protein structure of eggs + how to make an eggcellent omelet

I’m here to tell you that the way you are cooking your eggs is wrong, all wrong. Hard boiled, scrambled, fried, I can almost guarantee you technique is failed my friend. How can I be so critical? Because my mother has been cooking her eggs the same way for err-hump some odd years and they still taste like the sub-par version they have always been. No offense Mom, I love you, just not your eggs. We are brainwashed as children to think that eggs are so easy to prepare, they’re quick, fast, and cheap. Yes, they’re relatively quick and cheap, but they are composed of an extremely delicate protein structure that is quickly ruined in the improper cooking environment.

For instance, when you want a hard-boiled egg how do you prepare it?

If your answer is boiled for some amount of time, you are wrong. You do not boil hard-boiled egg. Gasp!

I’m reading On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee – a book devoted to unveiling the chemistry behind cooking – and there is a whopping 50 pages devoted to eggs. A whole chapter. Clearly there is a lot to know about eggs. I will try, in this post, to be as brief as I can because I realize I’m probably the only person who cares to spend a Saturday night reading about the protein structure of eggs. But seriously, if you understand this, your eggs and your weekends will vastly improve.
Oh, and an omelet tutorial awaits you at the end of the lesson!

The first thing you must know about an egg is that it is designed to be the food and shelter for a growing chick. The egg white provides the physical and chemical protection, with proteins and water that act as powerful protectors, binding to vitamins, blocking against bacteria and viruses, superhero things. The yolk provides the vitamins, minerals, fats, and protein.

The next thing you should know is the nutritional background of an egg. We just learned the an egg contains everything you need to make a chick. That’s pretty powerful. In fact, an egg is one of the most nutritious foods we have. Eggs have an unparalleled balanced source of amino acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and numerous minerals, and vitamins, and two plant pigments that are antioxidants. Wowza. The yolk comprises 3/4 of the calories and nearly all the iron, thiamin, and vitamin A. The white makes up for 2/3 of the egg weight, but nearly 90% of that is water. So if you are one of those egg-white only eaters, you’re missing all the good stuff! I know, I know the cholesterol. The average egg has about 213 mg of cholesterol, which is all found in the yolk. But the more important player in higher your cholesterol is saturated fat, and most of the fat in the egg is unsaturated, the not-so-bad kind.

So there’s all this good protein and stuff in eggs. And I should eat the yolk. Ok, Lauren how does this help me make that omelet? The last thing I’ll tell you about eggs has to do with their protein structure. Proteins have the chemical capacity to bond to each other. However, in the raw state, the proteins in eggs repel one another, causing it’s liquid like property. When heat is added, the molecules move more quickly, eventually breaking those bonds, causing the proteins to unfold, tangle and bond with one another. The water in the egg gets trapped in the bonds, making the egg solidify. So since we’re more concerned about cooking egg protein and not water, we need to take into consideration that the boiling point of egg protein is lower than that of water. A scrambled egg will set around 165*F (a much lower heat than the boiling point of water). This is why boiling water is such a poor way to cook eggs. The key then, to cooking eggs is temperature control..

And for some good pictures of the chemical process, check out this website.

If you’ve been using boiling water to make hard-boiled or poached eggs, I would suggest bringing your water to a boil, adding your eggs, then put the lid on a turn off the heat. The eggs may take a bit longer to cook since it will be at a lower temperature, but will taste must more moist and soft. When scrambling or making an omelet, the trick is medium heat (not high) for a few minutes. Let’s look at an example:

Omelet tutorial:
1. Heat pan to medium heat.
2. Crack 2 eggs into a bowl and whisk rapidly for 30 seconds.

3. When pan is hot enough such that 1 T butter melts and bubbles but does not burn in pan, add egg mixture.

4. Let egg mixture cook for ~1 min. Then use a spatula to lift the edges and drain uncooked portion of egg to bottom so that it can cook.

5. Repeat step 4 until top is not runny (about 2-3 min) + add any toppings (pre-cooked – except such quick cooking things as spinach) + fold egg over itself.

6. Plate, eat, repeat.

Now wasn’t that an eggcellent post?



5 responses

  1. i have a question, if i put in the egg after the water has boiled, won’t it crack? also how many minutes should i leave it in the hot water after i turn it off and close the lid?

    • yes tallene, there is a good chance that your egg will crack if you put it into boiling water. it’s better to put your eggs in a pot of cold water and bring it to a boil, then turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water (lid on!) for ~10-15 min, depending on if you want soft or hard boiled eggs. then ice bath your egg to prevent them from overcooking!

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