Which came first: the chicken or the egg? We don’t have a definitive answer, but the egg’s appearance in everything from omelets to mayo suggests it’s at least trending. That’s why, for the first issue of Knife & Fork, we’ve tracked down nature’s incredible, edible gift from backyard chicken coops to your next breakfast sammy; from Bodo’s egg salad to Tin Whistle’s Scotch egg. Chickens may get the credit, but we’re giving eggs the glory. Order up!
Makin’ an egg
Sometimes the basics aren’t actually all that basic. In fact, they often take the longest to master. So we asked Rice Hall, who mans the kitchen at one of Charlottesville’s most popular breakfast spots, Blue Moon Diner, to help us understand a few tricks of the trade. Here are the three universal rules: Start with a warm pan, use a bit of oil (vegetable, not olive!) and cook on medium to low-medium heat. Want to up your own egg game? Get crackin’.—Caite White
Crack your egg in a warm pan and then leave it alone. When it’s done, the white part should be cooked (i.e. no longer translucent), the yolk will be runny and the bottom will be slightly browned.
Over easy, medium and hard
Crack your egg and cook it for about 10 seconds (over easy), 25 seconds (over medium) or 40 seconds (over hard), then flip it to briefly (just a few seconds!) cook the top side.
To scramble an egg, add the egg mixture to a warm pan and, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon (in other words, a utensil without sharp edges), keep scraping the pan and moving the eggs around until they’re cooked. Adding cheese? Do it about halfway through cooking the eggs.
Fill a pan with about 1″ of water (enough to submerge the egg without it touching the bottom of the pan), then salt the water and pour in a bit of vinegar (“It should taste a little like salad dressing,” Rice says) and bring the water to a boil. Crack the egg in a bowl and slide it into the water. Parts of the egg will slough off (that’s normal) and, about three minutes later, use a slotted spoon to retrieve the remaining egg ball and gently jiggle it to check for consistency. It should be somewhere between an over soft and over medium egg yolk (“You end up with a little goat scrotum,” Rice says). If it’s ready, put the egg on a plate to drain the water (about 30 seconds), then serve.
When Red Hub Food Co. opened in January, owners Ryan Hubbard and Mark Marshall tested out this deviled egg—
with bacon(!) and spicy relish mixed in with the egg filling—before adding it to the menu permanently. Our vote? We’ll take a dozen!—C.W.
Into the frying pan
Add this handmade 8″ carbon steel frying pan from Charlottesville-based Blanc Creatives to your kitchen collection. Blacksmith Corry Blanc makes a 10″ version too, and says both are used by chefs all over town—from Brookville Restaurant and The Local to MAS and Ivy Inn. Hey, if it’s good enough for them… (8″ for $145, 10″ for $180, blanccreatives.com)—C.W.
It’s the most important meal of the day, so do it right. Here’s what we’ve been waking up to lately.
1. Oeufs en Cocotte at MarieBette
700 Rose Hill Dr., 529-6118
There’s no cuter dish than these poached eggs mixed with cream and served in a miniature cast iron skillet. Try it with garlic and fresh herbs or with a choice of smoked salmon, goat cheese, artichokes or spinach.
2. Frittata at Petit Pois
201 Main St., Downtown Mall, 979-7647
It’s the Cherry Glenn Farm ricotta that sets apart this dish, which also includes spinach and caramelized onions and is served with herbs de Provence potatoes and greens.
3. The Joan Marie Special Omelet at Bluegrass Grill & Bakery
313 Second St. SE #105, 295-9700
The fluffiest one we’ve tried, this omelet, named after the restaurant’s original owners, is made with spinach, tomatoes, Swiss cheese and herbed cream cheese, which contains the ingredient that really makes this dish shine: dill.
4. Summer quiche at Greenwood Gourmet Grocery
6701 Rockfish Gap Turnpike, Crozet, (540) 456-6431
Depending on what the farmers bring by, you can always expect an artful combination of local veggies, greens, meat and cheese, such as Caromont Farm’s Farmstead Chevre, in Greenwood’s homemade quiche, available both by the slice and as a whole.
5. The Ranch Boss at Beer Run
156 Carlton Rd. #203, 984-2337
This meal of fried eggs with sausage, peppers and onions, served on crispy seven-grain tortillas with homemade salsa verde, is a brunch favorite.—Jennifer Senator
Bed and breakfast
You don’t have to stay overnight to get a taste of the capital breakfasts in our area’s finest sleep spots. Try any of these four Sunday brunches for an egg-cellent start to the day.
