Within a couple minutes of reading the introduction to Lisa Steele's new cookbook, "The Fresh Eggs Daily Cookbook: Over 100 Fabulous Recipes to Use Eggs in Unexpected Ways," I had learned more about eggs than I have in the past decade of being a food editor. For example, did you know that you should store your eggs pointy side down so that the yolk stays centered in the white? Or that the label that you should actually care about on a carton of grocery store eggs is “Certified Humane Pasture-Raised"? Or that the trick for peeling hard-boiled eggs is that you should steam them instead of boil them?
Eggs are endlessly fascinating and versatile, and Steele knows this on the deepest of levels. After giving up her life on Wall Street, she eventually found her way to Maine where she's picked up the reins as a fifth generation chicken keeper. She's written six books about keeping chickens, and "Fresh Eggs Daily" is her first cookbook. "I think eggs are almost the perfect food," she explains. Instead of just plopping a fried egg on something, Steele wanted to create recipes where the egg was really necessary to the recipe. "I wanted to create recipes that people would go back to over and over again." A quick flip through her cookbook proves she's done exactly that.
This interview had been edited for length and clarity.
First, I have to know, how many eggs would you say you eat a day?
I probably have two for breakfast, and then for a snack I love hard-boiled eggs, or even deviled eggs—I'll make a bunch of them in advance. And then for dinner, I love breakfast for dinner, and I also use eggs to bread things. So, there could be days that I have six eggs, and then there could be days that I'm just using one or two.
You can only eat one egg dish for the rest of your life. What’s your pick?
Eggs Benedict. I'm so happy the recipe ended up as the cover of my cookbook, because it's not only such a classic, but it's also my favorite. It feels so decadent and elegant, and it's really just butter, eggs, and fresh lemon juice. Sometimes I don't even have the bread underneath, I just do a pool of the Hollandaise sauce on a plate with the poached egg.
What’s the most common question you get asked about cooking with eggs?
There's two common questions people ask me. The first is: Are brown eggs better than white eggs? There's this perception that there's a difference—but really it's the freshness of the egg and what the hen eats that counts. These things will make the egg more nutritious and also taste better.
The other question is the best way to peel fresh hard-boiled eggs. That's one of my top 10 blog posts of all time. Here's the secret: My friend's grandmother told her to steam her eggs, not boil them. So I put my eggs in a colander over simmering water for 12 minutes and then put them into ice water to cool.
What are some common mistakes you see people make when cooking with eggs?
The biggest mistake that people make with eggs is cooking them too quickly. Eggs cook super fast—especially if you're scrambling them—so you need to cook them on really, really low heat. People cook eggs to the point that they look done, but you really should take them off before that point when they're still shiny. The eggs are going to continue to cook in those few seconds before you plate them, and that's when they get overcooked. It's a matter of seconds.
There are so many marketing labels associated with buying eggs, it can be incredibly confusing for consumers. In your book, you said people should look for “Certified Humane Pasture-Raised." Why is that?
The Certified Humane Pasture-Raised label requires that the chickens are outside daily, weather permitting, on pasture or fields that must be rotated to allow new vegetation to grow and allows for at least 108 square feet per chicken. The flock can be locked inside at night for safety, but must spend the majority of their waking hours out on grass and dirt, not in cages, and have room to exercise, flap their wings and take dust baths to keep their feathers clean and pest-free. The label also sets strict feed, water, air quality and lighting requirements and farms that are certified Certified Humane Pasture-Raised also must submit to routine inspections to be sure they continue to qualify for that rating.
In places like California and Massachusetts, they've passed laws that only cage-free chicken eggs can be sold, but cage-free is really no better than cages. It's sad, because they're still in a huge warehouses, and now they're fighting with each other and stepping on each other. Organic is good, but that really does refer to more of what the chicken is eating. Organic, pasture-raised is really the combination you want to look for.
I know getting these certifications can be hard for farmers. Is it easier to get this “Certified Humane Pasture-Raised" certification?
Getting an organic certification is an expensive and rigorous process. Not a lot of farms can afford it, so their eggs aren't certified, but they're probably going to be fresher and more nutritious. But Certified Humane-Raised certification is only a few hundred dollars—it does require a farm visit to ensure that the chickens have access to the space you're saying they have, and that they're being treated well. It seems like it's more attainable for a small egg operation to do.
I know now that the color of the egg shell doesn't matter. But what about the color of the yolk?
That depends, because the yolk color is entirely dependent on the diet of the hen. So there are certain foods that have xanthophyll—a pigment that makes the yolk orange. It's in things like leafy greens, alfalfa, and carrots. If chickens are eating those foods, they're probably eating a varied diet, and their eggs are probably going to be more nutritious. But commercial feed companies know that people think orange yolks are more nutritious, so they will add marigold to chicken food to make the yolks more orange. So it's kind of a gray area.
What's your favorite ways to use eggs for dinner?
I'm a big fan of breakfast for dinner—just a fried egg, toast, and bacon. But also an omelet and a side salad. I love using raw asparagus in omelets—it's nice and crunchy. I also happen to love Caesar salad with homemade dressing and homemade garlic croutons—it's a great dinner, especially in the summer.
Last question for you: have you seen or tried the grated egg toast from TikTok?
Oh I've seen it, but I haven't tried it. TikTok in general makes zero sense to me. Sometimes I feel like they make things harder than they need to be just for the sake of trying to go viral.