A soft boiled eaten with toast soldiers can be delightful. And even the hard boiled ones acquire a new dimension when you use them for cooking. So, in these tough times, rediscover the boiled egg...
These days, every Western food writer is doing pieces on recession cuisine. Their essential message is (a) don’t go to expensive restaurants, (b) if you want to go anyhow, then go for the cheap lunch (c) use inexpensive cuts of meat and (d) spend a long time in the kitchen because the cheaper cuts need slow cooking.
I struggled this week to think of my own recession piece. I couldn’t ask you not to go to fancy restaurants because most of us have stopped going anyway. Hotel restaurants tend to be empty (though I have to say that I had lunch at Threesixty last week and it was jam packed) and most people have shifted to stand-alones which are weathering the recession better.
The ‘cheap cuts of meat’ prescription seems pretty unsuited to us as well. We already understand slow cooking and our cuisine does not depend on the best bits of lamb or the most expensive steak cuts. Plus, we love vegetables anyway.
In fact, there was only one thing that struck me as being a useful tip for these tough times: rediscover the boiled egg.
Okay, I know what your objections are going to be. Objection one will come from smart readers who will point out that I always recommend the use of Keggs or some other brand of free-range egg (assuming you can find one) which is several times more expensive than the industrial variety. So how useful is that as a tip for the recession?
Fair enough. But even Keggs eggs are cheaper than meat. So I think the substitution is still valid. Objection two will come from nearly everybody else. Boiled eggs! Has it really come to this? Does five percent growth mean we all have to eat boiled eggs?
I understand where some of the objections are coming from. When I was at boarding school, I used to dread the day they served boiled eggs for breakfast. They were cold, the yolks were congealed and we had to spend a long time shelling them. It seemed too much like uncooked food, as though the mess couldn’t be bothered to cook our eggs but had merely thrown a hundred or so of them into boiling water for a few minutes and pretended that breakfast was now cooked.
At school picnics, I would loathe the food because it nearly always consisted on an orange and an egg that had been boiled several hours before.
So why am I recommending boiled eggs to you now? Well, because first of all, they don’t have to be disgusting. A soft boiled egg eaten with toast soldiers can be delightful. And even hard boiled eggs acquire a new dimension when you use them for cooking.
The poor in India have always known that the addition of a few eggs can make a meat dish or a pulao go further. But the rich and the upper classes have stubbornly rejected eggs arguing that they add nothing to the flavour.
Even in the days when times were good, I never bought this argument. When you add halved boiled eggs to a rich mutton curry, the yolks eventually become part of the gravy and the whites provide a clean flavour and texture contrast to the mutton.
When you add eggs to a biryani or a pulao, the yolk is less useful but the white still adds a wonderful bite.
Then, of course, there are the dishes that use boiled eggs for themselves. All over South India but especially in Kerala and Mangalore you will get a terrific egg masala, a sort of semi-gravy dish made with boiled eggs that goes brilliantly with appams and is my favourite breakfast when I am in Kerala.
North Indian cuisine prides itself on the nargisi kofta which is an Indian version of the dish that they call Scotch Egg in Britain. Boiled eggs are encased in a keema mixture and the kofta/kabab which results is either deep-fried or put into a gravy and cooked as part of a curry. The combination of keema and egg should not necessarily work but it always does, whether in Scotch eggs or in Indian cooking.
Eggs are traditionally boiled for use in salads and the like but I have to say that I don’t have much time for the over-rich combination of boiled egg and mayonnaise. A classic egg salad is the Boiled Egg and Peanut salad of Maharashtrian cooking in which crushed boiled eggs are combined with roasted peanuts in an imli-favoured dressing.
And then of course, there are things you can do with boiled eggs at home. I find that an egg sandwich rarely works if it is made with fried eggs or scrambled eggs or bhurji. For the sandwich to take on a character of its own, you must use hard boiled eggs.
Here’s what I would do. I would boil the eggs and when they were done, shell them and crush them with a fork so that the white and the yolk mixed in a coarse combination. Then I would beat a little butter (or olive oil) into the mixture and add tangy mustard. (I like English but I guess Dijon could work too). Then I would toast good bread (I use rye bread from the Oberoi bakery). When the bread was still warm, I would spoon the mixture on to one slice so that the butter melted from the heat of the toast (assuming that butter not olive oil has been used). I would butter the other slice, place a slice of tomato on top of the egg and close the sandwich.
Then I would eat it immediately.
If you want to do more complicated things with your boiled eggs then I include two recipes from Cyrus Todiwala’s Café Spice Namaste cookbook. Todiwala makes his nargisi kofta with a mixture of gamey meats but I reckon that you could easily substitute mutton keema.
His second recipe is for the Maharashtrian egg salad I mentioned above. I would add the optional shallots and tomatoes and double the quality of kothmir (coriander). I also like to quickly fry a little sliced garlic till it is crisp and top the salad with it as a way of adding another layer of taste.
But then I add coriander and garlic to everything. (It’s the Gujarati in me).