Magazine article The New Yorker

Eggs

Magazine article The New Yorker

Eggs

Article excerpt

There is a character, Alex, in T. S. Eliot's "The Cocktail Party," who is able to conjure a supper from next to nothing. Many dishes, he boasts, can be made with "a handful of rice and a little dried fish," and, in that spirit, he disappears into the kitchen, nipping back in to fret about mangoes and curry powder. At last, he returns to announce his finest concoction to date: "Never, even when travelling in Albania, / Have I made such a supper out of so few materials / As I found in your refrigerator. But of course / I was lucky to find half-a-dozen eggs."

And so we reach the numb, honest horror that is the lot of the improvisational cook. Alex may be proud of his talents, but Eliot is careful not to specify the resulting dish; just as Euripides was obliged, by the dictates of his era, to cordon the slaughter of Medea's children offstage, so any modern audience would recoil in outrage if it was forced to witness the actual coddling of an egg. Or how about oeufs en meurette? The ingredients are universal: eggs, an onion, a carrot, slices of white bread, and any old mushrooms and bits of bacon you find lurking, plus half a bottle of leftover red wine. One version even suggests a "thumb sized piece of dark chocolate," at which point the stomach slowly starts to turn. You might as well add a genuine thumb. As for the moment when you lift the eggs, poached and quavering, from the dense, red-brown slop of the sauce, lay them on the mattress of toast, and watch the yolk rupture and spool into the surrounding murk, why, even Euripides would have to look away.

Oeufs en meurette is a classic ad-libber's meal, in that, even when it goes right, it looks like something that has gone terribly wrong. We who approach our kitchens with ham-fisted dread must defy the Alexes of this world--those breezy souls who can reach into cupboards, rifle among the cereal boxes, and come back forty minutes later with a plate of Tunisian lambs' jowls, heightened with pomegranate seeds. Like seasoned gigolos, such people know only of success, repeated every night with subtle variation; they talk of "mastering" the art of cooking, whereas most of us are lucky to be its slaves, scalded and swearing, doomed to tiptoe along the verge of failure. …

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