The Versatility of Eggs
Eggs have many uses in the kitchen. They can thicken, bind, leaven, glaze or garnish. They can be center of the plate or they can blend into the background. They are versatile and quick cooking, but perhaps first and foremost, the protein of the egg is both high in quality and low in cost.
“The egg is probably the most modest kitchen staple,” says Caesar Desiato, executive chef for Aramark Healthcare at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. “It humbly performs myriad culinary functions with barely a notice. It’s a little gluten-free seed, packed with protein, riboflavin and selenium. It’s a ubiquitous emulsifier and leavener.”
It also can be a component for some exotic world cuisine, such as a classic tamagoyaki—rolled Japanese omelet. “It’s new and different for many folks,” says Desiato. “It’s extremely easy to prepare, especially on a commercial flat top and makes for creative plating.”
Tamagoyaki, which means grilled egg, is made by pouring a little sweet egg mixture in a pan, rolling it to one side, pouring more mix, then rolling the first roll into a larger roll, then repeating. Once rolled and allowed to cool, a tamagoyaki can be cut like pasta and added to soups or salads.
Versatile actor: “Eggs can have a starring role in a meal, like in omelets and quiches, or be the essential bit player, like the magic ingredient that gives soufflés their fluff,” says Alla Umanskiy, communications manager for Morrison Management Specialists. “Eggs need the right sauce, like chili, curry and various red sauces. We’ve even used mustard. Serve your salsa and eggs with a tortilla, beans and green chiles for a simple brunch of huevos rancheros, or a vegetable and smoked-trout frittata.”
Eggs remain one of the most healthful, readily available, inexpensive whole food items, she adds.
“At Morrison, we ensure that all accounts use only cage-free eggs and take advantage of egg’s rich protein and low sodium content,” Umanskiy says. “We are having fun featuring eggs in retro dishes such as deviled eggs that are blended with sweet peas or smoked salmon and herbs, to vegetable quiches baked in an edible bowl.”
Anita Shaffer, director of menu management for Chartwells School Dining Services says, “Eggs are a nutritious and cost-effective solution for serving a greater variety of protein options on the menu while keeping within budget. They’re also a great opportunity for us to serve nutritious meatless meals that appeal widely to students. With one large egg providing 13 essential nutrients and just 70 calories, eggs are a nutrition powerhouse. They’re a good source of quality protein, containing all eight essential amino acids, and vitamins B12, D, riboflavin and folate. They also offer antioxidants that aid in brain function and eye health.”
Two examples of egg-based breakfast meals from Chartwells include a salsa scramble bagel topper (fresh scrambled eggs, salsa and a light cheddar cheese garnish on top of a whole-wheat bagel half) and veggie scramble pockets (fresh eggs scrambled with fresh vegetables in a whole-wheat pita).
“Eggs are also a part of our healthful lunch menu mix,” Shaffer says. “Brunch for Lunch is offered to elementary students and includes either chopped hard-boiled eggs on a small chef salad or sliced hard-boiled eggs teamed with a whole-grain mini bagel. In addition to offering hard-boiled eggs on salad bars and egg salad sandwiches made with reduced-fat mayonnaise at deli bars, we regularly offer hot sandwiches or wraps made with eggs at our Grab-a-Stack grill station and quiche from our Crust-n-Stuff station as an alternative to pizza.”
Free the bird, free the egg: Cage free has become a catchphrase with many food handlers.
“We use mostly liquid eggs as far as volume goes, but for shell eggs, we’ve recently begun a cage-free program,” says Darla Stewart, manager of procurement and food systems for the University of Texas. “Various student groups requested we make a change and it fit into our cost budget.”
The foodservice staff at Texas uses eggs for breakfast burritos and tacos. They also do all their own baking, including desserts and muffins.
“Here in Texas, interest in the hand- held sandwich has grown,” Stewart says. “But eggs in general are a well accepted item. Breakfast at dinner is very popular. Students love omelets to order. We also feature a Southwest breakfast called migas, which is like a sausage and egg mixture.”
