The Golden Egg

Why does free food always taste better? In college, free food—generally mediocre, cold-upon-arrival pizza—was the required lure to get people to come to any meeting. As a journalist just arrived in New York, I made whole dinners of free food at promotional events and book parties, stalking trays of tuna tartare and stuffed mushrooms until I was full. I was 25 and these were exquisite meals. And even now, for some reason that is neither greed nor stinginess, but has more to do with a feeling of ceremony, a meal tends to taste particularly wonderful when someone treats you.

But there is another free-food ritual that tastes better than even a whole free meal: the amuse-bouche. An amuse-bouche is that complimentary hors d’oeuvre served before the first course, a surprise treat sent out by the chef. It’s allegedly to distract you from the wait before the appetizer, but really to impress you with his ingenuity. It must be something that even in a small quantity makes a memorable impact, that leaves you with a flash of flavor or richness in just one swallow. It’s a free thrill—always the best kind!

The amuse-bouche is typical especially in French restaurants, and required ritual at any Michelin-starred establishment, where these small bites are presented in a deliciously overwrought pageantry. At the kind of place that has a few stars in the red bible, a white-coated waiter appears at the table unexpectedly, holding immense plates upon which rest miniscule portions of something as yet unrevealed. He bends forward obsequiously, and whispers a complex description of this bite-size miracle, as though letting you in on the secret of your own VIP-ness with this tribute the chef has prepared—it would seem—exclusively for you.

There is one amuse-bouche experience in particular that I will never forget. I had it over ten years ago at L’Arpège, the extraordinary Paris restaurant of Alain Passard, the most experimental of France’s celebrity chefs. It’s on the Rue de Varenne, in a grandiose Left Bank neighborhood of ministries and embassies. The lunchtime crowd in the plush, art deco dining room was all businessmen and deputies, the French government elite who, after lunch, would go back to their offices and continue to run the country. When the waiter deposited the brown-shelled egg in its simple white stand, he described it as a chaud-froid d’oeuf fermier, a cooked then chilled farm fresh egg. It didn’t sound very impressive. It looked like breakfast. He continued: in the eggshell was a warm coddled egg yolk, topped with a dollop of cool whipped cream, a sprinkling of sea salt and chives—and a drizzle of maple syrup.

I couldn’t imagine what it tasted like, and most of all, I couldn’t imagine these elitist technocrats around us starting off their expensed lunch with maple syrup—something that barely exists in France, and that the French tend to associate with the crass American appetite for the cloying and caloric. But the taste was unforgettable: the yellow liquid of the ruptured yolk, blending with the salted airiness of the cream, and cut by the sweetness of the maple syrup, hit three exquisitely high notes. I cleaned out the egg and never forgot it.

It turns out that many others who’ve tasted the chaud-froid d’oeuf haven’t forgotten either. I discovered a whole subculture of chaud-froid worship on the Web, with websites in English, Dutch, French and Spanish describing the ecstatic experience—and sometimes trying to recreate it. Here is a link to one of these recipes.

Of course, it may not taste as good as the one in the art-deco dining room, but that’s just because it won’t be free.

EGGCELLENT Pictured above, a version of Alain Passard's famous egg served at Manresa in Los Gatos, California (photo by The Ulterior Epicure, who has also documented a phenomenal 19-course amuse bouche menu served at Germany's Restaurant Dieter Müller).


 





Comments

Hey Renée,

Here's a couple of photos of the infamous egg that i served at an Edible SF gathering a couple weeks ago.

http://www.heidiswanson.com/esfparty/

I've probably made at least a hundred or two of them since I first served it on New Years Eve 1999. As far as the recipe you've linked to, personally, I never use an egg separator. I either dump the yolk and whites into the palm of my hand to separate them, or gently pour out the whites from the cut egg so the yolk remains intact. Floating the cut eggs in a pan of simmering water is the easiest way to go. They dont sink. That is as long as you've cut off the top of the egg versus the rounded bottom.
I've also conferred with Ms. Techamuanvivit on the technique and recipe ingredients. She's intimately familiar with the L'Arpege version, as well as Mr. Kinch's of Manresa. Familiar with his egg recipe I mean. Heh. A couple things to keep in mind. The amount of chives - Passard uses a small melon baller to measure the chives. They need to be very very finely chopped. One small melon ball scoop of chives per egg. This is very important. Also, Passard apparently uses creme fraiche, not cream. I've always made it with cream in which I whip sherry vinegar into. Passard drizzles a few drops of sherry vinegar on top of the yolk and then spoons in the creme fraiche. The creme fraiche obviously is a touch more sour than the cream, which creates a good contrast to the syrup. As far as maple syrup, here's where chefs get really carried away. They go for the ultra-artisan maple syrup that feature an array of flavors, say maybe a hint of vanilla and spice, rather than the standard Vermont pancake-topping version.

