On a recent visit to the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market, I decided to check out the fresh, local eggs to find out just what the big deal is. Writers and chefs alike sing the praises of farm-fresh eggs, waxing rhapsodic about their bright orange yolks and the depth of their flavor. Me, I’m happy if it scrambles nicely without sticking too badly, so I wasn’t especially eager to pay roughly twice as much for something I’d be eating just as quickly. Even so, a recent incident with farmers’ market asparagus (it amazes me how rarely Elizabeth says “I told you so” despite the countless opportunities I provide her) made me think that maybe there was something to back up the hype, so I purchased a half-dozen eggs from one of the half-dozen vendors offering them.
Right away, I could see a distinct difference between my store-bought eggs and the ones from the market – the ones from the market were brown.
More examples of my mastery of the blatantly obvious (and an actual comparison) after the jump.
When the time came to test my free-range purchases against their factory-farmed brethren, I decided that the best way to judge them was a side-by-side comparison of one of the purest and simplest egg preparations: poaching. With four handy-dandy egg rings and a pan big enough to hold them all, I figured I’d minimizing the risk of a bad sample by testing two of each type of egg. Back off, man…I’m a scientist.
I followed Alice Waters’ directions for poaching an egg from “The Art of Simple Food,” letting the eggs come to room temperature and pre-heating the water (with just a dash of white vinegar) in the pan to a constant near-boil before dropping each egg in gently.
The farm-fresh eggs behaved differently than the Harris Teeter candidates right away – though the yolks didn’t seem appreciably brighter, the whites were clearly looser and tended to spread out in wispy white tendrils as the egg settled into its bath. The whites of the Harris Teeter eggs, by comparison, were more viscous and tended to settle into a tighter area as they firmed up.
After a few minutes in the water, I removed the egg rings and slid a spatula under each test subject. They all released from the pan with ease and floated gently while I waited a minute longer to allow their yolks to firm up a bit more. At that point, I scooped the eggs out with a slotted spoon and set them onto a paper towel-lined plate for inspection.
Once again there was a marked difference between the spread of the whites – the eggs from Harris Teeter looked tighter and more presentable, while the farm-fresh eggs had spread out and pretty much made themselves at home. The yolks of the farm-fresh eggs seemed bigger and more appealing, but that was hardly a conclusive observation.
Finally, it came time to taste-test and render a verdict. Elizabeth and I split one of each type of egg, tasting for flavor, texture and overall experience. As it turns out, she’s not much of an egg fan, but she disliked them equally if that counts for anything. We both found the yolk of the farm-fresh egg slightly more flavorful, but the difference was negligible. The overall taste and texture may have been marginally better, but it hardly seemed like enough of a difference to justify the significant difference in price.
Just to make sure we had done our due dilligence, we tried the poached eggs in another presentation suggested by Waters: floating in a soup of warmed chicken broth. I supplemented the broth with asparagus, garlic scapes and wood ear mushrooms that had come from the Farmers’ Market as well, and the combination made a delicious and satisfying meal. And, once again, the grass-fed chicken’s egg was our slight favorite.
The moral of the story? While there are lots of things that you can find better and fresher at the market, not all of them are worth the price. Since neither one of us is a real eggspert on the subject, we’ll continue to buy ours from the grocery store for the foreseeable future.