Global accents and novel presentations can help noontime egg dishes stand out.
This article first appeared in the 1 September 2009 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. Visit the R&I website to find out more about the magazine or to search its recipe database.
By Lesley Porcelli, Special to R&I
On a recent episode of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef Masters,” Suzanne Tracht of acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant Jar slid a sunny-side-up egg onto her signature dish of chopped sirloin in green-peppercorn sauce. It was the punctuation on a trend that’s been gaining steam: Eggs have advanced well beyond the breakfast menu.
Increasingly, American chefs are putting into action what French chefs have known all along—that the versatile protein can be prepared in myriad ways (a toque’s 100 folds are said to represent the 100 ways of cooking eggs). And even when their preparation is unsurprising—scrambled, fried or hard-boiled, for example—the other items that accompany eggs on the plate bring home the message that it’s lunchtime.
One reason eggs are moving onto lunch plates is their growing acceptance with consumers. After being battered around in the press in the 1980s and ’90s for their cholesterol content, they’ve come back into favor in this decade as a good, whole source of protein and nutrients.
But then again, eggs might just be gaining in popularity beyond breakfast because so many chefs, including Tracht, have been championing them of late. Says Floyd Cardoz, executive chef of New York City’s Tabla and self-described “egg freak”: “Whenever I see eggs on the menu at a restaurant, I have to order them.”
Worldwide, eggs star in dishes far more diverse than sunrise selections accompanied by a ham steak, hash browns and buttered toast. “Other great cuisines all have egg dishes—Indian egg curries, Japanese omelets,” Cardoz says. “But here, eggs are seen as a breakfast food [only].”
To help distinguish egg-based dishes for lunchtime and beyond from their breakfast counterparts, chefs such as Cardoz are infusing their dishes with international accents.
In his $25 three-course lunch, Cardoz often serves eggs as an appetizer. One dish pairs a sunny-side-up egg with a salad of arugula, gingered chicken livers and bacon. Another, eggs with house-cured, Portuguese-style Goan sausage, features eggs scrambled in the fat remaining from cooking the sausage.
“I grew up in Bombay, India, and my family was from Goa, where foods are very influenced by the Portuguese,” Cardoz says. “This is something I ate growing up.”
Other chefs also are borrowing from Asia in developing egg dishes worthy of a lunch menu. Although hard-boiled eggs have long been a part of Cobb salads, at in St. Helena, Calif., Chef-owner Cindy Pawlcyn takes them in a Southeast Asian direction. Eggs lend depth to Pawlcyn’s Gado-Gado Salad, a mix of roasted sweet potatoes, green beans, butter lettuce, celery hearts, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes tossed in a fiery peanut-coconut dressing seasoned with ginger, tamarind and lemongrass. Pawlcyn also recently looked to Northern Africa for inspiration, introducing a Moroccan-style baked-eggs dish with cumin and tomatoes that is served with grilled pita bread.
Eggs are an integral part of several popular Mexican dishes, too. At Mi Cocina, a 15-unit casual-dining chain operated by Dallas-based M Crowd Restaurant Group, egg-highlighting choices offered all day include huevos rancheros (eggs in spicy tomato sauce with beans and potatoes), chilaquiles (tortilla strips sautéed with eggs and jalapeños) and huevos con chorizo (eggs sautéed with house-made chorizo and served with diced potatoes and beans).
For Mi Cocina, putting eggs on the lunch and dinner menus was an obvious decision. “There’s more of a culture of eating eggs at any meal in Mexico,” says M Crowd CEO Greg Good.
Eggs also meld seamlessly into contemporary European-inspired dishes, as illustrated at upscale The Mercury in Dallas, also run by M Crowd. In a signature first-course dish, Executive Chef Chris Ward pairs poached eggs with pearl couscous, truffle vinaigrette and fleur de sel.
