adapting recipes that call for raw egg: Use pasteurized eggs, or heat the egg, combined with liquid from the recipe, over low heat, stirring, till it reaches 160. It also says recipes that combine raw egg whites with hot syrup — like Jello frosting — are okay because the heat of the syrup actually cooks the whites.
You can’t get far in cooking without cracking open some eggs — so it’s best to know as much about them as you can.