Dan Barber has an enduring passion for eggs. As executive chef/owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, he has the good fortune to preside over a kitchen surrounded by a working farm.
A Chicken’s Life Our laying hens are a cross of the Rhode Island Red and White Plymouth Rock, a hybrid that’s hardy enough to be outside laying eggs all year. Part of their diet consists of grain and kitchen scraps. But they’re also able to forage outside, eating grass and insects. By the time the sun goes down, something in the chickens’ DNA tells them to file back into an “eggmobile” to roost and lay eggs.
Blinding Yolks You’d better put on sunglasses when you crack one of our eggs, because the yolk is a bright yellow-orange. Great cheeses have different flavors in spring from the grasses the animals eat, and the same is true of these eggs, which are bursting with flavor and packed with omega fatty acids and other nutrients. The fat content is higher and because of that we’ve changed our ice cream and pastry recipes to cut back on eggs.
Buying Eggs-pertise If I were buying eggs and had a choice between organic and pastured, I’d go with the pastured ones. I wouldn’t worry if the chickens weren’t fed on 100% organic grain. I’m much more concerned that they have access to grass because the real taste and health benefits come from a varied diet. On the other hand, pastured eggs are more expensive. It’s a personal choice and I don’t have all the answers.
Scramble Like a Chef Poaching shows off the beautiful yolks, but scrambled eggs are still my favorite. I cook them very slowly in a double boiler and, when they start to coagulate, add a little butter, salt, pepper and maybe some chopped chives. For a tasting menu the other night, we scrambled the eggs with puréed sea urchin and that was great, too.
Wine Reflections Eggs are a sommelier’s dream because they are so versatile, taking on different guises depending on the other ingredients. One of our salads has baby fennel, marinated mushrooms, pistachios, cauliflower and a fresh, soft-fried egg. With that I think of a Sauvignon Blanc because it echoes the grassy characteristic the egg acquires from being buried in the greens. A Gewürtztraminer would be nice, too.
Yin and Yang of Eggs In cooking school, chefs learn searing techniques for proteins, but you get something richer and more interesting when you cook salmon or eggs at a temperature barely warmer than a Jacuzzi. In the future, I think we’ll be turning away from all that macho grilling and searing to what I would call feminine techniques, aimed at making the product taste more like the product. It’s a more thoughtful approach. More like my aunt’s eggs.
Special thanks to Craig Haney, livestock manager at Stone Barn.