Eggs are the centerpiece of a range of foods. Many egg dishes, such as omelets and
frittatas, can be prepared quickly with many interesting fillings, such as peppers,
tomatoes, or zucchini.
Basic egg dishes
Even the humble scrambled egg becomes a meal in itself when it’s served with spicy potatoes. Other types of egg dishes that require
more planning and preparation time include baked (shirred) eggs, which become eggs Florentine
when prepared with spinach (or zucchini).
Baked soufflés are a classic egg dish—or bake miniature soufflés (served in
ramekins, or individual serving dishes); season these with ingredients that can be varied
endlessly. Or try timbales, for which the eggs are beaten rather than whipped like
soufflés, and may then be mixed with a puréed vegetable, such as asparagus, before baking.
One of the most popular egg dishes is the omelette. Making an omelette is a process that
mixes technique and personal artistry. Use a 9- or 10-inch (23- to 25-cm) sauté pan with
rounded, sloping sides. Be sure the surface of the pan is smooth and slick so that the egg
mixture does not stick to the pan. For a two- or three-egg omelette, break the eggs into a
bowl, add about 1 tablespoon (15mL) of cold water, and salt to taste. Beat the eggs thoroughly
with a fork. When the pan is hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle, add 1 tablespoon of
butter to coat the surface. Pour the egg mixture into the pan, and give it one quick swirl
with the fork. As it begins to set, gently lift the edges with a fork or spatula so the liquid
on top can run underneath. The omelette should be thoroughly cooked on both sides (based on
safety guidelines), so once it is done, turn it as you would a pancake and cook the other side
briefly to ensure that all surfaces of the egg are cooked to the point where they are no
When preparing hard-cooked eggs, choose large eggs, place them in a pan, and cover with
cold water. Simmer eggs at 185 to 190°F (85 to 87.7°C) for 7 minutes. Cool
immediately in cold water. Peel when cool.
Frying eggs by steam-basting cuts the amount of fat needed. Coat the pan lightly with oil
or butter, heat it over a medium heat, and crack the egg into the pan. Reduce the heat to low
and cook for 1 minute, then add 1 teaspoon (5mL) of water, cover the pan tightly, and cook for
at least 6 more minutes.
Cook poached eggs until the yolks are firm. Bring 1 to 2 inches (2.54 to 5 cm) of water to
a simmer in a saucepan or small skillet, break an egg into a cup and, holding the cup just
above the surface of the water, gently slide the egg into the pan. (You may wish to stir a
little “whirlpool” into the simmering water before adding the egg, to help the egg
keep its shape.) Cook until the white and yolk are both firm, which takes about 5 minutes.
Lift the egg out with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels.
To prepare scrambled eggs, break the eggs into a bowl, add a tablespoon of cold water, and
whisk together so that the yoke and whites are blended. Coat the pan lightly with oil or
butter, heat it over a medium heat, and pour the egg mixture into the pan. As the mixture
begins to set, use a spatula to scrape the eggs from the edge of the pan to the center. Cook
until the mixture is firm; scrambled eggs should not be runny.
No matter how you are preparing eggs, always cook them thoroughly, bringing the temperature
to 160°F (71°C) or higher for at least 3 minutes.
Buying and storing tips
The freshness of the eggs you buy reflects both how recently they were laid and the
temperature at which they were stored. Ideally, eggs should be stored at 40°F (4°C)
or below, and at a relative humidity of 70 to 80 percent.
To avoid food poisoning from Salmonella bacteria, it is important that you buy only eggs
that have been well refrigerated. Before purchasing, open the carton and make sure none of the
eggs are cracked; if you discover cracked eggs at home, discard them, since bacteria may have
contaminated the egg. To determine the freshness of eggs when shopping, test the
weight—the heavier the egg, the fresher it is.
Check for air
Air builds up inside the egg as it ages; this pocket of air is the reason hard-boiled eggs
are flattened at one end. If you hold a white egg up to the light, you will be able to see the
air pocket (brown eggs are too dark for the air pocket to be visible). When eggs are graded,
Grade AA eggs may not contain an air cell that exceeds 1/8-inch in depth. The air cell of
Grade A eggs may be 3/16 or greater. Grade B eggs have no requirements regarding the air
Note the color of the egg white. The cloudy appearance of an egg white actually indicates
freshness, due to its higher carbon dioxide content. As the egg ages, the carbon dioxide
escapes and the egg white becomes more transparent.
