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FOOD PAGE: Eggs are quick ways to get your protein

by ADDIE BROYLES Austin-American- on April 03, 2013 11:00 AM

AUSTIN, Texas — Paul Newman’s character in “Cool Hand Luke” famously ate 50 hard-boiled eggs in one hour to settle a bet.

Even though you might be stuck with 50 hard-boiled eggs after Easter last weekend, we set out to find at least 50 different ways to eat one of our favorite — not to mention inexpensive — sources of protein.

At the Omelettry, the diner that got its start here in 1978, they serve the basics: over-easy, over-medium, over-hard, sunny side up (and its slightly more cooked cousin basted) and scrambled. (No poached or boiled, the menu notes.)

Jesse Carpenter, son of founder Kenny Carpenter who is now a partner in the business, says that even though they now offer lunch and dinner dishes until 10 p.m., the restaurant goes through almost 5,500 eggs per week. “Even when we are serving dinner, we’re still serving eggs,” he says. “Ninety percent of sales is still breakfast.”

Carpenter, who literally grew up in a playpen in the restaurant’s office, started working in the restaurant when he was about 10 years old and his dad asked him to roll silverware. Now he juggles running a business with a 16-month-old in tow.

Instead of flipping eggs on a large flat-top griddle with a spatula, Omelettry staff prepare the eggs in small saut← pans. “Once the egg is cooked, we flip it up in the air and catch it on the way down. Otherwise, you’ll break the yolk,” Carpenter says.

“The flip is the hardest thing in the whole restaurant to teach.”

Omelets are big business for diners like the Omelettry, which has more than a dozen on the menu, but if we’re going to talk about French-inspired omelets, we have to talk about their Spanish and Italian counterparts.

My life changed when I went to Spain and had a tortilla for the first time. So many potatoes, so savory and satisfying with that cafe con leche. (With the help of my house mom, I learned how to use a big dinner plate to master the flip, and while I was living with her, I had a Japanese roommate who taught us both how to make the Japanese egg pancake called okonomiyaki.)

I don’t have an emotional connection to the Italian frittata, but quickly saut←ing vegetables and making one is a lot easier than poaching a pan full of potatoes in oil for the Spanish version.

If you like your eggs fluffy (or perhaps are looking for a new way to eat egg whites), consider the souffl← omelet, made with eggs whites that are whipped and then baked in the oven.

On the other hand, the egg yolk, one of nature’s most efficient emulsifiers, is key to making both hollandaise (with butter, lemon juice and heat) and mayonnaise (with oil, lemon juice and no heat).

We eat a lot of fried eggs in my house, and to keep things interesting, we’ll swap the fats in which we fry them and the seasoning on top: An egg fried in olive oil and heavily peppered tasted significantly different than one fried in butter and topped with kosher salt.

Fried eggs are a welcome surprise at dinner on top of pasta, pizza or just about any leftovers from the night before, or you could cook an egg in a stir fry, carbonara, egg drop soup or piping hot bibimbap.

McDonald’s might have set the original bar for the egg muffin sandwich, but you can take the homemade route with better results. You can take the high, healthy road and skimp (or skip altogether) the butter and salt, but a thin layer of butter on both the top and bottom pieces of English muffin — with a well-seasoned fried egg and perhaps a flash-fried piece of ham — are the keys to an irresistible sandwich. Bagels, croissants and plain old bread work just fine, too.

A childhood is not complete without trying an Egg in a Basket (or maybe your family called a fried egg in the middle of a piece of bread a Toad in the Hole, One-Eyed Jack or Gas Light Egg) or Egg in a Nest, an egg baked in a muffin tin “nest” of mashed potatoes or hash browns.

For an adult spin on the “egg in a (fill in the blank),” consider baking an egg in an avocado. I’m not a huge fan of warmed-up avocados, but if you like the idea, cut an avocado in half, remove the pit and fill the hole with a cracked egg. Place in a small baking dish, season well and bake at 425 for 10-15 minutes.

Kids and adults will love the scrambled-egg-in-a-mug trick: Coat a microwave-safe mug (or even a small bowl) with cooking spray or butter, add two eggs, salt and pepper and a splash of milk and whisk with a fork. Microwave for 45 seconds, stir and microwave again for another 30 seconds.

Top with shredded cheese, if desired.

An eggy crust is the best part of French toast and what makes waffles only marginally more nutritious than pancakes. (Speaking of sugar, eggs are essential for both meringue and curd, if you have a sweet tooth this week.)

My grandmother recalls salt-preserved eggs from her childhood out in the sticks where they didn’t have electricity, and preservation is also the driving force behind pickled eggs, which seem to be making a comeback in bars these days.

Breakfast tacos, huevos rancheros and migas — scrambled eggs with tortilla chips, cheese, peppers and salsa — have never fallen out of favor in Austin, but if you’re looking for inspiration from the French, try one of the eight varieties of oeufs en cocotte that cookbook authors Rosie French and Ellie Grace serve in their London restaurant French & Grace.

The technique — baking eggs in ramekins with whatever spices and ingredients your heart desires — might not be as familiar as quickly scrambling eggs and rolling them up in a taco or baking a large egg casserole or quiche, but they make for an easy, customizable way to serve eggs during brunch.

That is, if you’re not just eating the hard-boiled ones, along with a little candy, that the Easter bunny left behind.

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