Eggs are one of the most versatile ingredients in the cook’s pantry. They're sometimes the star ingredient and sometimes the supporting act in the form of an emulsifier, thickener or glaze.
One of the first lessons at cookery schools often involves boiling an egg or making an omelette while more advanced classes might tackle a soufflé or hollandaise sauce. The yolk and albumen or 'white' can be cooked simply – whisked together and turned into scrambled eggs – or they can be used separately.
Examining the different ways of cooking 'breakfast eggs' (i.e. poaching, frying, scrambling, boiling) is a great way to see how a slightly different application of heat or change of technique can wildly effect the consistency and taste of the humble egg. Cooked with the shell on or off? Pan-fried or simmered? The difference is enormous.
Having mastered the basic methods surrounding the breakfast egg, the next challenges to take on are sauces: hollandaise, mayonnaise and béarnaise. They all use the egg yolk as an emulsifier to bind and stabilise. The key is constant whisking and drizzling the oil very slowly to emulsify the ingredients into a glossy, thick sauce.
Sweet sauces with an egg yolk base are also useful additions to any culinary repertoire. A similar application of logic is used to make custard, crème pâtissière, sabayons and lots of ice cream bases – as the mixtures are set or thickened with egg yolks. Once confident in custards, then desserts such as crème caramel and crème brûlée will be a breeze.
Making sauces which are emulsified or thickened with egg yolks will result in a lot of leftover egg whites. These can be frozen in an ice cube tray or used up straight away in some cleverly chosen dishes which only need egg whites, not yolks. The most common application is making desserts like meringues, macarons or Pavlova.