I laughed out loud the first time I saw the term “hen egg” on a fancy menu. Where else, pray tell, might eggs come from? Hens are the usual perps unless another, less common suspect like duck, quail or goose is named specifically. Even my then-toddler knew the origin story of eggs. Yet the restaurant trend of treating ordinary “hen eggs” as a high falutin’ ingredient has evolved over the last decade into a 21st-century foodie reality: eggs are an all-day affair, not simply a breakfast food.
From wobbly poached numbers to sunny-side up blankets, eggs now pop up on fare as diverse as thin-crust pizzas, composed salads, grain bowls and “creative” burgers — not to mention sweet potato tacos and pork belly sliders. But the question remains: Is it always a good idea to put an egg on it?
There are certainly some good reasons to get cracking in the kitchen and add an egg to everything in sight. To start, a runny, delicious yolk gives all sorts of dishes an extra boost in creamy texture as well as rich flavor. And in a world where culinary adventure isn’t always easy to find, adding an egg can provide a fresh, new twist — or distract from inescapable blandness (I’m looking at you, kale-quinoa bowl).
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In reality, improving a savory dish with an egg is hardly a new idea. A great deal of excellent lunch and dinner fare includes them as a matter of course. For example, if you’re eating a bowl of ramen or Korean bibimbap, an egg on top is the classic preparation, as important for flavor as for the sunny color palette it provides. Then there’s the croque madame: perhaps only the French would be fussy enough give grilled cheese with egg such a fancy name, but the end result is inarguably delicious. In Spanish cooking, whole eggs are cooked in garlic soup or baked into bread. But in the end, an egg can’t fix everything: Sure, Italian Trippa alla Romana is sometimes served with a fried egg on the side — but even then, stewed beef stomach lining is an acquired taste.
Nutritionally speaking, adding an egg at mealtime is a great way to take a crack at upping your protein intake. Eggs are perfectly packaged to provide six grams of high-quality protein at just 70 calories with five grams of fat (less than two grams of which is unhealthy saturated fat). They also contain essential nutrients like choline, which aid in brain development, and carotenoids such as lutein, which combat macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults.
Although once vilified for their cholesterol content, that old-school bad rep has disappeared; the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans removed limits on cholesterol consumption, making it easy to down the eggs without guilt. (Scientific studies show that saturated fat ultimately has a bigger impact on elevated blood cholesterol than cholesterol-high foods like eggs — go figure.)
OK, so eggs are healthy — and don’t just have to be for breakfast any more. Whether you add one to your dish when eating out, or put an egg on it at home, the downsides are minimal. Next time you whip up a crispy quesadilla, top it with a fried egg and spicy Sriracha sauce, or add one that’s softly poached to a dish of cheesy grits and spring asparagus. In no time at all, you’ll discover some truly new favorites that can only be called one thing — eggcellent.
WANT TO PUT AN EGG ON IT? TRY THESE RECIPES: