A rose is a rose is ... okay, but I can tell you an egg is certainly not an egg. We learned the hard way four years ago when Blue Hill at Stone Barns opened and we switched from conventional eggs to Stone Barns' pastured eggs. Our pastry chef, Joel, who has worked with us since the beginning, came into my office, white faced and panicked. "I can't get anything to work," he said, clearly not celebrating our embrace of the farm. "The ice cream tastes like ... I don’t know, like a soufflé. It looks like a soufflé too, and the soufflé tastes like an omelet." He showed me samples of both, and sure enough, an egg explosion had taken over Joel's usually stunning work.

Our recipes hadn't changed, but what our chickens were eating certainly had. For any chicken lucky enough to enjoy a natural, pasture-based diet (and 95 percent aren't), the beta-carotene in the grass enhances the color, and the flavor, of their eggs' yolks. The eggs from caged chickens pale by comparison -- literally. With a pastured bird, you get an egg squared -- more egg for your egg.

Pasturing also means fewer fossil fuels are used because the chickens double as sanitation ladies; as soon as the lambs (or other ruminants) leave one plot of grass, a crew of chickens moves in to feast on lingering grasses and bugs. Their plundering breaks up the manure left behind by previous tenants. If the manure stays in piles, the glut of nitrogen will burn the grass. But spread over the field by the chickens, manure acts as the perfect natural fertilizer, without tractors or spreaders. The next time the animals enter the paddock, the grass will be thicker, tastier, and more nutritious. Which means your egg gets squared and then some. Now get ready to change your recipes.

Pistou of Spring Vegetables and Almond Soft-Fried Egg

INGREDIENTS:

¾   cup sugar snap peas, blanched

7    asparagus spears, cut into ½-inch pieces and blanched

1    lb. fava beans, cleaned and blanched*

½   bunch fresh basil leaves, cleaned and blanched

½   cup olive oil, plus more for sweating shallots

1    cup vegetable stock

½   shallot, finely diced

6    almond soft-fried eggs (recipe below)

2    tbsp mixed herbs (tarragon, chervil, chives, and parsley), chopped

      salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

    *If fava beans are unavailable, substitute soy or lima beans.

Serves six.

DIRECTIONS:

1) Combine blanched vegetables. Place half in a blender with the blanched basil. Blend until chopped. Then add ½ cup olive oil in a slow, steady stream, and blend until smooth.

2) In a large, heavy saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add shallot and sauté until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in vegetable stock, vegetable purée, remaining blanched vegetables, salt and pepper, and bring to simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are heated through, 3 to 5 minutes.

3) Ladle pistou into bowls, top with soft-fried egg and sprinkle each with herb mixture. Serve immediately.

Soft-fried eggs

INGREDIENTS:

6   large eggs

¾  cup Panko-style breadcrumbs

½  cup finely ground almonds

½  cup freshly grated parmesan

1   teaspoon kosher salt, divided

½  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

2   large eggs, beaten

¼  cup all-purpose flour

     vegetable/peanut oil for frying

DIRECTIONS:

1) Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, gently add the 6 eggs and cook for 6 minutes. Immediately remove the eggs and immerse in ice water until cold, then carefully peel and set aside.

2) In the first of 3 medium bowls, combine Panko, almonds, parmesan, half the salt, and half the pepper. In the second bowl, whip eggs until smooth. In the third bowl, combine flour and remaining salt and pepper.

3) To coat the soft-cooked eggs, first roll in flour, shaking gently to remove excess. Dip the eggs in the beaten-egg mixture, then in the crumb mixture, rolling until completely coated. Repeat with a second coating of beaten-egg and crumb mixtures, pressing crumb mixture to secure coating. You can refrigerate the eggs at this stage for up to 4 hours.

4) To cook the coated eggs, heat about 3 inches of oil to 350°F in a medium saucepan. Carefully add the eggs and cook, turning until golden brown and heated through, about 2 minutes.

Story by Dan Barber. Dan Barber is the executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill restaurant in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, located within Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a pioneering farm and education facility in Pocantico Hills, New York.

 

This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008. The story was moved to MNN.com in October 2009.

 

Copyright Environ Press 2009