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FOOD AND LOATHING : Not All They're Cracked Up to Be

March 18, 1993|JONATHAN GOLD

I loathe eggs, loathe the sweet, sulfurous stink of eggs gently cooked in butter, loathe roadhouse eggs fried in bacon grease, loathe the sunset-colored ooze of poached-farm-egg garnishes in the best restaurants in France. When I bite into a chunk of hard-cooked egg concealed in the heart of an otherwise exemplary albondigas meatball or Indonesian salad, I recoil in the manner of a Boy Scout who has just surprised a nest of scorpions. I will not describe my first encounter with the Tunisian pastry brik .

I don't even like the look of the word "egg," its beginning 'e' insufficient preparation for the paired tails of the 'g's that clot on the page like fragments of congealed yolk. When I casually scan a page of newsprint, the word leaps out with vehement force wherever it appears. The word is hardly less disagreeable even when translated into other languages: uovo suggests a dishwashing detergent; oeuf the noise that you make when you are punched in the belly; huevo a slang word for yet another anatomical item I would not care to eat with toast.

This prejudice of mine is deep-rooted and strong. This is my first conscious memory: informing my mother, at the age of 2 1/2, that I had just eaten my last egg. I remember that egg as if I had eaten it yesterday--scrambled lightly, cooked with lots of butter, served on a speckled blue plate. I am sure I enjoyed it; I liked eggs, and my mother was a very good cook. Perhaps the repudiation was my first, small assertion of independence, or perhaps I was just a bratty tot. (I suspect the latter.) The decision was irrational then; my hardened rejection of eggs remains, I know, irrational today. Still, the force of it remains: This may be the only decision I have held fast to over time.

I will now occasionally cook scrambled eggs for my wife, generally loose-curded, speckled with freshly chopped herbs, lightened with a drop of cream, though I will not sit in the room with her while she eats them. (The hippest cooks these days claim that eggs scrambled with a teaspoonful of water are fluffier than those scrambled with cream, and if my wife requests it, I will try to make them that way.) I have made omelets for a crowd, and spent hours scrambling eggs with Norwegian smoked salmon for a breakfast party.

I will stir a beaten egg into Chinese fried rice when I make it, and I enjoy the unctuous richness of a raw quail egg broken onto a piece of salmon-egg sushi. I will eat scrambled eggs as part of certain spicy Mexican dishes-- machaca , chorizo , chilaquiles --where the other ingredients overwhelm the eggs at least 3:1 by volume. A truffled egg at La Toque, beaten with cream, steamed slowly until it becomes more like a thick, truffle-perfumed custard than like an egg, is truly fine. I have always liked the cornmeal souffle that my mother serves with roast beef, even though my brothers never fail to point out helpfully that a souffle is mostly eggs.

But although I gladly eat the squid, cows feet, brains that would have disgusted me several years ago, though I've worked my way through blood-thickened pig's-gut stews, I still cannot face down a simple scrambled egg.

It is very hard to eat breakfast out.

MOM'S SOUFFLE 2 cups milk 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal Butter 5/8 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce Dash hot pepper sauce 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sugar 4 egg yolks 7 egg whites Finely grated Parmesan cheese

Heat milk to boiling. Stir in cornmeal and 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, continuously stirring with wire whisk until mixture thickens slightly. Turn heat to low and stir in Cheddar cheese. Continue stirring until mixture thickens. Stir in Worcestershire, hot pepper sauce, salt and sugar.

Beat egg yolks in mixing bowl. Stir 1/4 cup hot milk mixture into yolks, then slowly stir yolks back into remaining milk mixture until yolks are incorporated into mixture and thicken. Cool.

Add egg whites to mixing bowl (preferably copper). Beat until stiff but not dry. Stir 1/3 of whites into souffle mixture, then carefully fold in remaining whites.

Butter 7-inch souffle dish, then dust with Parmesan. Carefully pour souffle mixture into dish. Score circle about 3 inches from center, into top of mixture with knife. Bake at 350 degrees 30 to 35 minutes, until puffed and brown. Do not open oven for first 30 minutes. Serve immediately. Makes 6 appetizer or side dish servings.

Each serving contains about: 208 calories; 612 mg sodium; 209 mg cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams protein; 0.05 gram fiber.

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