KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The man we'll meet next managed to write an entire cookbook about a single ingredient. Food writer Michael Ruhlman found plenty to say about the - well, take a listen.
MICHAEL RUHLMAN: You can cook it in its shell or out of its shell. If you cook it in its shell, you can hard boil it, soft boil it. If you take it out of its shell, you can poach it, fry it, deep fry it, bake it. You can blend it, and then cook it in other different ways. And then if you want to separate it, you can do different things with the white and with the yolk.
MCEVERS: His book is called "Egg," and he read from it with our colleague, Steve Inskeep.
RUHLMAN: (Reading) In a kitchen, the egg is ultimately neither ingredient nor finished dish, but rather a singularity with a thousand ends. Scrambled eggs and angel food cake and ice cream and aioli and popovers and gougeres and macaroons and a gin fizz aren't separate entities. They're all part of the egg continuum. They are all one thing. The egg is a lens through which to view the entire craft of cooking. By working our way through the egg, we become powerful cooks.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The egg is a lens through which to view the entire craft of cooking, which is your craft. Use that lens for us. If we just follow the egg through the kitchen and its uses through the kitchen, what will we learn about your craft?
RUHLMAN: Well, we learn how to make a creamy custard with both egg white and yolk, and yolk alone. We'd learn how it enriches. When you bake an egg, you see how the egg works on its own and with other ingredients. So, again, when you know all the properties of the egg and all the ways it works, you become a more accomplished, powerful, competent cook.
INSKEEP: OK. And I'm just going through here: There's the potato onion and cheese frittata. I guess that's the key to the egg, is what you might add to the egg here and there.
RUHLMAN: Well, that's a thing. The egg then becomes the unifier of all these ingredients. You make, basically, a custard, and you pour it over all these other delicious ingredients, which soak them up, and the egg combines them and makes them one, makes them whole.
INSKEEP: Here's a picture of a seafood dish: Scallops and Crabs Seafood Roulade. What does the egg do there?
RUHLMAN: The egg white is used there as a binder to hold everything together and to give it a smooth texture.
INSKEEP: You even go into the matter of scrambled eggs, and argue that there's a way to do them right and a way to do them wrong. And we very, very often do it wrong, and it's a crime.
RUHLMAN: It's one of the most overcooked dishes in America. We kill our eggs with heat. In most instances, gentle heat is what the egg loves. And when you cook them very slowly over very gentle heat, the curds form. And as you stir, the rest of the egg sort of warms, but doesn't fully cook, and becomes sort of a sauce for the curds. So it should be a creamy and delicious and delicate preparation.
INSKEEP: Do we overdo it because of fear?
RUHLMAN: We overdo it because of lack of knowledge, and some people are afraid of their eggs. I've never gotten sick from an egg that I know of.
INSKEEP: Meaning people just don't know how to make an egg.
RUHLMAN: Well, again, we're taught, in many ways, to fear our food. And I think it does a great disservice to the people who want to cook their own food. So I want people to cook, but our how are they going to cook if they're taught to be afraid of an egg?
INSKEEP: One other vital question here: How, normally, do you crack an egg?
RUHLMAN: Gosh, I watched Andre Soltner, the wonderful French chef of Lutece, crack an egg and it never left me. And he just tapped it gently on a flat surface, and then he gently just pulled the egg apart. And I love the gentleness of the way he handled an egg. And I always think about that when I crack an egg.
INSKEEP: So that's short-order cook thing of whacking the egg on the edge of the pot and throwing it in, that might look impressive, but that's not the way to handle an egg.
RUHLMAN: It's not the best way, but sometimes it's what's called for.
INSKEEP: Michael Ruhlman, thanks very much.
RUHLMAN: Pleasure to be here, Steve. Thanks.
INSKEEP: He is the author of "Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient."