In Season: Get cracking with eggs, the versatile staple
04/02/2014 12:00 AM
03/31/2014 4:54 PM
Eggs are popping out all over – and not just from spring chickens.
They’re showing up fried on burgers, baked atop casseroles and poached on pasta. Any time has become egg time as this versatile ingredient has gone far beyond breakfast.
It’s enough to make the Easter Bunny’s head spin.
“Actually, eggs have been labeled the top trend for restaurants; they’ve declared 2014 the ‘Year of the Egg,’ ” said Jenny Englert, representing the American Egg Board. “We’re seeing lots of eggs in dishes you would never think of – like on top of pizza – but it’s really good.”
Restaurant.com president Christopher Krohn echoed that sentiment. He put eggs atop his current trends report.
“You won’t be asking which came first, the chicken or the egg,” Krohn said. “If you’re like many Americans, you’ll be seeing and eating a lot more huevos in restaurants in 2014.”
Krohn credited chefs with starting this trend by topping favorite foods with eggs such as burgers, pizza, sandwiches, casseroles, pasta, salads and stir-fries. Eggs also have moved onto the dinner menus of America’s top-tier restaurants as comfort food with a twist.
“The ‘breakfast for dinner’ craze and increasing popularity of regional specialties such as Korean bibimbop and Mexican huevos rancheros will accelerate this trend,” he said. “Plus, there’s an emerging sense from the scientific crowd that eggs are healthier than perhaps you previously thought, which will feed consumer interest in this farm-fresh favorite.”
With its hard-boiled egg traditions, Easter ranks as the apex of egg time. Egg purchases nearly double the week before Easter, which this year is April 20. Last year, Americans bought 161 million eggs that week.
“For several years, we were seeing Easter egg (popularity) declining,” Englert noted. “People had turned to plastic eggs (for egg hunts). But in the last two years, egg sales have skyrocketed for Easter.”
Egg experts credit that comeback to renewed interest in crafting – and sharing: There’s been a resurgence in creatively decorating eggs, then posting the results online for others to see.
As for recipes, pre-Easter downloads tend toward brunch favorites – make-ahead meal makers such as frittatas and quiche. “There’s also a lot of interest in deviled eggs with a twist,” Englert said.
But eggs go way beyond Easter. About nine out of every 10 households regularly buys eggs. On average, we each eat nearly 252 eggs a year. And there are plenty to go around. American chickens produce more than 77 billion eggs a year. With almost 19 million laying hens, California egg production ranks behind (in order) Iowa, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
Once scorned for high cholesterol content, eggs now are much more favorably viewed by nutritionists.
“Eggs are lower in cholesterol that previously thought,” Englert said. “According to the USDA, people even at risk of heart disease can safely consume two a day. Their protein content is really important, too.”
But it’s eggs’ culinary assets that have cooks cracking.
Sacramento food expert and author Elaine Corn has been cooking eggs for all meals for decades. Among her cookbooks is “365 Ways to Cook Eggs” (HarperCollins, 1996). This classic is still available on Amazon.com. For dinner, she cites two old favorites: spaghetti carbonara and egg flower soup.
“Eggs are the acrobats of cuisine,” said Corn, who also writes the World Eats column in The Bee’s new Feast section. “They perform feats no other food can claim. They emulsify, thicken, poof, puff and fluff – from the appetizer course to dessert.”
Corn always has eggs on hand and notes it’s easier now that more of her neighbors have chickens.
She sees eggs’ nutritional profile as a bonus.
“One egg has all nine amino acids,” she said. “It’s a perfect food. It’s great that they’re nutritious, but I eat them because I love them and they’re simple to cook.”
About a quarter-million egg recipes are featured on Foodily, the popular recipe website and app.
“That number is not surprising to me at all,” said Foodily co-founder Hillary Mickell. “… What’s surprising is the changing dynamic; there’s definitely a shifting dynamic of eggs where it’s moving across all meals. Breakfast, lunch, dinner; people are getting really creative.”
With more than a half-million regular users, Foodily usually sees a surge in egg searches right before Easter, Mickell noted. “Those usually break down into breakfast and what I’d call ‘fancy eggs’ (brunch recipes). But now, the emerging (egg) trend is everyday meals beyond breakfast. Eggs in sandwiches are way up. We’re seeing a lot of savory egg recipes such as baked eggs for dinner.”
Among the most popular recent recipe downloads from Foodily: a chickpea, kale and sausage casserole baked with an egg on top.
Added Mickell, “As an egg lover, I think (this trend) is fabulous.”
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