Is there a food so basic yet so formidable that even to cook it with nonchalance, you need a certain amount of skill, without which you can make a god-awful mess of it? Sorry. I have scrambled my words, poached a few thoughts, and fried all logic. Because what I am speaking of is the modest egg.
Whether you are rich or poor, live in the city or the village, in Europe, or in Asia, chances are that eggs are a staple.
For me, the egg is a versatile-yet-whimsical food. It transmogrifies into forms no other food can. In 14 minutes, it can be hard-boiled to a wobbly globule with a golden centre. In two minutes, it can be fried to a diaphanous sunny side up. When whisked with milk over gentle heat, eggs can petrify into a cheesy scramble, or when beaten and fried, it can make a luscious omelette.
An egg-white beaten stiff and baked with sugar can make a biscuit-y meringue, while the same egg-white mixed in béchamel with grated cheese and shoved into an oven can be the crust of an au gratin. The yolk when whipped and double-boiled makes for great custard. And the same yolk can be beaten with oil to make mayonnaise.
Eggs can thicken, bind, emulsify, leaven, glaze or garnish. And they can titillate, tantalise, and inspire.
But as simple as it seems, cooking eggs is an art. A perfect boiled egg is not easy. You have to cover the eggs in cold water, bring the water to a boil, and finally take the pan off the heat to let the eggs finish cooking. If you want them runny, it takes three minutes. If you want them slightly runny, four minutes. But if you like them firm yet creamy, 10 minutes. Very firm... 14.
Scrambled eggs are tougher. Barring maybe one or two instances, I have yet to eat scrambled eggs in any hotel, restaurant, café, home, or aircraft that met my approval. They are either too stiff or dry, and often over-coagulated into a mess that ‘weeps’ water. The secret is low heat and patience: mix the eggs, butter and milk in a pan and put it on a low flame. The eggs should be slowly disturbed to a creamy consistency. Also, one long, vertically slit green chilli will knock the eggs straight to heaven.
Nothing can beat a full fry-up of eggs and bacon. Runny, sunny-side-up yellow eyes, with streaky, crisp pig.
Or Indigo Deli’s Eggs Benedict with ham. Gooey hollandaise with poached eggs on English muffins with hash browns.
If you are in Fort, the akuri (Parsi-style scrambled eggs with masala) at Ideal Corner is the way it should be. Yellow, spicy, creamy and served with Brun Pav.
Mohammed Nasir’s bhurji pav stall near Cooper Hospital is what legends are made of. But late at night, outside Churchgate Station on the pavement is a bhurji pav wala who can take the fatigue out of your soul.
Bombay Canteen’s Eggs Kejriwal, with their twist of green chutney, is a great tribute to the original club breakfast.
The egg masala in their inimitable green gravy at Olympia Café, Colaba makes you forget that chicken and mutton exist. And Olympia’s eggs scrambled with brain or mince are as imposing in taste as the mount itself.
Devilled eggs, frittatas, quiches, French toast, soufflé, omelettes, tempuras, fricassees, cakes, roulades, au gratins, desserts, puddings, drinks, sauces, noodles, soups, pies, salads and pickles. What would we do without eggs?
Author and TV show host Vijayakar is “always hungry”. He tweets as @kunalvijayakar