Migas, derived from the Spanish word for crumbs, is a mix of egg, bits of corn tortilla and a variety of other savory ingredients like beans, chorizo, cheese, salsa, avocados and chiles.
Vaughn Vargus, executive chef of Housing, Dining and Hospitality at the University of California at San Diego, has also made the switch to cage-free eggs.
“The biggest thing that we’ve done is the egg that we’re using specifically and exclusively is cage free. We made a commitment, with respect to the animal,” he says. “We chose a local family farm business that uses the European practices of raising chickens. We’re not going to save the world or anything, but we feel good about the product we use.”
Vargus uses hard-boiled eggs at the salad bar and also has several sandwich applications.
“We have different variations of a breakfast pizza with odd items like fennel or arugula,” Vargus says. “We also do a variety of egg sandwiches on croissant, quiches and scrambles, like a Mediterranean scramble with artichoke, tomato and olive.”
Vargus has focused on smaller batches, less steam trays and more authentic ethnic cooking.
“We have a strong Asian community here and we’ve ventured into stir-fries with egg products involved,” he says. “We also do a traditional Chinese tea-dyed egg. It’s authentic, unique and it looks awesome. It really puts us on another level.”
To make a tea-dyed egg, Vargus boils eggs in black tea. When they begin to harden he cracks the shells a little to allow for a black or brownish design on the white flesh of the egg. Each design is eye grabbing as a garnish.
Making eggs healthy: “We go through a ton of eggs, even though we focus on healthy eating,” says Dan Hendon, executive chef at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “Hospital administration is very serious about health. Since we feed doctors, nurses and staff, we’ve been directed to offer employee discounts to encourage healthy eating. Many employees are overweight and have high cholesterol.”
As a result, Hendon uses egg whites and pasteurized eggs to promote healthy eating.
“We used to do egg sandwiches on a biscuit. Now we offer breakfast burritos and quesadillas,” he says. “There’s bacon, sausage and cheese, but we try to push a variety of veggies like spinach, broccoli and peppers. You can serve it with sour cream or pico de gallo.”
Along with healthfulness, eggs also present a situation regarding food safety.
“We actually did a culture change workshop focusing on breakfast made-to-order, because it’s the most inexpensive meal of the day,” says Charles Diffenderfer, executive chef for the southern area of Genesis Healthcare, which is headquartered in Philadelphia. “To better serve the needs of our guests, we exclusively use pasteurized eggs.”
Pasteurized eggs allow for the safe serving of eggs sunny side up, over easy or poached, he adds. In the workshops they brought together teams from different centers for omelet demonstrations and hands-on training.
“We get nurses helping, housekeeping staff; it becomes an experience,” says Diffenderfer. “We get five or six people from each team and show them how to do breakfast the right way. We’ve done breakfast frittatas and also baked eggs au gratin. The whole experience has been a great team-builder.
“One customer said that his mother thought she’d never have another poached egg again,” Diffenderfer adds. “We changed our culture in less than a year. With our everyday made-to-order buffet line, we have a better comfort level regarding food temperatures. The staff gets to know the guests, and the guests get to know the staff. It’s been an amazing win-win for us.”
The creative side: Eggs can also build new products, says Jamie Smith, foodservice director for Santa Cruz (Calif.) City Schools.
“We had a pallet of trail mix that was donated by the USDA that the kids didn’t care for,” says Smith. “We used it with the liquid egg whites to create a high-protein bar. We sell them on the cart for a dollar and it’s a hit.”
Smith said he has much reverence for the fresh egg and the self-setting omelet.
“In most applications, eggs are overshadowed by the ingredients of omelets or sides like bacon, sausage, home fries and toast. Usually the egg is for texture and what you add is flavor,” he says. “We have built in safety and security; recipes have become fool proof. But for flavor alone, nothing is better than a fresh egg.”