As far as topping the egg, I've always sawed mine off with a very sharp knife (Pim finds this hilarious). This won't do in a restaurant where they serve so many amuses a night. There's a very cool egg topper that works with a dome-shaped weight that drops on top of the egg, making a perfectly round crack. Here's a link:
http://www.cuisinstore.com/toque-oeuf

Here's a link to Patricia Well's version, which is the one I've always relied on (which she adapted from Passard):
http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/features/2001/nov/recipe/011119.pariscook.html#Eggs

Oh, and as far as serving them, I think the egg cup is way too precious. Kind of like serving high tea with your pinky extended. I've always served them in hand so diners can hold the egg in their palm. It's much more sensuous, holding this delicate shell while scooping out the contents...
cheers
Bruce

 

Hey Josh,

If you wanted a photo of the real thing you should've asked. ;-)

cheers,
Pim

P.S. Dear Mr.Bruce Cole, my last name has more letters in it than I can remember after a couple glasses of wine. You really could've just said Pim. xxP

 

Hey pim - what, mine's not good enough? ;0)

...Glad my eating has become of some use to you, Josh!! Thanks for the "eggcellent" post!

u.e.

 

Bruce and Pim,
Thank you both for sustaining the cult of the golden egg. I'm still too much in awe of the original version--tasted ten years ago--to have tried to make it at home.

 

I love your commentary on the amuse-bouche and your description of it as a "bite sized miracle". I have lasting memories of amuse bouches that I've enjoyed at restaurants and for some reason they stand out more to me in my memory than some of the courses themselves. I don't know if this is on account of the presentation, the pleasant surprise of something unexpected, or the actual creativity. Whatever the reason, they definitely transform a good dining experience into a great one for me!

 

Thanks Geneve.
I think you nailed it--it's a combination of all of those elements. Each bite's a little showcase or performance, that whets appetites and expectations.

 

I love the amuse bouche, it's like a little piece of stardust on your plate. You know without the nuclear side effects..Great Post.

 

Yes I agree with you, a good meal tends to taste more wonderful when someone serves it properly. I think this might be related to the fact that a lot of people where lovely fed by mothers when they were kids. A good service matters very much.

 

In the course of running the Fish Creek House Bed and Breakfast in Southwest Montana, 'Ive eaten a LOT of scrambled eggs. I've gone through book after book, dozens of articles and scoured the world via restaurant and the internet to find the perfect recipe and method to create what - for all appearances - would seem like the easiest dish in the world to make.
Read on to see the trial and error - the pain and glory - that was involved in deriving the recipe.

The truth is that scrambled eggs are easy to make. Unfortunately, they are also the easy to make WRONG. At a root level, scrambled eggs are simply beaten eggs which are fried and - for lack of a better word - scrambled. But like most things that are simple (take love and martinis as examples), people have found ways to make them needlessly complex.
No cheese. No overt flavorings. Just eggs and what it takes to make them taste and look like great eggs.


What NOT To Add

Cottage Cheese -- Several recipes I encountered recommended whisking a Tablespoon of small curd cottage cheese in with each egg. Visually, the result was creamy and mildly fluffy scrambled eggs. In terms of taste, the cottage cheese did not contribute or detract from the eggs -- but it did make the dish seem somehow impure. You knew there was something in there besides the egg. The aspect of cottage cheese that secured its fate as a stay-out-of-our-scramble ingredient was that no matter how vigorously you whisked the dish had texture irregularities. Every other bite had the unwelcome surprise of a noticeable cottage cheese curd.

Real Cream - I tried two recipes that used real cream ("the fat skimmed off the top of raw milk" as defined by the Wikipedia Dairy Products Guide). One said to add 1 Tablespoon of real cream per egg. The other instructed the use of 1 and ½ Tablespoons of cream per egg. Both recipes created beautiful eggs with a creamy yellow color. Sadly, the resulting flavor was not so beautiful. In both cases the first bite tasted terrific, but the more I ate the more I had to admit that these eggs were just too creamy. The recipe with 1 and ½ Tablespoons of cream left a slight, unpleasant milky after-taste.

Sour Cream - Scrambled eggs with sour cream can not be considered scrambled eggs in a purist sense. The sour cream adds a distinct flavor. Therefore, scrambled eggs with sour cream will be saved for mention in a future article on specialty or flavored scrambled eggs.

Baking Powder -- Scrambled eggs with a pinch of baking powder per egg had a great appearance. They were fluffy, yet firm. I was surprised to find there was no trace of baking powder taste. Unfortunately, the texture of the scramble in the mouth was uneven with specks of firmer pieces in a single bite.

Sea Salt - When salt is heated it breaks down to the same components regardless whether its table salt or sea salt. As Robert Wolke says in his book What Einstein Told His Cook, "...when a recipe specifies simply 'sea salt' it is a meaningless specification. It might as well be specifying 'meat'." If you see a recipe that says to add sea salt to eggs before whisking…. you can be sure it was written by someone who needs to learn more about the ionic bonds that hold sodium and chlorine together.

