Add freedom to your eggs

Croque Madame

Croque Madame is a country style ham, egg and cheese sandwich.

Ingredients

4 tbsp local creamery butter
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp all purpose flour
¾ cup local creamery milk
½ tsp kosher salt (plus a little more for taste)
fresh ground black pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper
8 slices peasant bread (each ½ inch thick)
3 tsp dijon mustard
half a pound shaved Virginia country ham
8 oz gruyere cheese, grated
4 large local farm eggs

The sauce

Melt 1 of the 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a small saucepan.
Whisk in flour and continue to whisk until mixture is pale and golden (about 3 minutes) to form a roux.
Slowly whisk in the milk, then let simmer, whisking until the sauce is smooth and thick (5-7 minutes).
Stir in some of the salt, black pepper and the pinch of cayenne to taste, then set the sauce aside.

The sandwich

Melt the remaining butter in the oil and set aside.
Brush one side of the bread with oil/butter mixture and set aside.
Oil side down, spread mustard on the bread slices, sprinkle with some cheese then place ham on top of the cheese.
Spread the sauce evenly over the ham, season with additional salt and pepper.
Sprinkle more cheese on top of the sauce and top the sandwich with a slice of bread. (repeat to make 4 sammies)
In your favorite cast iron skillet, heated on medium cook the ham and cheese sandwiches until GBD (golden brown and delicious).

The egg

In your other favorite cast iron skillet, use the remaining oil/butter mixture to fry the eggs the way you like ‘em.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Slide a fried egg on top of each sandwich and serve immediately.
Serves 4.

The supplies

Homestead Creamery glass-bottled milk and butter
Belle Meade Farm pastured lo-cal farm eggs
S. Wallace Edwards & Sons country ham
Wade’s Mill all purpose flour

This is the latest in a series of occasional food-related articles and recipes by chefs in and around Rappahannock County.

By Sebastian Carosi
Special to the Rappahannock News
Good eggs are hard to come by — harder than you may think. It seems you can find chicken and eggs labeled “organic” and “free range” in just about any grocery store these days, packaged in bucolic images of rolling green hills and red barns. That is almost never the reality, even among these supposedly humane alternatives.

A chicken fed organic feed in a confinement barn with a tiny dirt yard does not represent ethical or sustainable farming. With this said, I guess that it all depends on how lazy the farmer is . . .

If said farmer does not let his barnyard birds out of the coop until noon, chances are the hens’ laying boxes will be full of quality eggs. But, if said chickens are let out to pasture, the said “lazy farmer” must start the process of finding and gathering all of the eggs that the hens have deposited around the yard, and carefully get them to the barn or kitchen to wash.

Pastured eggs are seasonal — the hens lay less as the days get shorter. In industrial confined egg operations they use artificial lights and a horrible practice called forced molting to overcome this. That means that starting in October, egg production declines and by November, may be half what it is in the summer. However, while the ladies are resting and not earning their keep, they are eating even more expensive grains because of the cold weather. That’s another reason why pastured eggs cost more.

Grass-fed/pastured hens that are not being kept in confine­ment are fed primarily grains containing up to 20 times more healthy omega-3 fatty acids than those of their less fortunate cousins (factory hens). Pastured hens’ diets are naturally complemented with bugs, earthworms, and other such critters that give their eggs a huge nutritious “oomph.” Although not necessarily organic, pastured hens are usually much healthier and happier than their space-restricted and antibiotic-pumped industrial cousins. Pasturing is the traditional method of raising egg-laying hens and other poultry. It is ecologically sustainable, humane, and produces the tastiest, most nutritious eggs. Pastured eggs also have 10 percent less fat, 40 percent more vitamin A, and 34 percent less cholesterol than eggs obtained from factory farms.

What the conscientious consumer should really be looking for is pastured chickens, of the heritage breed if possible. When I lived in New England, I bought my eggs from a nearby farmer. The eggs had strong shells and dark, orange yolks that stood tall when I cracked them open. They were the most delicious eggs I’ve ever eaten.

The organic, vegetarian-fed, free-range, antibiotic-free eggs I found in Los Angeles were nothing like that. They are indistinguishable from the runny, yellow, conventional eggs most people purchase today. Clearly something is amiss. The difference is pasture. At first you may think that is precisely what is meant by “free range,” but sadly that is almost never the case.

A “free range” label on an egg carton or chicken wrapper almost invariably means that the chickens were raised in a crowded shed with limited outdoor access and almost certainly no fresh grass. It is often not terribly different from how their conventional counterparts are raised, and yet by meeting a few technical benchmarks, sellers can mark up their products to fetch the premium prices that more ethical food brings, effectively duping consumers. Don’t be fooled; there is no substitute for real pasture. And remember there are no seasons in a modern-day grocery store!

It may seem strange to think of putting chickens in a pasture. After all, chickens, unlike cows, don’t eat much grass. But the amount of grass they do eat when given the opportunity, along with the bugs and lizards they scratch up, make a world of difference in egg quality. Pasture also makes a world of difference to the quality of life for the chicken. They must be moved to fresh pasture every day or so to avoid killing the grass, so they get constant access to fresh greens, bugs, sunshine, and space to move around as they fertilize the lawn.

Without doubt, “free range” eggs are better than purely conventional eggs in environmental terms, but we can do so much better. The farmers out there who are really promoting a sustainable model with pastured, happy chickens and nutritious eggs, as opposed to those who have learned to do the bare minimum to fool consumers into thinking their product is superior, really deserve that extra dollar or three per dozen. Talk to sellers at your local farmers’ market or check sites like Eat Wild and Local Harvest to find sources. Luckily, you’ll know when you’ve bought the real deal. The proof is right there in the pudding — or the shell. There are several local sources for pasture-raised eggs, Keep this in mind as you start your day every morning.

Sebastian Carosi is the chef at Cafe Indigo, due to open later this spring at Sperryville’s Rappahannock Central natural food coop and arts collective.

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2 Comments

  1. What is it that you object to? I think the author is saying the same thing you are,which is that sustainable, humane eggs come from farms-not stores.

    The premise of ‘pastured’ chickens generally means that the flock is housed in a regularly moved mobile coop, generally fenced in to a broad area of pasture. In a large operation, like Polyface Farm, they follow the cows, just in time to eat the larvae laid in the manure and help break the manure down to speed it’s absorption into the soil. Free-range, by contrast, means only that the birds are given ‘free-range’ of a given plot of land, and hence may also still be fenced in. The issue with ‘free-range’ is how big is that plot of land? It can still be a static run.

    The runny, rubbery character of store bought eggs most certainly reflects excessive age, but those pale yellow yolks are indicative of lack of forage in the diet.

    It should also be noted that the diet of factory hens is also rather compromised relative to the type of grains they receive, unsprouted soy being a primary source of protein. The excess estrogen the birds ingest impacts both broiler meat and egg quality and nutritional value. If the eggs don’t say ‘ORGANIC,’ you can bet the ranch that all the grain they receive is GM.

  2. I know your article means well, but as a chicken keeper, i object. “free-range” is supposed to mean the hens are loose, as in no fence. Pastured chickens are fenced in, usually an area that has no grass because theyve eaten it all. The soft yolk your noticing with store eggs is from AGE. Farm eggs are usually a day or two old, store eggs are not. Sustainable, humaine eggs come from farms, not stores. Check out farmers markets and CL, feed stores and Tractor Supply bulletin boards for ads. I sell my free rangers eggs for $3.

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