Pullet Eggs, Why They Matter, and How to Cook Them

Here’s the thing about eggs. If you can cook them, you’re a good cook. If you can’t, you’re a bad cook. There’s almost no other food that you can say that about. (I’m speaking here of cooking eggs in a pan. Any dope can boil an egg.) The reason is that cooking eggs requires, in microcosm, everything difficult, delicate, and sensitive in cooking. They cook quickly, changing from an unspeakably gross cold gel to a warm, thickened fluid, to a firm or fluffy state of perfection, and from thence to a powdery waste product in the time less than two minutes. And at the end, they produce, when cooked right, a totally unique, utterly wonderful food that comes alive in your mouth, and tastes of nothing but itself. I like them so much that I never found one I didn’t like.

Then I found out about pullet eggs, and my admiration of eggs shaded into reverence. A pullet is a hen that is under one year old, which means that it has been laying eggs for only a few months. The most special, and most precious, of pullet eggs are the first lay. These eggs have in them all of the vital essences of the chicken, which it has stored up its entire life. No subsquent eggs will ever taste the same. And when you have eggs like this, if you are fortunate enough to somehow get ahold of them, there is a terrific burden on the cook to not ruin them or screw them up.

So I found that I had to cook eggs differently. More carefully, more respectfully, more patiently. I’m a good cook, so my scrambled eggs are always pretty much perfect. And of course a three-minute egg doesn’t require much in the way of skill, as I say. But frying an egg is a different story. The butter can burn; the bottom can stick; the yolk can break, especially if you’re turning the eggs, which I do; you can be overcaution and pull it from the pan, before it’s cooked; and a hundred other mishaps besides.

But when you make the pullet egg right, there is nothing like it I’ve ever had. It’s basically avian caviar. The solution to the myriad problems the egg presents is in plain sight, though: you just cook it very slowly, on a low fire. You need to use a lot of butter, because the egg needs to be lubricated on all sides; it essentially needs to float on the butter to some extent. And most of the butter will remain in the pan. The butter should bubble. If it doesn’t the heat needs to go up a little. Once the bubbling stops, the water is gone, and you ready to crack your egg. I use the edge of the pan, but short, careful blow with the sharp end of a knife is the safer way to go. The whites will firm up first, and as they do you want to continuously spoon hot butter over the top, so that the inner white, which on a pullet egg will be very firm indeed, will begin to cook, as will the all-important yolk. If you do this right, you won’t have to turn the egg at all. Which means there will be no chance of breaking it. Just wait, and wait, and don’t rush things. Grind a little pepper over the egg if you like. But don’t shake it or prod it or probe it. The zen of the egg is to leave it alone. That is, until you eat it.

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