Aside from cracking eggs into the occasional omelet, how much thought do we pay to what's inside that shell? Not enough: Farm-fresh eggs can differ as much from commercial eggs as garden tomatoes do from those hard pink spheres masquerading as vine-ripened fruit.
In eggs from pastured hens, the yolks look "like freshly squeezed orange juice," says veterinarian Meg Cattell, who raises between 90 and 200 heritage free-range layers on her farm in Windsor, "and the whites will stand up almost spherically." The bright orange of the yolk comes from natural beta carotene, which the hens ingest as they nibble weeds on her three-and-a-half-acre organic pasture. The firm texture comes from freshness. (The older the egg, the runnier the white.)
Cattell's hens also eat the occasional bug, which means that despite several brands' advertising to the contrary, hens "are not at all vegetarian," she laughs. Bugs are, however, an important protein source. Such dietary differences translate to eggs higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fats and other phytonutrients. But let's leave the science to the folks in white coats. We'd rather give our whisk a workout in this lemon-poppy seed soufflé from executive chef Jeremy Thomas at French 250.
RECIPE: Lemon-Poppy Seed Soufflé (Serves 4-6)
- 12 ounces whole milk
- 1 cup granulated sugar, divided, plus extra for dusting
- 4 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon white flour
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
- 4 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 400°. Butter 4 to 6 individual soufflé dishes (about one cup in size) and dust with sugar. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk with 1/2 cup sugar over medium heat until just before boiling. Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a double boiler until thick. Gradually pour the heated milk over the eggs, whisking constantly. Slowly whisk in the flour, then return to pan and whisk at a simmer until mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice and poppy seeds, and let cool. In a cold medium bowl, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Using a spatula, gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the lemon mixture. Fold in the remaining egg whites. Spoon into the prepared soufflé dishes and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until puffed up and lightly browned. Serve immediately.