Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg before it is broken
—MFK Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf, 1954
Consider the egg: among the first foods we feed our children, and the last we eat before dying. A symbol of new life in ancient pagan festivals of spring, they were later adopted by Christians to celebrate Christ's resurrection after a torturous death on the cross. Forbidden during Lent, 13th-century Christians began decorating eggs for the Easter feast for colorful end to the season of penance.
I remember dying eggs with my kids as a young mom, palming the cool, brown ovals, and how our youngest son delighted in turning them pink and green. We’d hide them under couches and behind tea cups for his mad hunt, sometimes stumbling upon an undiscovered one many months later. Many years later, and without children around to hunt for them, I still dye eggs if only for the simple joy of having something colorful to peel and eat throughout the week.
In the world of U.S. cuisine, chicken eggs rule the roost. Quail and duck eggs are common in Asian and South American cuisines, and while most eggs taste similar, each one is delicious in its own way.
Duck eggs, available at farmers markets and specialty shops, are about twice the size of a large chicken egg. With a rich, even decadent flavor, the yolk is shockingly large to those of us raised on chicken eggs. You might say the difference between the two is like that between whole milk and cream. They’re terrific poached, can be fried or scrambled, and make a rich, golden pound cake.
Quail eggs, on the other hand, are adorably teeny – about three to four of them equal a large chicken egg – and have a delicate, speckled shell. They make a neat appetizer hard-boiled and cut in half, and their flavor is slightly grassy.
If you can’t find quail or duck eggs, what kind of chicken eggs are best? Anything marked “pasture-raised.” This means the chickens spend time outside, hunting for bugs and grubs and grains, yielding eggs high in omega-3’s with darker yolks that contain lutein, an antioxidant nutrient. The best bet, as always, is to buy from a farmer you trust.
When it comes to cooking eggs, I like to stick with the classic: fried. I love how the yolk spills into a lush, velvety sauce over vegetable hash, roasted asparagus or sautéed greens. I leave eggs benedict and soufflés for the winter holidays, when I don’t mind spending hours at the stove. I prefer my Easter feast simple and bright, dusted with parmesan and a splash of lemon.
Fried Duck Egg with Root Vegetable Hash
Serves 2 and is easily expanded (or reduced by half for one)
4 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, diced (optional)
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, scrubbed, cut into ½-inch dice
2 medium beets, mix of red and gold, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 duck eggs
In a deep, heavy skillet set over medium heat, fry the pancetta, turning often, until the fat has rendered and the meat is crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove to a plate and leave the fat in the pan.
Add the onions and cook until transparent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the diced vegetables, sprinkle with the salt and pepper and pinch of red pepper flakes. Shake the pan to distribute the vegetables evenly. Cover the pan and reduce the heat, cook until the vegetables have become tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the cover, stir the vegetables and continue cooking until they’ve become slightly browned on all sides. Take off the heat and cover to keep warm.
In a separate skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Crack the eggs into the skillet, cover the pan for about 2 minutes, then remove the lid and continue cooking until the yolk is set and the whites are no longer runny, about 7 to 13 minutes.
Scoop the vegetables onto individual plates or a serving platter and top with the fried eggs. Sprinkle with a little coarse salt.