But eggs needn’t call attention to themselves to shine on menus. When Ward serves roasted-garlic flan with shrimp Bolognese and lobster foam as the appetizer on his $35 three-course lunch, his customers might not realize that they’re essentially starting off their meal with a plate of eggs, the main ingredient in the savory custard.
In another application, Ward prepares eggs in an immersion circulator. “After 45 or 50 minutes in the circulator, the egg yolk is perfectly cooked—it doesn’t run, it just oozes,” he says. Playing off the classic raw egg yolk atop steak tartare, Ward removes and discards the whites from his circulator-cooked eggs and uses the yolk as a garnish for steak and seafood tartares.
EASY DOES IT
Sometimes eggs do take the center of the plate at lunch. Michael Henry Moorman, chef and owner of Chicago’s M. Henry, has found that baked-egg dishes such as quiche and strata, a savory bread pudding, sell well at lunchtime. He also often menus simple individually baked eggs, offering them with greens and polenta. One guest favorite features pancetta and hazelnuts. “It’s almost like a little soufflé on a bed of greens,” he says.
And not all afternoon egg preparations need to ignore the breakfast basics. Moorman and other chefs find that breakfast-inspired dishes ranging from fried eggs to omelets also can sell briskly at lunch.
“We serve a killer fried-egg sandwich,” says Moorman. He layers two over-medium eggs with applewood-smoked bacon, tomatoes and Gorgonzola cheese over toasted sourdough bread; the sandwich is served with potatoes on the side. “It’s technically on our breakfast menu,” Moorman acknowledges—but because breakfast is served all day, 40% of lunchtime sales can come from the fried-egg sandwich alone.
Omelets appear regularly on lunch menus at some accounts of Restaurant Associates, a New York City-based restaurant and corporate catering company. At the cafeteria in New York’s Condé Nast building, the line at noon for made-to-order omelets often stretches out the door. In addition to selecting whole eggs, organic eggs or egg whites for their omelets, which are served with field greens or roasted potatoes, employees have their choice of assorted cheese, vegetable and meat fillings.
Yet whether it’s a fried-egg sandwich or an omelet served in a cafeteria, these dishes have one crucial point in common: They’re made with an incredibly inexpensive ingredient, but one that can carry a whole dish.
Indeed, acknowledges Moorman, eggs can be a boon for profit margins. “You can make money on a $9 fried-egg sandwich,” he says. “Eggs are so cheap that even when they double in price, it doesn’t really affect us. A two- or three-egg omelet costs us almost nothing compared with a chicken breast or a salmon fillet.”
Eggs’ relative ease of preparation, too, makes them a valued player in kitchens. “Eggs can be poached ahead of time and kept in ice water” and then rewarmed at service, Moorman notes. Baked-egg dishes also can be prepared in advance.
“We make savory bread puddings, quiches, and egg and vegetable stratas that can be baked and held,” Moorman says. “At service, we cut a piece out, pop it in the oven and warm it through. It balances the kitchen at crunch time.”
ROOM TO GROW
Still, despite their low cost and their ready acceptance in fine-dining establishments and with corporate caterers, eggs can be a hard sell at lunch. Tabla’s Cardoz admits to turning to other ingredients—sure things—to entice diners to try dishes that co-star eggs. “People love bacon,” he notes, adding that the craveable cured pork is one of the reasons his arugula-and-fried-egg salad sells as well as it does. “Bacon is the hook; they’ll be happy to try anything served with it.”
Chef-owner Cindy Pawlcyn, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena, Calif.
Yield: 12 servings
To serve family-style, on a large platter, arrange eggs, lettuce and vegetables. Serve with peanut sauce for dipping. Alternatively, portion onto individual plates.
Yield: 12 servings
In a sauté pan, heat oil. Sauté shallots and garlic until shallots begin to caramelize.
Stir in jalapeños, cook 1 minute.
Add sugar and tamarind. Cook, stirring, until pan is almost dry.
In a blender, purée ginger, chile paste, peanut butter, ketchup, coconut milk and lemongrass. Add shallot-garlic mixture and pulse until smooth