How to Crack an Egg

Eggs are a basic building block for cooks, with properties that can seem almost magical. They add lift, fluffiness, and silkiness; they serve as a binder(the "glue" in a meatloaf or veggie burger!); and they make for a quick snack or meal at any time of day.

How to Crack an Egg

1 Holding the egg in one hand, rap it sharply on the side of the bowl you're breaking it into. Always crack with conviction! If you rap hesitantly, you're more likely to get a messy break and egg all over your fingers.

2 Holding the egg with both hands, with the cracked side facing down into the bowl, put the tips of your thumbs into the broken spot and pull.

3 Wash your hands with soap when you're done; don't just wipe them on a towel!

4 If a bit of shell has dropped into the bowl, use the tip of a spoon or your washed fingertips to pull out any broken bits. (Resist the urge to use one half of the shell to scoop it out—there are bacteria on the outside of the shell.)

SKILLET SAVVY

Use a cast-iron skillet for cooking nearly everything—except scrambled eggs. It can leave tiny bits of black from the iron pan visible on the eggs’ surface; scrambled eggs also adhere so strongly to the pan that they can ruin its finish. An enamel-coated or nonstick skillet will make eggs fluffier and cleanup easier.

The Freshness Test

Eggs can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks without much quality loss, but the shells are permeable to air. As an egg ages, the white shrinks and an air pocket grows; until, eventually, the egg turns. To tell if an egg is fresh, fill a cup with cold water and set the egg into it. A fresh egg will lie on the bottom of the cup. An older egg, with a larger air pocket will stand on its end.

A super-fresh egg is perfect for scrambling. But for poaching or boiling, a slightly older egg is best. When you boil a fresh egg, the white is still closely bound to the shell, so it will also peel off in raggedy chunks; the shell will peel smoothly from an egg that's a week or so old. Similarly, an older egg forms a neater oval shape when poached, without lots of trailing threads of white.

Size It Up

Eggs at the grocery store are available in a dizzying range of sizes and "grades": small, medium, large, extra-large, jumbo, and AA. The letter grades identify quality, as determined by the USDA; the highest grade is AA. Size is determined by weight per dozen, and most recipes assume you are using large eggs, unless a different size is specifically called for. Any size egg that you have in your refrigerator will work just fine. In small amounts, the volume difference is not so great that it will have a massive impact.

Organic—Worth the Price?

A certified organic egg comes from a hen that eats organic feed, is grown without pesticides, and is not fed antibiotics. That chicken, however, might live in a "battery" farm, where chickens are subjected to inhumane treatment and exceedingly crowded conditions. The best eggs—in terms of flavor as well as animal welfare—are organic and "free range” meaning the chickens have constant or daily access to the outdoors, to roam freely and peck at insects and plants.

The best eggs are from a farmers' market, where the vendor can probably tell you personally about the chickens' living conditions. In summertime, a farm egg has a deep orange yolk that's particularly thick and rich, and this is the benchmark for the best eggs. In a supermarket, you can’t always be sure from the box.

Are Brown Eggs Better?

Only if you prefer the color. Otherwise, brown eggs and white eggs are eggsactly the same. They are no more natural or farm-fresh than white eggs; they're just from a breed of chicken that lays brown eggs, just as some birds lay pale green or blue eggs. If you want an egg to taste different, you have to switch birds: Try duck, goose, or quail eggs for a different flavor.

Red Alert

That red dot on the yolk does not mean that the egg was fertilized. It is simply a tiny bit of blood that got into the egg as it formed in the hen. It won't hurt you at all, but it's a little unappetizing. Use the tip of a spoon to dip it out and discard it.

RECIPE: PERFECT SCRAMBLED EGGS

One of the most trusted recipes in your arsenal should be the perfect scramble. The trick is not to touch them too much.

Serves 2 to 4

4 large eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon milk

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Crack the eggs into a medium-size bowl and discard the shells.

2. Put a medium-size (8- or 10-inch) skillet on a burner over medium heat.

Place the butter in the pan to melt.

3. While the butter melts, use a fork or a whisk to beat the eggs vigorously. If using a fork, hold the tines of the fork parallel to the bottom of the bowl and

whip the eggs over and over in a circular motion, to break the yolks and incorporate them into the whites.

4. Beat in the milk (it helps make the eggs creamier) and a pinch of salt and pepper. As the butter starts to sizzle, tip the eggs into the pan.

5. Use a wooden spoon or a heatproof silicone spatula to turn the eggs over gently as they cook (infrequently, so you're not touching them too much), pulling a track through the eggs as they set so that more uncooked egg touches the pan.

6. After a minute or two, when there is still a little runny egg visible, turn the scrambled eggs into a serving bowl or onto plates. The residual heat will continue cooking the eggs so that they’re perfect by the time they reach the table.

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