Sugar - Eggs, flour and sugar are the primary ingredients of a great many deserts. Remove the flour and you end up with neither desert nor scrambled eggs - at least not from a purist scramble perspective. What you do end up with is a kind of specialty egg dish that deserves further exploration in the field of breakfast. It's not fair to call them scrambled eggs, but their sweetness makes them an interesting complement to pancakes and waffles

What NOT To Do

DON'T beat egg whites until stiff peaks form

With or without added ingredients like sugar and cream of tartar, the result of scrambling looks like a big dollop of melting Crisco crossed with cottage cheese.

DON'T stir eggs slowly for an extended period

I came across one recipe that actually instructed to stir the eggs in the fry pan (heated at your stove's lowest setting) with a wooden spoon for 30 minutes.

First of all, the eggs didn't set after 30 minutes at the lowest heat setting. I tried once more at a slightly higher setting. After 10 minutes, the eggs began to show subtle signs of setting. I continued to stir the eggs in the pan for 10 minutes. The result looked more like butternut squash than any eggs I've ever seen. The texture was close to chewy and the extended cooking time seemed to have cooked away all the flavor of egg.


Do It Or Don't - It doesn't Make a Difference

Keep eggs at room temperature before scrambling - Kitchen tests showed no significant difference between room-temperature and refrigerated eggs from the same carton. Refrigeration actually deters the growth of salmonella enteritis. Even though salmonella is very rare (1 out of every 20,000 eggs may contain the bacteria), it is advised that your eggs always remain stored in the refrigerator.


The Art of Scrambling - Proper Technique

The Best Way To Beat Your Eggs

One of the most important ingredients in scrambled eggs is hardly ever mentioned... air. It would be nice if we could just dollop a Tablespoon of air into the mixing bowl, but for the time-being, incorporating air into beaten eggs requires good old-fashioned elbow grease (or the electric equivalent).

The more you whisk -- the more air bubbles become trapped in the shaken and unraveling protein of the eggs. As the eggs cook, protein molecules firm-up around the air bubbles resulting in a spongy texture and hopefully full and fluffy scrambled eggs.

The American Egg Board describes well-beaten eggs as "frothy and evenly colored". When your eggs match that description (generally after about 2 minutes) you should stop beating.

Over-beating will completely unravel the protein molecules and destabilize their ability to form a microscopic casing around the air. In terms of whisking motion, a tilted wheel motion works far better than a vertical stirring motion. A fork works as well as a whisk but requires a slight bit more time and energy.


The Best Way To Scramble In The Pan

The actions you take once the eggs hit the fry pan will dictate the size of the scrambled egg pieces (curds). Some recipes suggest stirring the eggs with a wooden spoon immediately as the eggs hit the heated surface. Others direct you to let the eggs start to set before stirring/scrambling. Of the two, the second method results in larger fluffier pieces.


Getting Hungry?

Before we scramble our brains contemplating the best plate to eat scrambled eggs off of, the texture differentials of eating with a spoon and the ideal temperature of the chair you sit in as you eat... let's get back to the reason we're here. For your breakfast pleasure, The Fish Creek House Presents...

This recipe serves 2 hungry people.

6 large eggs
6 teaspoons (1 teaspoon for each egg) low-fat milk
3 dashes of salt (1 dash for every two eggs)
1 Tablespoon butter for frying

Heat a large non-stick frying pan to a setting just above medium. A 12-inch pan works well for 6 eggs. Do not add butter yet. We just want get the pan ready.

In large metal or glass mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk and salt. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes.

Alternatively, you can place the eggs, milk and salt in a blender and blend for 20 to 25 seconds. Allow the mixture to set for a couple minutes to let the foam settle.

Melt the butter in the frying pan. As the very last of the butter is liquefying, add the egg mixture.

Do not stir immediately. Wait until the first hint of setting begins. Using a spatula or a flat wooden spoon, push eggs toward center while tilting skillet to distribute runny parts.")

Continue this motion as the eggs continue to set. Break apart large pieces as they form with your spoon or spatula. You will come to a point where the push-to-center technique is no longer cooking runny parts of the egg. Flip over all the eggs. Allow the eggs to cook 15 to 25 seconds longer. Transfer eggs to serving plates. Add salt and pepper to taste. Eat up!

 

I love your commentary on the amuse-bouche and your description of it as a "bite sized miracle". I have lasting memories of amuse bouches that I've enjoyed at restaurants and for some reason they stand out more to me in my memory than some of the courses themselves. I don't know if this is on account of the presentation, the pleasant surprise of something unexpected, or the actual creativity. Whatever the reason, they definitely transform a good dining experience into a great one for me!

 


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