Exotic avatars of the humble egg

Times have changed for the humble egg. Gone are the days of bhurji and egg curry; it is the age of ‘personalised omelettes’ with names inscribed on them, of one-eyed Susans and egg jellies for desert.

A decade ago, a dish of spicy egg curry – cooked to a shade of angry red – with parantha was a staple in homes across states like Bengal and Kerala and in the Parsi broods of Mumbai and Gujarat while the ‘bhurji’ was common on north Indian platters.

But its sheer versatility is egging on gourmet cooks to create dishes as tantalizing as egg jellies, egg sausages and fried egg dessert.

Actor Shah Rukh Khan finds his eggs sunny side up ‘a delicacy’ for breakfast as he posts on twitter. And in award-winning Delhi-based chef Saby’s (Sabyasachi Gorai) deft hands, the homely egg turns magical, the most basic of which the chef describes as ‘the perfect omelette – white on the outside and runny inside like a perfect half moon glued around the edges, an art which requires six to eight months on a average to master’.

“I am very fond of eggs – especially the boiled egg. The first thing I started was to work on the organic egg to make it a gourmet cuisine. I run an eggs’ station at the Olive Bar & Kitchen for brunch where I make eggs Benedict, poached eggs, egg sausages stuffed with minced meat, jelly eggs and sweetened fried eggs with vanilla toast for children,” chef Saby, as he is known professionally, said.

The young chef, ‘who has grown up on eggs including the swan’s egg as a child’ cooks a wide variety including quail eggs and duck eggs in experimental dishes such as the “egg potli” – eggs with runny yolk cooked in plastic pouch – served with roast tenderloin or chicken.

“I even inscribe names in personalised embedded omelettes – an ornamental variety of omelette. I am trying to revive classic western egg recipes in India like the One-Eyed Susan – toast with a hole in the middle and a whole egg thrown in the middle. Egg is in my blood,” Saby said.

Chef Vivek Sagar, a senior member of the Indian Culinary Forum – a professional association of chefs – says eggs have changed in scope on the Indian gourmet’s menu because of the spurt in the popularity of fusion cuisine.

“Quail eggs and ducks’ eggs are catching up with the normal hen egg on the menu. It is used as base, topping and batter for Southeast Asian cooking and fusion dishes,” Sagar said.

One of Sagar’s favourite is “raw fish fillet fried in an egg batter instead of the bread crumbs and dusted with a mixture of cumin and fennel”.
Eggs play an important role in the preparation of food, says veteran chef and author Devinder Kumar, the head of the Indian Culinary Forum.

“It is accepted by a large number of Indians. If used in food, it adds texture and extra flavour to the dish. As innovations and creativity are the buzzwords in kitchens, the egg ‘bhurji’ is making way to new flavours. I like to scramble eggs with lemon leaves for an Asian flavour,” Kumar said.

The chef, who has authored a book, “Just Kebabs: Celebrations for 365 Days and One for the Leap Year”, said he often cooks a spread of eggs “with a roasted potato as a mould and puts scrambled egg in the mould and lifts the potato like dough”. It is served with a garnish of herbs.

“I sometimes make an egg mille feuille – a thin omelette with layers and layers of ham rolled in with herbs – and border the dish with mashed tomato and basil sauce. Eggs have no boundaries; it is yet to find its identity as a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian dish. It is how you perceive it,” Kumar said.

Celebrity chef Shaun Kenworthy, who is currently working with Metro Cash & Carry, says “egg is important to classical cuisine” – which he grew up with.

“A classical and popular French dish is eggs cooked in a bowl with truffles on top. Another dish which I liked was boiled egg in rock salt or set in a rich veal consomme (jelly) and served with truffle. I loved gulls’ eggs – small and blue eggs. I have cooked ducks’ eggs for years,” Kolkata-based Kenworthy said.

At Jaypee Hotel’s “Eggspectation” in the capital – the egg gets an American and continental makeover with its signatures like “Three-Omelette Eggspectation”, “Triple Treat Tortilla” and “Egg Chilada” – drawing hundreds of youngsters every day.

“Like in India, it is one of the most popular foods in my native Italy and in North America from where I started my chain. It is one of the most basic breakfast dishes and widely accepted in India post-globalisation with more exposure to world cuisines,” co-founder of Eggspectation Enzo Renda said.

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