The Old Mill Room at Boar’s Head Inn
200 Ednam Dr., 972-2230
Reservations are recommended for this $35 spread. You’ll find classic breakfast offerings like grits, hashbrowns and, of course, eggs aplenty, plus a carving station, fresh fish and even a dessert table. There’s a continental buffet option for $16, too, but go big or go home, we always say.
Fossett’s at Keswick Hall
701 Club Dr., Keswick, 979-3440
It’s hard to choose just one entrée from the menu at Fossett’s, but we’ll take a crack (pun intended!) at it: Eggs Keswick—a slice of brioche bread topped with Kite’s ham, Gruyere and creamed leeks—is a local twist on classic Eggs Benny. An upgrade, if you ask us.
The Pointe at Omni Hotel
212 Ridge-McIntire Rd., 971-5500
At $16 per person (and an atmosphere where you can bring the kiddos), the breakfast buffet at The Pointe is your classic brunch setup: standard breakfast fare, plus made-to-order omelet and Belgian waffle stations.
Oakhurst Inn & Café
1616 Jefferson Park Ave., 872-0100
No buffets here—and that’s too bad, because we could eat the eggs meurette (eggs poached in a red wine sauce) all day long. And we’re not alone—the pint-sized café’s dish was recently featured on the pages of Southern Living magazine.—C.W.
One of the more divisive condiments, mayonnaise tops off everything from your grilled cheese to your chicken salad. We asked Leni Sorensen, local culinary historian, to share her personal recipe, which she’s been using for 40 years. “Once you do it a few times, and your family gets a taste for it, you’ll never go back to the store-bought kind,” she says. And, naturally, “Fresh eggs just add that extra ‘Yum!’”—C.W.
Leni’s Homemade Mayonnaise
Makes 1 quart
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. dark mustard (like Gulden’s Spicy Brown)
2 cups oil (half canola, half olive)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
Put all Part I ingredients into blender jar. Run the blades on high till thoroughly mixed and beginning to thicken slightly. With the blender running high, begin adding oil in a thin stream, pouring the oil into the vortex of the mixture. After you have added one cup of the oil, add the vinegar all at once. Add the remaining cup of oil slowly, stopping and scraping the mixture down with the spatula as needed.
Pour the finished mayonnaise into a wide-mouthed quart canning jar. Let the jar sit on the counter for an hour—it aids the acid and the eggy/oil emulsion to set well. It will keep in the fridge for several weeks.
Leni Sorensen teaches cooking and rural skills classes from the kitchen at Indigo House, her home in White Hall, including a recently added course on condiments: mayo, mustards and ketchups. Visit her website, indigohouse.us, for more info.
Nothing says American brunch like eggs, right? Omelets, Benedict, scrambled, fried. But let’s talk about Asian cuisine, where the egg has been a star player at breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes for centuries. According to Yukiko Tauchi, Kokoro Sushi Japanese Restaurant co-owner and chef, the reason for putting eggs in classic Asian dishes like ramen is simple: “It just makes it more tasty.” We won’t argue.
Here are a few of our favorite local Japanese, Chinese and Thai dishes with eggs in the spotlight.
Ramen at Kokoro
112 W. Main St. #6, Downtown Mall, 977-0167
Tauchi was right. The giant bowls of traditional Japanese soup—with the meat and broth of your choice in varying spice levels, kamaboko (cured fish cake) and fresh herbs—features a soft-boiled egg with a yellow-orange yolk cooked to perfection. It’s not runny, but it’s creamy enough to stir into the broth for an extra level of depth and flavor.
Pad see ew at Pad Thai
156 Carlton Rd. #202, 293-4032
Eggs are scrambled into the stir-fried noodle dish, adding texture and a little sweetness to the mixture of meat (or tofu) and broccoli, carrots and other veggies in a garlicky brown sauce.
Egg drop soup at Taiwan Garden
2171 Ivy Rd., 295-0081
Usually served with bits of tofu and scallions, the classic Chinese meal precursor is made with beaten eggs in a boiled chicken broth.
Moo shu at Osaka Eastern Hibachi Restaurant
2119 Ivy Rd., 979-9292
Served with your choice of white or fried rice, the chopped meat (chicken, pork or shrimp) is mixed with scrambled eggs and stir-fried with thinly sliced veggies, garlic and soy sauce.
