The Good Egg: Pasture-Raised Eggs & Sweet Potato Hash Browns
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
If you’ve never tried a truly pasture-raised egg, you have never had a real egg. If you’re not sure if you’ve had one, you probably haven’t. You’d know it if you saw it. That bright orange yolk and the colorful shell that’s difficult to crack are unmistakable. Once you’ve tried one, you’ll never go back to the “regular” eggs of grain-fed hens again.
Cage-Free Does Not Mean Pasture-Raised
That’s right – just because the egg carton says “cage-free” or “free-range” on it does not mean that the chickens actually live in a pasture or eat grasses and grubs (what they have naturally evolved to eat). Farms can call their eggs “cage-free” if they simply have a little door in the chicken coop that allows the hens to go outside. In many or most cases, however, the hens are raised in large numbers in crowded quarters and most are too shocked or scared to go outside. Even if they do go outside, there is not necessarily anything there for them to eat. They are fed a diet of grain, not their natural food source, and are therefore less healthy and more likely to require antibiotics. That’s why I only buy the eggs of pasture-raised, or pastured, hens.
What’s so great about pastured eggs? Not only do they look and taste amazing, but they are loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and beta carotene, which makes them bright orange in color. Because the hens are eating what they are naturally meant to eat – grasses and grubs – they are much healthier and produce healthier eggs. Ever try to crack a store-bought white egg and the whole thing disintegrates in your hand? That won’t happen with a pastured egg – the shells are so strong you have to give it a good crack in order to break the shell. The strength of the shell and the bright color of the yolk are signs of a good egg, and of its nutritional content. But just wait until you taste it.
Real pastured eggs are hard to find. You won’t find them in any store. The best way is to find a local farm that raises them and buy them directly, or if you’re lucky, you might find some at your local farmers’ market. But even at the Berkeley, CA farmers’ market, out of several vendors that claim to sell pastured eggs, there is only one I’d purchase eggs from – Riverdog Farms. Their eggs are so amazing you have to get there within the first hour of the market or they will sell out. Sure, pastured eggs are more expensive, but you get what you pay for.
I like to make my omelettes with spinach and shallots or cippolini onions, because of their sweetness. Here’s what I use:
2-3 pastured eggs per omelette
1 small bunch fresh spinach
1 cippolini onion or shallot
Sea salt & cracked pepper
First I saute a cippolini onion or a shallot in some olive oil, then throw in a bunch of fresh spinach from the farmers’ market (the only place you can get really good spinach). Once the spinach cooks down and turns dark green in color, I remove it from the pan. Then I whisk up my pastured eggs (2 or 3 per omelet), add a bit more oil to the skillet if necessary, and pour in the beaten eggs. Sprinkle with sea salt & fresh cracked pepper and cook until the eggs begin to solidify. Spoon the onions and spinach onto one half of the omelet, then use a spatula to fold the other half of it on top. Cook for a minute or two, flip the omelet, and cook for another minute or two. Remove from pan and serve.
Bell Pepper Frittata
You can also make a frittata instead of an omelet, by simply pouring the beaten eggs on top of the onions or other vegetable ingredients. All you have to do is flip it once halfway through cooking. Use a smaller skillet, and you can usually flip the frittata in its entirety with a spatula. I like to use red or green bell peppers or cilantro along with the onions when making a frittata:
Sweet Potato Hash Browns
This is a perfect breakfast side-dish and accompaniment to eggs. I take a medium sweet potato or yam, wash it and cut off the ends. Then I dice it into 1-inch cubes and put it in a food processor, along with a slice of onion and small bunch of fresh Italian parsley. Pulse until all the potato cubes have been processed. Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Pour the sweet potato mixture into a mound in the skillet, then flatten with a spatula. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, then flip it one section at a time and cook the other side. Season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.