I want to quickly discuss the term “free range”. This term is unfortunately being used quite freely and may not mean what you think it does. Te be considered “free range” according to the government a hen must not be caged and have “access” to the outdoors. This does not mean she goes outdoors, nor does it mean that she can eat bugs, grass, or natural foods found in the ground. Free range chickens may also be feed the same feed as the caged (or non free range) chickens. The free range eggs I am using in this post all have more than access to the outdoors. In fact they all live in the outdoors, no cages, and no coops. I can not speak for the feed of the the chilled (the second egg in the comparison) free range eggs, but the final lot of eggs are from chickens that run around the property and find food on their own. This may consist of bugs, dropped vegetables, natural grains from over grown grass, or whatever else is to their liking. This, in my opinion, is the true meaning of “free range”, self sustaining.
Now on to the eggs. The first thing you will notice differing the eggs from each other is the color. The grocery store egg is stark white with no blemishes. The chilled free range egg is brown and the non-chilled free range egg is slightly blue. This leads to a discussion of the color of the egg. I want to put this to rest. If a hen has white feather then she gives you white eggs, if she has red feathers then she will give you brown eggs. The color of the shell has nothing to do with the flavor or nutritional value of the egg (probably a lesson all of mankind should embrace). Eggs can be white, blue, black, speckled, brown, ivory, and several other colors in between. Below are three pictures showing the different colors of the eggs. The largest egg on the end is a sample of the duck eggs I purcahsed from the same market.
What ultimately matters is the way the hen is raised and lives and the freshness of the egg. In this case I am actually presenting eggs (at least in two of the presented forms) that are now more than 48 hours old. This is important to know. Grocery store eggs unfortunately, even if they are labeled organic and free range, can be weeks old before you purchase them. I purchased what is labeled as “large” eggs in that most recipes that call for eggs assume that the maker will use large eggs, not jumbo or medium sized eggs. These eggs should weigh in at roughly 50 grams, 34 to 35 grams of egg white, and 15 to 16 grams of egg yolk. This information is particularly important in baking. When dealing with the science of bread and pastries one can not simply double a recipe, or cut it in half for that fact. You have to weigh out each ingredient and know it’s percentage according to the whole finished product and the weight of the finished dough. Once this is done you know the weight of flour, yeast, and eggs, whole, whites, and or yolks you will need to use to generate the desired end amount.
Here are my results for the final weights and measurements for each of the eggs being tested.
For the grocery store variety large white eggs the egg weighed in at 48 grams, had a yolk width of 1 1/2 inches and height of 3/8 of an inch. The entire egg, yolk and albumen, measured in at 3 1/2 inches.
The chilled free range eggs (brown variety) weighed in at 46 grams, had a yolk width of 2 3/4 inches with a height of 1/2 inch. The whole egg measured 2 3/4 inches. The overall measurement of the egg is noticable smaller than the first variety. This is not a bad thing, in fact it is great. What this says is the albumen (the white of the egg) is still tight around the yolk. The wateriness of the albumen is a quick indicator of the freshness of the egg. The watery the white of the egg is the older it is. If it holds tight to the yolk then the egg is relatively fresh.
The final farm fresh, free range, non chilled egg had a weight of 50 grams. The yolk measured 1 7/8 inches across and nearly an inch tall; the total width of the egg was 3 3/4 inches, but the albumen was tight unlike the grocery store variety. The color of the yolks also told of the quality of the ingredient. The grocery store variety was pale yellow, the color of egg yolk that we are all accustomed to. The second egg (brown egg) had more orange in it. If you look closely at the picture you can see a slight tint of orange around the top and sides of the yolk. The final sample (the bluish egg) had a deeper orange tint. Again, when looking at the images you can see the brownish orange color all throughout the yolk.
I cooked each of the eggs with a light seasoning of salt (finely ground fluer de sel) in extra virgin olive oil on heat mark 4. I would call this gas mark 4 but I do not have a gas range. I would though call it low medium heat (with 1, 2, and 3 on the knob being low heat, 4, 5, and 6 being medium heat, and 7, 8, and 9 being high heat). I cooked the eggs to an over easy consistency then Kelly and I ate them. the grocery store variety is was just what you would expect, it tasted like every other egg. Simple bordering on the side of bland. The kind of thing that one would eat for existance not for pleasure. The first farm fresh (chilled) egg brought flavor to the plate. Richness with a smooth consistency. The white was slightly cruchy from the cooking while the yolk was molten, dense, and rich. The final egg, the farm fresh that had not been chilled, was slightly better. The white did not brown as much and the yolk was thicker and more molten. The over all flavor was rich, slightly dense, smooth, and consistent. One thing I noticed immediatley was that all the liquid yolk of the third egg firmly covered the rest of the egg when rubbed through, the other two started to coat but none the less left some of the yolk on the plate.
These test proved many of the points that I have recently read on the quality of eggs. According to most sources farm fresh eggs can improve cooking in many ways besides the flavor. Some sources claim the fresher the egg the thicker the batter for cakes. Others claim that when making a quiche you will not require the typical 1 egg per 1/2 cup of milk being the freshest eggs firm up more than those from the grocery. This does make sense in that the yolk of the egg holds all of the emulisifyingproperties, so the larger and fresher the yolk the better emulsification it should produce. Kelly and I are both fans of the quiche so I will be soon experimenting with this theory. Until then I will not buy eggs from the grocery anymore. If I can not purchase them from the market I have recently discovered (or another of equal quality) I will simply live without eggs. Other trials I will be conducting will include the production of fresh egg pasta, genoisesponge cake, poached eggs, and the proverbial hard boiled egg (the hardest test of them all).
— matt bolus