Experiment & have fun in the kitchen


Staff Writer

Of all kitchen staples, few can compete with the wonderfully elegant egg. A necessary ingredient in a lot of baking and saucing preparations where its presence isn’t so obvious but its importance undeniable, the egg has no trouble shining under the spotlight as the featured protein of a meal.

Years ago, during my tenure as a line cook at the Denny’s in St. Clairsville, few things elicited groans from the kitchen staff as did an order for basted eggs. The novelty of the order, our inexperience with the method and the extra steps required to successfully baste eggs was unwelcomed in the fast-paced rush of breakfast.

It wasn’t until years later that I started basting eggs at home and discovered the wonderful texture and flavor that could be elicited from an item I thought I knew so well.

Any liquid can be used to baste eggs. Technically my grandmother’s preferred method for cooking eggs, in which she would fry them in bacon grease and spoon the hot fat over to cook the tops was basting. But I prefer using water, which essentially yields a hybrid egg — fried on the bottom and poached on the top.

Before you start, you’ll want to take steps to have hot water ready to go, whether you have a simmering tea kettle or some heated in the microwave, an appropriately sized non-stick skillet with a lid that fits, eggs and butter.

Heat a tablespoon of butter in the skillet and add the whole eggs to cook until the bottoms are set. Then add about 1/4 cup hot water, reduce the heat a little and immediately cover the pan so the steaming water can do its work until the eggs reach the desired doneness. A wide, slotted spatula can then be used to lift the eggs out of the remaining water and transfer them to a plate.

There are so many opinions among foodies and chefs concerning the best way to scramble eggs. Some will balk at the use of a whisk in preference of a fork to do the scrambling, and the use of milk or cream in the mixture is often debated. While I’ll admit that I rarely scramble eggs for my own consumption (I love dippy yolks!) I learned a technique watching “Irish Cooking Queen” Rachel Allen’s cooking show on PBS that I have used to get the lightest, creamiest curds of scrambled egg goodness.

The mix I use is about 1/2 tablespoon of milk per egg, and I use a whisk to blend them together, incorporating the white into the mixture fairly well.

Start with cold butter and cold egg mixture together in a cold non-stick pan. Turn the heat to medium/medium high and be ready to stir with a flexible scraper style spatula once you see the egg start to cook. This will help to incorporate the butter into the eggs as they cook. Continue to scrape and fold the mix as it cooks to prevent the browning of the egg and to help the little bite size curds form. Remove it from the heat as soon as there is no more liquid present in the pan, but while the eggs are still glistening, and season to taste.

Once I regarded the presence of deviled eggs at family reunions, picnics and other gatherings with a healthy dose of skepticism and concern.

You see, I really like some deviled eggs and have absolutely no use for the ones I don’t and never wished to be spotted immediately disposing of one with but a small bite taken from it, potentially offending the person who prepared it.

So I took it upon myself to put in some time in the kitchen and, with some tips from my mother who makes great deviled eggs but never measures anything, figured out a deviled egg recipe that I could enjoy and duplicate consistently. The result of my work is that I am now the one whose deviled eggs are requested at gatherings.

What I came up with was oddly simple, and it allows for the addition of other flavors and ingredients as one sees fit. The following is for six large eggs or 12 halves when finished, and as you’ll see the recipe is very easy to double to make the full dozen for 24 halves.

First, remember that really fresh eggs will be harder to peel than eggs with some age to them, and the eggs must be hard boiled correctly to avoid the green ring around the yolk that will end up discoloring and adding a sulfurous flavor to the filling. This is accomplished by putting the eggs in a sauce pan and covering with cold water until submerged by half an inch or so. Put the pan on the stove and bring the water to a boil before reducing the heat to low, just so the water stays good and hot. Cover and leave it be for 12-15 minutes.

Drain the hot water and run cold water over them to cool the eggs before putting them in the refrigerator to finish chilling.

After halving the eggs, remove the yolks and break them up with a fork in a bowl, since I have found that taking the electric mixer straight to the yolks often leaves chunks that never get fully incorporated into the filling.

Now add one tablespoon each of yellow mustard, mayonnaise, granulated sugar and white vinegar, a pinch of salt and a pinch of black or white pepper. That’s it!

Mix the filling well with an electric hand mixer and give it a taste. Sometimes some extra mayonnaise will be needed to get the right texture, and the sweetness of the sugar and the tang of the vinegar should cut through and keep the mustard from being too prevalent. Either spoon or pipe the filling into the egg-white cups and sprinkle with paprika.

These are great as is or they can be topped with black or green olives, bacon, chives, crab meat or spiced up with your favorite hot sauce.

The resources available to the home cooks looking to up their game are innumerable. Websites such as Yummly, Allrecipes and Epicurious provide millions of recipes complete with feedback from users and old school staples including the “Fannie Farmer” and “Better Homes and Gardens Cook Books” are still as relevant and useful as ever.

The key is to find something that piques your interest and give it a go. No matter the complexity of the recipe pay attention to the details, and remember to be safe and have fun in the kitchen.

Lenny Wittenbrook has more than 20 years’ experience working in various capacities in local restaurants, mostly at the Red Lobster in St. Clairsville, where he is currently employed as a cook. He is an avid recipe collector and kitchen tinkerer. He also works frequently as a correspondent for The Times Leader.


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