When reviewing dates on the egg carton, note that those packed in plants that are inspected
by the USDA display the date they were packed, written as a Julian date, numbering from 1 to
365 to reflect the day of the year (for example, December 29 would be 363). The U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that eggs can be used up to four weeks from the time they
are packed without loss of nutritional quality. The cartons also often carry an expiration
date beyond which the eggs should not be sold.
Store eggs in the original carton in the refrigerator. Do not wash the shells, and do not
store eggs on the door of your refrigerator; this exposes them to room temperature every time
the refrigerator door is opened.
Storing cooked eggs
Use hard-cooked eggs (in the shell or peeled) within one week after cooking. Cooked eggs,
including hard-boiled eggs and egg-containing foods, should not sit at room temperature for
more than two hours. Refrigerate leftover cooked egg dishes immediately, and save for no more
than three to four days. Large portions should be divided into several shallow containers so
they will cool quickly.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and state governments provide inspection and
grading. Grade AA and A eggs are defined as eggs that hold their shape well, with tall yolks
and thick egg whites. The chalaza is prominent, another sign of freshness. Grade B eggs may
have flattened yolks and the white tends to be thinner; typically these eggs are used by food
manufacturers, bakers, and institutions.
The size of the egg is a reflection of the age, weight, and breed of the hen, with mature
hens producing larger eggs. Environmental factors that lower the weight of an egg include
heat, stress, overcrowding, and poor nutrition. Specific egg sizes are classified according to
weight, expressed in ounces per dozen. Most recipes for baked dishes, such as custards and
cakes, are based on the use of “Large” eggs.
This term refers to eggs laid by chickens that are permanently caged. Although they are not
required to be labeled as such, eggs are from battery-raised hens unless labeling indicates
Brown vs. white
The color of the egg’s shell is a reflection of the breed of hen. Breeds with white
feathers and ear lobes, such as White Leghorns, lay white eggs. Those with red feathers or ear
lobes lay brown eggs. White eggs are in high demand among most American buyers, but in certain
parts of the country, particularly New England, brown shells are preferred. Breeds that lay
brown eggs include the Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, and Plymouth Rock varieties.
Duck eggs are larger than those laid by chickens, and have a higher fat content. The white
tends to be more gelatinous, and the yolks are a brighter yellow. Physical characteristics of
the yolk reflect both the duck’s diet and the egg’s freshness. In some cases the
duck egg has a stronger flavor than a chicken’s egg. Scrambled or in omelets, duck eggs
are well complemented by onions, peppers,
mushrooms, or cheeses. Cooks accustomed to
using duck eggs use them much like chicken eggs, taking into account their larger size. Some
combine duck and chicken eggs to achieve the consistency they want in particular dishes.
Professional bakers are said to prefer duck eggs because of their rich yolks and because the
baked goods have better texture and hold their shape better. In Asian cuisine, duck eggs are
sometimes pickled or preserved to make what are called “Thousand-Year-Old-Eggs.”
Some people who are allergic to chicken eggs are able to tolerate duck eggs. Duck eggs are
difficult to obtain and may be available only through specialty shops, Asian grocery stores,
or by special order.
These eggs are laid by hens regularly exposed to a rooster.
Eggs labeled “free range” are laid by uncaged chickens that are permitted to
exercise and move about. Under genuine free-range conditions, hens are raised outdoors or have
daily access to the outside. Some egg farms are described as indoor-floor operations; in this
type of environment, the hens are raised indoors, but have some freedom of movement.
The ostrich egg is said to have been a favorite food of Queen Victoria. Each egg contains
the equivalent of about two dozen chickens’ eggs. An ostrich egg weighs about 3 pounds
(1,360g); it would take roughly 40 minutes to hard-boil an ostrich egg.
Gourmets report that quail eggs are among the most delicious in the world. The eggs are
small and fine (about 1/5 the weight of a chicken’s egg), with richly speckled shells
that range in color from dark brown to blue or white. The nutritional content is comparable to
that of chicken eggs, with flavor that is comparable or perhaps more delicate. Quail eggs are
associated with gourmet cuisine. Some people who are allergic to chicken eggs find that they
can tolerate quail eggs.
*Foods that are an “excellent source” of a particular
nutrient provide 20% or more of the Recommended Daily Value. Foods that are a “good
source” of a particular nutrient provide between 10 and 20% of the Recommended Daily
The information presented in the Food Guide is for informational purposes
only and was created by a team of US–registered dietitians and food experts. Consult
your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any
supplements, making dietary changes, or before making any changes in prescribed medications.