Egg foo yung at Tea House Chinese and Sushi Cuisine
325 Four Leaf Ln., 823-2868
A cross between an omelet and a pancake, this traditional Chinese dish is offered with your choice of chicken, pork or shrimp, plus soy sauce and veggies.—Laura Ingles
Simple is better. Take, for instance, the Scotch egg at Tin Whistle Irish Pub: A centuries-old delicacy in the U.K., this picnic-perfect treat is a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, covered in breading and then deep-fried. Why didn’t we think of that?—C.W.
He grew the coop
One urban chicken farmer is making it look easy
“They’ve got fennel today,” says Hardy Whitten as his six white hens peck at scraps from the family’s dinner last night, which, judging by the food strewn about the yard, also included greens (the chickens’ favorite), celery, onions and avocado, plus oranges and lemons.
Whitten and his wife Betsy have raised chickens in the backyard of their Fry’s Spring home since 2010, and before that, at their home in Albemarle County since 2000. While the Whittens have raised many varieties—including “Martha Stewart-type chickens,” as Whitten calls Araucanas, which lay distinctive blue-green eggs—these birds are more common white hens, hatched last spring in the kindergarten class Betsy teaches at Johnson Elementary School. “At the end of the year, no one could take them,” says Whitten, “and we had a place for them to go.”
The hens have a fenced yard and two-story coop designed and built by Whitten. The structure, which looks like a tower from a fairy tale, is made of scrap wood and shingles from the Habitat Store. It has two large windows, since “chickens need lots of sunlight to lay eggs,” Whitten says, and there’s a separate door to access the roosting boxes where the chickens lay their eggs. But the most important feature of the coop is the protection it offers from predators.
“That’s the hardest thing about having chickens,” Whitten says. He buried chicken wire in the ground before building the structure to keep predators out, and while it has been mostly effective, he didn’t count on the volume of wildlife in a city neighborhood.
“We’ve had foxes, raccoons, possums, hawks, raptors…” he says. Recently, an owl plunged into the yard despite the web of twine Whitten had constructed over the area to keep out birds of prey. But Whitten says the effort is worth it to have fresh eggs every day.
“They taste better,” he says. “It’s like homemade bread versus store-bought. They’re fresher.”
The hens lay six or seven eggs per day—more than the Whittens can eat—so Oscar, their 7-year-old son, sells them to neighbors and friends for $4 a dozen. Because the chickens also eat feed, they aren’t considered organic or free-range, even though they have a yard to roam. Whitten laughs, “I call them free-spirit chickens instead.”
For others who are interested in raising chickens, Whitten suggests consulting the website backyardchickens.com for tips on getting started and visiting local county fairs to see the many varieties of chickens. “And there are plenty of people around here to talk to if you need advice or have a problem,” he says. “There really is a chicken culture here.”—J.S.
We can’t prove it, but we’d be willing to bet the Most Eggs on the Menu award goes to Belmont tapas spot MAS. We asked chef/owner Tomas Rahal to expound on the use of eggs in Spanish cuisine and his favorite eggy offerings.—Caite White
“One of my first trips to Spain, I noticed baskets of fresh eggs at nearly every little market. The eggs had deep orange yolks that stood up tall. Rich, buttery yolks make excellent meals, or add richness and minerality to dishes.
“The yolks would be given to convents whose nuns turned them into delicious confections. As a part of Eastern and Western religious celebrations, the egg has significant representation. Think Salvador Dalí. Ferran Adrià. Eggs have also been important in the traditional Spanish wine culture, which used egg whites to help clarify wines.
“MAS buys eggs from local farms, Forrest Green Farm primarily, because they’re organic, pastured, nutritionally-dense, well-bred chickens, that are an integral part of our tapas, dessert and cocktail menus.”
Hard-boiled farm eggs complement the bitterness of the greens, raw or cooked.
Tarta de Santiago
“Almonds and eggs make a simple, delicious, nutritious treat for travelers on el Camino, during the holidays,” Rahal says.
An olive oil and garlic-based emulsion that goes with patatas bravas, gambas and anything off the grill. “We add farm egg yolks to stabilize and enrich, then slowly mix with a paddle,” Rahal says. “No blenders or food processors ever.”
Asparagus, duck egg, truffles
A beautiful springtime dish with a rich duck egg, soft-boiled for five minutes.
Rahal says it doesn’t get more Spanish than this dish of eggs and potatoes: “Slowly cooked to golden perfection and sprinkled with crunchy gray sea salt. Pure, simple food.”
That’s how much egg salad is made per week between Bodo’s three locations.