Mouths to Feed: The Price of Eggs

Scrambled Eggs with Feta and Red Pepper Aioli

Scrambled Eggs with Feta and Red Pepper Aioli

One by one, our chickens stopped laying this past year, and now they are just pricy, high-maintenance pets. If I were made from tougher stuff, I would have steered their well-fed bodies toward the stewpot by now, but I can’t imagine it. They are far too sweet and sociable, clucking around the patio when we have folks over for cocktails like goofy little lapdogs looking for a pat on the head. 

Science may not yet have determined which came first, chicken or egg, but in our house there’s no doubt which comes last.

The upshot is that, whereas we once had more eggs than neighbors to give them to, I am now back to buying eggs. My favorites come from the farmers market and have marigold-yellow yolks and fairly hefty price tags. With three kids home from college, we can easily go through two dozen of these treasures a week. The economics make no sense: We buy chicken feed for our former layers, and then go out and buy eggs laid by other people’s hens to feed ourselves. But I see no alternative; the heart, after all, is not an economic machine. 

Most days, the kids roll out of bed about the time that I am clearing up my lunch dishes. (Lest you think that we allow our children to be as unproductive as our chickens, I will hasten to add that they have jobs that permit the keeping of such wanton hours.) Often their next move is to make themselves some kind of egg sandwich — one day it might be scrambled eggs with avocado, cilantro and hot sauce on a tortilla; another, fried egg, hummus, cheddar on toast; on still another, scrambled eggs with cream cheese on an everything bagel. 

No matter how satisfied I have been with my own breakfast and lunch, the sight of their creations always makes me hungry, as well as happy: I am gratified to see the ease and competence with which they take care of themselves in the kitchen. And I am convinced that a scrambled-egg sandwich is one of the nicest ways there is to take care of yourself, with variations enough to address whatever particular balance of joys, sorrows and yearnings you wake up with on a given day.

Yet for me, the pleasure of this meal comes with a tinge of discomfort. My first serious boyfriend, Ben, took a desultory approach to the scrambling of eggs, and as our relationship progressed, what began as kindness on my part — “How about I make us breakfast?” — became increasingly aggressive — “Don’t touch the eggs!” One morning, as I elbowed him away from the stove, he called me a kitchen fascist. The ouch of that has never healed. 

But it also marked a turning point of sorts: the moment when I realized that my intensity toward cooking was something I might ought to take seriously. Many years later, an acclaimed chef (I can’t remember which) wrote that, as it is all but impossible to get soft-scrambled eggs in even the priciest restaurant, learning to make them just so for yourself is a cook’s imperative, and one of life’s great gifts. When I read that, I wanted to track Ben down and show it to him. Then I realized it would be a rather aggressive thing to do.

My family wisely leaves the egg-scrambling to me whenever we have breakfast together, which is not often anymore. The rest of the time, it’s every man for himself. Which is as it should be when it comes to egg sandwiches. For only you can know which of the countless excellent variations will attend to your particular needs, and that goes for Ben, too. As I often crave fresh, young cheeses in spring and early summer, right now my sandwich of choice includes feta and a swipe of red-pepper aioli.

As for the chickens, they still serve a valuable purpose: They give me something to fuss over now that my kids have decided they can take care of themselves. 

Scrambled Eggs with Feta and Red Pepper Aioli

Red-pepper aioli
Note: This is also great with grilled fish and all sorts of sandwiches,
as well as dolloped into fish stews or vegetable soups.

  • 1 red pepper (or substitute ½ cup jarred, roasted peppers)
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 fresh egg yolk
  • Juice from ½ lemon, divided, plus more to taste
  • ½ cup canola, grapeseed or other mild oil
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch cayenne, or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper

If using jarred peppers, jump to the next step. Place the pepper directly over the flame of a gas stove or under the broiler, and allow the skin to blacken and burn, and the flesh to soften, turning the pepper with tongs as it cooks. When the skin is completely blackened, place the pepper in a bowl and cover it tightly with a plate or plastic wrap. Allow the pepper to steam 10 to 15 minutes, then rub off and discard the blackened skin. Cut away the stem and seeds, cut the flesh into roughly 2-inch pieces. 

Put the red pepper in a blender with the chopped garlic and ¼ cup of the olive oil and blend until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolk together with a few drops of the lemon juice until pale and slightly thickened, about 1 minute. For the next steps, it helps to place the bowl on a damp kitchen towel to hold it steady, or have a partner/kid come add the oil or hold the bowl: One drop at a time, begin to add the canola oil, whisking constantly. 

As the mixture begins to emulsify, you can start drizzling in the oil in a pencil-lead-thin stream, still whisking continuously. When it gets thick and gluey, add a squeeze of the lemon juice to thin, then slowly pour in the remaining oil. Whisk in the pureed pepper and garlic. Add the cayenne and smoked paprika, plus salt and pepper and additional lemon juice to taste. Transfer to a jar and store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 

Tips for soft-scrambled eggs:

1. Use a bowl that’s considerably larger than you think you need, and whisk the eggs vigorously until they are frothy on top, about a minute. 

2. Heat your skillet over medium low; add a slick of butter or oil, and when that’s heated, pour in the eggs. Immediately turn the heat to low. (The exact temperatures will depend on your stove; mine tends to run hot.)

3. Don’t stir and scrape the eggs too often as they cook. You want large curds to form. This takes patience!

4. Wait until the eggs are at least three-quarters cooked before you add salt, pepper and anything else, such as cheese.

5. Don’t overcook; push eggs to the side as they cook and allow any liquid portion to coat the bottom of the pan so it will cook through. 

For the sandwich (per person):

  • 2 scrambled eggs
  • 1 tablespoon red-pepper aioli
  • 2 slices focaccia or other bread
  • Butter (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon feta, crumbled

Spread a thin swipe of the aioli on hot, buttered toast, top with the eggs and feta.

Leave a Reply

The Current welcomes comments on its coverage and local issues. All online comments are moderated, must include your full name and may appear in print. See our guidelines here.