Is it possible to ascribe narcissism to a foodstuff? Do ingredients have egos? Is there vanity in a vegetable? The curious world of single-subject cookbooks suggests “yes!” Broccoli, did you really need an entire book? Hemp, wouldn’t a magazine feature have sufficed? Foods on sticks, where is your modesty?
Eggs are another story. There is no egotism in an egg book, not when you consider the crucial role eggs play in nearly every aspect of cooking, from breakfast to dinner, sweet to savory. Yes, eggs deserve a book — books! And books they’ve gotten. One online source lists 405 cookbooks on the subject.
At the Food Network Library, we keep a mere half dozen, but each is so wonderful in its own way that we just had to share. Here are four favorites from past and (recent) present: the best, the most-charming and the most-beautiful egg books from Food Network’s shelves.
The Good Egg
Marie Simmons (Houghton Mifflin, 2000)
As close to a comprehensive egg book as you’re going to find, The Good Egg goes well beyond omelets, quiches and custards, devoting entire chapters to stuffed eggs, egg salads, even stews and braises. Marie Simmons is a cookbook author’s cookbook author, and her recipes, drawn from an international repertoire of classics, are rendered with care and precision. You get no photos or illustrations, but you do get a charming voice. Marie wants you to enjoy your time with her. Through quotes, tips, anecdotes and asides, she plays the good hostess, keeps the conversation lively, and shows solicitude and care. All of which make The Good Egg good company.
The Other Half of the Egg
Helen McCully and Jacques Pepin (M. Barrows and Co., 1967)
This gorgeous, long-out-of-print, Franco-American oddity is devoted to the quirky question: what to do with all those leftover whites and yolks? Helen McCully was a prominent ’60s-era food editor (McCall’s, Good Housekeeping). Jacques Pepin was, well, Jacques. Or soon to be. The book’s primary distinction (aside from its stunning dust jacket) is its standing as the first of his glittering career. Pay special attention to the book’s French dishes and techniques, especially the 30 pages devoted to souffles that make up the book’s finale. They are golden.
Michel Roux (Wiley, 2005)
Eggs is French and fancy, as one would expect from one of the world’s most-decorated French chefs. Though there is good treatment of the basics, Eggs is aimed at professionals and amateurs with aspirations. Composition and plating receive considerably more attention in this book than in the others on this list. What you are getting is less recipes than dishes. That said, there is little here that a home cook with sufficient time on his or her hands couldn’t master. And with its ample illustrations, this small, very attractive volume makes a good book for visual learners.
The Good Cook: Eggs & Cheese
The Editors of Time-Life Books (Time-Life Books, 1980)
This one is part of the epic 28-volume Time-Life series issued from the late ’70s to the early ’80s and edited by the legendary Richard Olney. The series has been out of print for decades, but individual volumes are easily tracked down and well worth acquiring. While their aesthetics are now severely (and amusingly) dated (I’m looking at you, cold omelet loaf’!) nothing has surpassed these books for their clear and accurate elucidation — through image and text — of classic (mostly French) culinary techniques. This work is an absolute classic — a culinary school degree unto itself.
Jonathan Milder loves cooking and reading, and reading and cooking. He is known to read while cooking and cook while reading. Which makes him a lucky man to hold the position of Food Network Research Librarian, where he has more than 5,000 books with which to read and cook and cook and read to his heart’s content.