Eggs are often called nature’s perfect food. Unless you’re allergic to them — they’re among the most common childhood allergies, but most youngsters grow out of their allergy before adolescence — there’s not much wrong with them. They’re self-contained, sometimes cited as an example of good natural packaging design. They’re inexpensive, currently about $2.70 a dozen — 22.5 cents apiece — because supermarkets typically sell them cheaply, as a loss leader to bring customers into the store.
They’re also, of course, incredibly versatile. They can be eaten hard- or soft-boiled, scrambled, fried, poached; in omelettes and quiche, salad dressings, and custards. They go into pasta dough and mayonnaise, ice cream and all kinds of baked goods. They’re the basis of classic French sauces like hollandaise and béarnaise and are essential for spaghetti alla carbonara and traditional in fried rice and pad Thai. They’re used in virtually every cuisine. No wonder Americans consume more than 276 eggs per person every year, either alone or in baked goods, sauces, etc.
All those eggs, however, are overwhelmingly those that come from chickens. There are about 9,000 species of birds, and all of them lay eggs. All are also most likely edible (the possible exceptions being those of a couple of species in Papua New Guinea, whose skin and feathers are toxic and whose eggs might be). Reptiles and amphibians lay eggs, too, as do fish, and these, too, are edible. Fish roe, otherwise sometimes known as caviar, are a pricey delicacy (see No. 9).
The average home cook or restaurant chef isn’t likely to start frying up the eggs of robins or vultures, much less garter snakes, of course, but a number of unconventional bird eggs are finding their way into more and more restaurants and markets — both farmers’ markets and specialty supermarkets — these days. These eggs may be smaller or larger (in some cases much larger) than chicken eggs, and some of them have shells that are thicker than the norm, making them harder to crack. In general, the yolks are larger in proportion to the whites than with chicken eggs, and the flavor of these eggs is often richer. They’re definitely worth trying.