The eggs factor

PUBLISHED: 17:12 23 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:55 20 February 2013

Snowy Malvern Meringue dusted with chocolate and served with fresh fruits

Snowy Malvern Meringue dusted with chocolate and served with fresh fruits

Martin Griffiths meets some of Herefordshire's egg producers and suggests recipes using this most versatile of foods

The Eggs Factor

Martin Griffiths meets some of Herefordshires egg producers and suggests recipes using this most versatile of foods

If you are able to give over a part of your garden to chickens then you will not only be able to enjoy the sight of them strutting, you will also be rewarded with golden-yolked eggs, which are a pleasure to cook with and eat. Plunging your toasted soldier into a gooey boiled egg is a treat too good to be kept for the children.

One of the simplest ways of decorating eggs for Easter is the old country way of using onion skins and string or rubber bands. Put a good handful of onion skins into a pan of water, boil for around 10 minutes before adding your rubber band or string wrapped eggs and simmer for a further eight minutes. The onion skins turn the eggs a deep brown colour leaving patterns and decorations when you remove the string and rubber bands.

To decorate an empty shell with paint, first, carefully, make a hole at each end of the egg before breaking up the yolk with a sterilised needle and shaking the contents of the egg into a bowl. Wash the eggs well before mending the holes with a little glue and tissue paper. You can always add a papier-mch coating for extra strength and durability. Decorating eggs in this way can keep children and adults occupied during wet Easter holidays and of course, if you are careful when you remove the eggs contents then you have your omelette mix already started.

One of the most interesting egg producers to be found in Herefordshire is the Handmade Scotch Egg Company which, although based at Bishops Frome, can be found at most of the countys major food markets. Neil and Penny Chambers sell a delicious range of flavours ranging from hot, spicy chilli to delicate smoked salmon. Although having only started up a little over five years ago they now regularly use more than 700 locally sourced free-range eggs a day, employ 12 local people and continue to source most of their ingredients from within a 30-mile radius.

If you are looking for fresh free-range eggs then you could try your local family butcher or farmers market and look out for Country Flavours run by David and Alice Hancorn from Lower Bellamore Farm, Preston on Wye. They sell happy eggs from happy hens and can be found at the Herefordshire farmers markets where Sue Fletcher from the Eye Game Larder also sells free-range duck eggs.

Fresh eggs

If you want to check your eggs are fresh simply pop them into a pot of cold water and see if they float or sink. Fresh eggs sink while stale ones float. Fresh eggs tend to have golden, rounded yolks and firm jelly-like albumens. Eggs are best stored in cool places, pointy ends down and away from strong-smelling foods.

Poached perfectly

Fried, poached, scrambled or boiled; going to work on an egg is a fine idea. Poaching is my personal favourite and when I want a neat edge to my poached eggs I first break my egg into a bag made out of cling film to help keep the egg in a compact shape. The egg in its cling film bag can then be carefully placed into a pan of boiling water and is cooked in just a few minutes.

Boiled eggs are a treat, which require accurate timing. Carefully placing your egg into salted boiling water and simmering it for four minutes and a half minutes will give you a really soft centre. Five to six minutes will stiffen the whole egg up, while seven minutes should be plenty for a hard-boiled egg. All cooking times vary according to the size of the egg and personal preference but over-boiling your eggs results in a nasty black ring around the yolk and dries them out.

Old-fashioned elegance

A lovely old-fashioned egg dish well worth reviving as a lunchtime snack is oeuf en cocotte. I like to butter a ramekin dish, fill the base with some lightly-fried leeks, cover these with some grated cheese and then crack an egg on top. Spoon a good spoonful of crme fraiche on the top, sprinkle with nutmeg and then place the ramekin carefully into a pan of boiling water. It only takes around five-six minutes cooking and is delicious.

Just souper

A good-looking lunchtime treat for the early part of spring is deep-fried whole boiled eggs served in a bowl of nettle soup. It works equally well with spinach, pea and leek soup if you dont have the nettles and looks great when you eat it and the soft egg runs into the dark green of the soup. Your eggs need to be boiled for four-five minutes before being cooled and peeled and then carefully dipped into flour, egg-wash and breadcrumbs. Deep fry them in hot oil for just a couple of minutes or until the breadcrumbs are browned and then serve immediately in the centre of the soup bowl and pour in the soup. The trick when serving this dish is to cut a thin slice off the bottom of the egg to help it stand upright in the bowl and to avoid it falling over.

Eggs economico

This is an inexpensive variation on a dish I was served while travelling in Spain some years ago with my friend Charles. We were staying in Barcelona at a hotel occupied by local builders who were busily putting the final touches to the Olympic village and we ate it while watching Liverpool play Real Madrid on the television. (The builders were all Catalan so actually wanted Liverpool to win, which they did.)

Serves 4
4 eggs
1 large onion peeled and finelychopped
1 red pepper deseeded andfinely chopped
5oz smoked streaky baconfinely chopped
1oz flour
8oz tomatoes peeled and chopped(1x400g tin)
1 quarter pint stock
1oz butter
1 crushed garlic clove, accordingto taste
Salt, pepper, fresh chilli and smokedpaprika to season

1. Melt the butter in a pan and gently soften the onion and red pepper before adding the bacon, garlic, chilli and seasoning. Cook for around 5 minutes
2. Stir in the flour and cook well, around 2 minutes
3. Add the tomatoes and stock and cook on a gentle heat for around 12-15 minutes or until a thick sauce is formed
4. Adjust the seasoning before transferring the mixture to an ovenproof dish
5. Break the eggs on top of the mixture and cook in the oven at 180c (gas mark 4) for around 10 minutes or until the eggs are set
6. Serve with hunks of bread or potatoes of your choice.

In Barcelona they served potatoes fried with lots of garlic, coarse spicy sausages and copious amounts of red wine from bottles with no labels. (Great at the time, terrible in the morning.)

Making meringues

I have come up with my own adaptation of Meringue Mont Blanc, which I have renamed Snowy Malvern Meringue after all the snow we have had so far this year.

Snowy Malvern Meringue

Makes 4 individual servings

3 egg whites
170g caster sugar
440g sweet chestnut puree
150ml double cream, whipped
25g grated chocolate
20g icing sugar for dusting,decoration and to mix with the cream to help it thicken
A small pinch of cream of tartar and lemon juice to add to the egg whiteswill help them firm up during whipping

1. Preheat the oven to only 110oc (gas mark )
2. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking parchment
3. Whisk the eggs in a steel bowl until stiff and gradually add half the sugar
4. Whisk again until the mixture is stiff and shiny and fold in the rest of the sugar
5. Place the mixture in a piping bag and make four circles on the prepared baking sheet before building up the sides of the individual meringues until the walls are about 3cm deep
6. Bake for around 2 hours until the meringues are dry and crisp and allow to cool fully before removing from the paper
7. Add a layer of chestnut puree to the centre of each meringue before spooning (or piping) the whipped double cream over the top to resemble the high peak of the Herefordshire beacon
8. Sprinkle with grated chocolate and decorate with fruits and berries depending on your preference.

Chocolate sauce flavoured with finely chopped pieces of stem ginger makes for a great addition as does some toasted almonds or a raspberry sauce.

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