We’ve all hear the question, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” Looking at it in terms of time of day Americans might be most likely to choose the egg, since it plays a starring role in so many breakfast dishes. From Eggs Benedict to Egg McMuffin, when I think of eggs, something breakfasty often comes to mind.
In a historical sense humans have used eggs as a food source since primitive times because they are full of protein and easy to obtain. Eating eggs may predate eating chickens. Ancient socio-religious symbolisms and traditions are linked to the egg, and many current Christian traditions, such as Easter eggs, grew out of the pagan link between eggs and fertility rites and celebrations.
According to the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, domesticated, egg-laying jungle fowl were common in India as early as 3200 B.C., and in both Egypt and China by 1400 B.C. Archaeological evidence of egg consumption dates back to the Neolithic age. As the Ancient Romans conquered ever-far ranging portions of the globe they discovered egg-laying hens in what is current day England, France and Germany. As far as America goes, Columbus’ second voyage in 1493 is believed to have brought the first domesticated fowl to our shores.
In fact the English word for egg goes back to prehistoric Indo-European words for “bird,” and the Old English term was “oeg.”
Clearly, eggs have been a staple of the human diet for a long time—and not just as a handy protein source. Both ancient Romans and Egyptians are believed to have used eggs as a binding agent and in baking. And in 25 BC Apicius, my new hero, invented baked custard using milk, honey, and eggs.
In more recent times, eggs have received a bit of a bad rap as early research on their connection with dangerous human cholesterol levels put a chilling effect on too regular a diet of the bacon-with-2-sunnyside- up-eggs breakfast. As kids, my siblings and I enjoyed that gooey treat as reward for observing the weekly Sunday mass fast. But eggs were banished from our family fridge after our mom joined the ranks of coronary bypass recipients in the mid-1970’s. Since then research has identified the so-called “good” and “bad” cholesterols, and most doctors look at the relation between the two more closely than they do our composite cholesterol scores.
In a piece by Thomas Behrenbeck, M.D., Ph.D. Mayo Clinic’s website advises that the level of dietary cholesterol needed to increase blood cholesterol varies from person to person, and states that, “eating four egg yolks or fewer on a weekly basis hasn’t been found to increase your risk of heart disease.” And a 2006 study conducted at University of Connecticut found “that most people's bodies handle the cholesterol from eggs in a way that is least likely to harm the heart.”
To Mayo and University of Connecticut, I say, “Yea!” And, I’m not alone in the cheering section. Celebrity chef, Bobby Flay makes no bones about his love for breakfast. He features egg dishes on the menus of his restaurants, in his cookbooks, and in his television shows. The Top Chef television competition series often throws an egg challenge into its season. I watched with fascination as one chef struggled to crack open an ostrich egg in order to make an ill-fated ostrich quiche. I enjoyed the competition, even though I thought the ostrich thing was taking love of egg a bit too far.
Fortunately home chefs don’t need to go to such extremes to enjoy a dish made with the contents of nature’s versatile little shell. One of my most favorite “fast foods” (or I should say, “aliments rapide” since it is a staple on French bistro menus,) is Croque Monsieur. For those of you who haven’t had the chance to savor this delicious treat on the other side of the pond, I like to think of it as Ham and Swiss meets French Toast. I’ve eaten it in many a Parisian sidewalk café and bistro and my devotion to it never flags. My rendition of it appears in Easy Weekly Meals For Moms on the Go, and it’s pictured above. Check it out and enjoy! If you like it, give our Facebook Page a “Like” so we can keep you up to date on new and creative food ideas and recipes.
What’s your favorite egg dish? Let us know, and share a picture if you can.
Viva l’oeuf! Long live the egg.