Difficult to explain eggs

So what are you making for breakfast tomorrow apart from the frittata?” Manju asks me finishing up the last bits of the Shakshuka I’ve cooked for dinner. “Ahh… ummm… it’s a Thai-Malayali dish stuffed into a Mumbai pav,” I offer by way of a not-too-helpful explanation.

I’m at the Happy Hens Farm which is run by Manjunath Marappan and Ashok Kannan just outside Trichy and have offered to cook an egg-based dinner and breakfast. The Shakshuka and Straciatella have gone down well with my audience and they’re looking forward to breakfast.

In an earlier post I’d written about the quality of eggs but I wanted to visit the farm to verify their claims of being free-range and cage-free. I don’t know what a happy hen looks like but these birds looked rather content. The farm is divided into four large enclosures where they can roam and forage as they please. By dusk they automatically roost in their respective coops where they also lay their eggs. Most will lay in the morning but some capricious hens lay in the afternoon and evening. Though most farm management theorists recommend the birds be kept isolated from other farm animals to prevent infections and illness others argue for mix of animals to boost immunity and to fertilise the soil. At Happy Hens they’ve followed the latter school of thought and a cow and about a hundred goats are left to graze in the different enclosures.

* * *

For years, every time I passed by the anda pav stalls outside Lower Parel station I’d always think there was something better that could be done with the boiled egg pav.

I found the answer in the Thai son-in-law eggs. There are a couple of explanations for the name: it was the only dish the son-in-law could cook when the mother-in-law made a surprise visit; those were the only ingredients the mother-in-law had on hand when the son-in-law visited unannounced.

My favourite though is the one with the cautionary symbolism. There are two version of when the dish is cooked – some say when the couple is just married, others at some point in the marriage. But the warning for both is similar: if the husband mistreats the wife, the mother-in-law will serve him his egg-shaped parts the same way as the eggs. Perhaps it’s a practice Indian mothers should consider.

The Thai dish is normally garnished with crispy onions. Malayali egg roast has caramelised onions as a base. Tamarind, which is the main constituent of the Thai sauce, is endemic to South India as well. And, of course, apart from some very strange people, every Indian loves fresh coriander.

I do recommend you make this with free-range, or cage-free eggs. Battery-farmed eggs do not produce a tasty yolk. I learned something very important from boiling farm-fresh eggs: never use them. The inner membrane of the shell separates from albumen (the white) only after 2-3 days. Shelling fresh eggs results in eggs that look like the surface of the moon.

And on a completely tangential note: the tamarind in South Indian villages is extremely dark and strong. The Schwarzenegger to a John Abraham.

2 free-range/ organic/ desi eggs
chopped or whole fresh coriander
4 small pavs
Oil to deep fry

For the tamarind sauce
50 gm dried tamarind
175 ml warm water
25 gm jaggery
½ tsp dark soy
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)

For the onion roast
200 gm onions, sliced on the round
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ tomato, chopped
2 red chilli, cut into lengths
20 curry leaves or two stalks
½ tsp coriander powder
¼ tsp pepper powder
a pinch of turmeric powder
1 tbsp oil (add more if required)

Boil the eggs for about 7-8 minutes. Remove and refresh in an ice-water bath.

For the tamarind sauce
Soak the tamarind in the water for about 10 minutes. Mash and squeeze out the pulp in a sieve or by hand. Strain through a large-holed sieve so it’s smoothish. Thin down with a little water.
Heat the pulp with the other ingredients. Stir well till the jaggery dissolves.
Cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes till thick, but of pouring consistency. You can make this beforehand and store overnight. Keeps for a few days.

For the onion roast
Heat the oil in a frying pan.
Fry the onions with the garlic on a medium-high flame stirring continually so that the onions don’t burn.
Continue frying till the onions are soft and stating to brown. If the pan gets too hot, take it off the flame and keep stirring.
Lower the heat and add the tomato and red chilli. Fry till the tomato is soft and dark.
Add the spices and salt, and continue frying for a couple of minutes.
Add the curry leaves. Mix well.
Take the mixture off the flame once the curry leaves start to change colour and you can smell the aroma.

To assemble
Just before you’re ready to eat, shell the egg and deep fry in hot oil till the surface is golden brown. Remove and cut in half lengthwise. The centre should be slightly undercooked
Split open the pav.
Arrange a layer of onion roast at the base.
Place half an egg, sliced side down.
Drape the tamarind sauce over.
Stuff with fresh coriander and, if you want it more pungent, some more sliced chillies.

Preparation Time: 35 minutes
Serves: 2

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