We keep a few chickens, and give or take their seasonal mood swings; we get a lot of fine eggs. And for me there can be no argument about what constitutes a fine egg. When you nurture free-range chickens that eat all manner of bugs, worms and vegetation during their daily constitutional, you get rewarded with fresh eggs, sturdy albumen (egg white) and a plump, nuclear orange yoke.

Long ago our kitchen said goodbye to eggs with pallid yellow yokes and watery albumen, yielded up by battery hens that are fed on medicated GM pellets in confined conditions with snipped beaks, sore legs and transfixed by artificial light. This still remains the lot of many ‘layers’ – just think of an entire life spent on the London underground system during rush hour and you’ll get the picture. Then, when their sorry days are over and they prematurely join the choir invisible, they are destined mainly for the pet food market. Disturbingly, some do end up as ‘nuggets’ for human consumption, but that’s another tale. So it is scandalous to note that 25 million of the 35 million eggs eaten every day in the UK are still collected from such factory-reared hens.

There can be no doubt that how a hen spends its day makes a fundamental difference to the nutritional quality and, most importantly, the taste of the eggs it produces. But given that we don’t all have the space or the inclination to set up coups at home, most supermarkets do offer some free-range eggs – although one still has to be something of a sleuth to discover the condition of the poultry in question as all too often labeling is directed to persuade rather than educate. If at all possible, a farmer’s market is your best choice.

When the fancy takes them, our hens periodically over-supply, so the search for supplementary recipes is ongoing.

Due to the binary characteristics of yolks and whites, the history of egg recipes is one of pragmatism. When catholic nuns in Lisbon chose egg-whites to starch their clothes, they had the canny idea of using the surfeit of yolks to make Pastel de Nata, those delicious Portugese egg tarts. When Gallic housewives had used all their yolks in custard, mayonnaise or glazing their brioches, they perused the remaining whites and came up with idea of meringues. Some form of meringues must have figured too in the early Renaissance, as after a day of egg tempera painting on behalf of the Pope and a few yolk-based Zabagliones in the café later, litres of surplus egg white would have needed a culinary home, but then eggs have always obliged with asymmetric cooking procedures.

I have tried to absorb some of these savvy tricks when eggs are abundant, not least by calling upon many more yolks than white when a quiche is underway and more white than yolks when a soufflé beckons.

Recipes and techniques abound, Twice Baked Roquefort Soufflés from Delia’s How to Cook Book One are a triumph, but my simple favourite is Margaret Costa’s (so, unusually, I give you both):

Cheese Soufflé from Four Seasons Cookery Book (1996) Margaret Costa

40 g butter

2 tbsp flour

300 ml hot milk

4 eggs plus 1 extra egg white

100 g finely grated Gruyère cheese

Salt and white pepper


Grated nutmeg

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it without letting it colour

Remove from the heat and gradually add the hot milk

Simmer gently until the sauce is smooth and thick, about 10 minutes

Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool a little

Separate the eggs yolks and whites

Beat the yolks until thick and pale

Add to the sauce and beat them in well

Then stir for a few minutes over a low heat, adding the cheese and the seasonings; salt, white pepper, a few grains of cayenne and a very little nutmeg

Let the mixture cool to lukewarm

Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl with a pinch of salt, until stiff

Stir a couple of tablespoons of whisked egg into the cheese mixture and then fold in the rest with a rubber spatula

Turn the mixture into a well-buttered soufflé dish (or 6 ramekins)

Place in a baking tin and pour about 1 cm of boiling water into the tin

Put in the centre of a preheated oven at 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6

Bake until well risen, golden brown and firm, about 25 minutes

Twice Baked Roquefort Soufflés from Delia’s How to Cook Book One (1998) Delia Smith

175g Roquefort

225ml semi skimmed milk

40g plain flour

40g butter

4 large eggs separated

150ml double cream

Salt and freshly milled black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas mark 4

To begin, put the milk, butter and flour into a small saucepan over a medium heat.

Whisk all that together using a balloon whisk until it becomes a thick, smooth glossy sauce.

Then turn the heat down as low as possible cook it for 2 minutes. Then add some seasoning and cool slightly.

Then whisk in the egg yolks.

Now crumble 100g of the cheese into the mixture and whisk until most of it has melted – don’t worry if some cheese is still visible.

Put a kettle on to boil and, in a spanking-clean large bowl, whisk the egg whites to the soft-peak stage then fold a large kitchen spoonful of egg white into the cheese sauce to loosen it.

Now fold the sauce into the egg white using a large metal spoon and a lifting, cutting and folding motion.

Put the ramekins in the oblong baking tin and divide the mixture equally between the ramekins. Pour about 1 cm of hot water from the kettle into the tin and bake the soufflés near the centre of the oven for 20 minutes, then transfer them to a wire cooling rack so they don’t continue cooking.

Don’t worry if they sink a little as they cool, because they will rise up again in the second cooking.

When they are cold, cover with cling film and refrigerate.

Remove from the fridge 1 hour before the second baking.

When you’re ready to cook them again pre-heat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4 then slide a small palette knife all round them and turn them out, first onto the palm of your hand and then right way up onto the baking sheet with a liner.

Bake near the centre of the oven for 30 minutes.

To make the sauce, crumble the remaining Roquefort then heat the double cream until it starts to simmer then remove from the heat and stir in the crumbled cheese.

Serve the soufflés immediately on warm plates using a fish slice, spoon over some sauce.

Wine Thoughts

Chicken-central in France is Bresse, so nearby Mâcon is a convenient place to find our wine match. I would opt for a top-end Mâcon-Villages as a partner, which imparts a richer profile than the nearby wines of Chablis, yet still provides a lush, crystalline texture with fresh citrus notes on the finish.