Monday, December 09, 2013

Don't Buy This: Egg Separator

I like to think I'm a generally positive person. To the extent that anyone asks me or comes to this blog for advice, I always try to push them in a positive direction--that is, identify something specific I think they should try. Being negative is like trying to meet a friend visiting from out of town in a hotel. You ask at the front desk

"Hi, I'm here to see a guest of the hotel--can you tell me which room Bob Smith is staying in?"

"Well, I can tell you he's definitely not staying in room 211."

"...that doesn't really tell me where I should look for him, though..."

The internet is full of enough people trying to tear down others, and I'm not interested in doing that. However, maybe we can find a few silver linings out of this one particular dark cloud.

I've been reading Megan McArdle for years. Mostly, she blogs about economics and politics, but I do enjoy her (much less frequent) food and kitchen blogging. At least a good 95% of the time, because about one in twenty times she recommends something so guano crazy that it makes me rethink her ability to parse a CBO report or discuss macroeconomic theory (no, I'm not exaggerating--she actually told people to use cooking wine. The contradictions of the human mind continue to amaze me). Once a year, she puts out a Holiday Kitchen shopping guide, which is usually full of interesting items, but then you come across something like this:

Essentially, it's a traditional egg separator (a tiny bowl into which you crack and egg; the slits allow the white to fall through) on a hinge that attached to two containers, allowing you to crack multiple eggs quickly and put the whites into one container and the yolks into the other.

Let me start at the end, and note an objection I don't have to this item:

Who separates this many eggs? People who recognize the amazingness of eggs, that's who. Eggs are a culinary wonderfood--their perfect balance and distribution of fat and protein makes them indispensable for all kinds of applications in the kitchen, even moreso when you can get the whites in one place and the yolks in another. Personally, I don't think there's any greater sight in the kitchen than a stainless steel bowl with egg yolks inside, ready to be made into something delicious.

With that out of the way, you might be wondering what my problem is. I originally thought that I had two objections, but my darling wife (hi, hon!) reminded me that I actually have four:

  • It's a Unitasker, which is to say that it does one thing, and one thing only. What else can you do with this thing other than separate eggs? Nada. And don't tell me you can use the containers to hold other stuff--if you want small food containers, go buy some small food containers. You can get them in any size or shape known to man, and at a damned better price than this. No, no--this is a kitchen item that has only one application, which means it's going to take up too much space in my kitchen. 
  • It makes it difficult to find shells. Look, none of us is perfect--sometimes you're going to get a little bit of shell in with the egg when you crack it. That's why you crack it into a small glass bowl--it's easy to see inside, and you can even lift it up and check from underneath. But a big diffused white plastic cylinder? Good luck hunting for any missing pieces of shell.  
  • It's too expensive, currently selling for $15. Assuming you want a dedicated egg separator, you can get one for around $5. Or, you could do what I did, and get one as part of a set of plastic measuring cups, which runs more like $10. Or you can use a slotted spoon, which will also save you money (as well as space, since it has other functions). 

You may be thinking I'm an overly critical, fastidious cheapskate for telling you not to get one of these. That's fine, but listen very closely to this last point:

  • It doesn't use the correct way to separate whites, and will ultimately lead to kitchen failures

Ok, that sounds more reasonable, right?

The thing about separating eggs is that you want to keep the yolks and the whites separate (hence the name). In many applications (other than having some irrational aversion to eating one or the other), a small amount of one mixing with the other at the wrong time can make the whole effort collapse (literally... well, no, not literally, since you'll never get the thing built up in the first place). Let's look at souffle. 

Souffle is a classic (and delicious) example of the wonders of the egg. By separating the egg, you can marry a sweet or savory yolk-based sauce to the light (but strong) foam of the whites. If everything goes right, you'll find yourself with something whose flavor is just as rich as the texture is delicate. The reason this works is that by beating the proteins in the egg whites, you denature them, allowing them to realign in such a way that you can make a strong, stable foam, which will set when baked. 

The problem is fat. If you get any fat in the whites while mixing, it'll prevent the proteins from properly aligning and mean that you'll never get more than bubbly egg whites. The process is so sensitive that using a plastic bowl (molecularly similar to fat) will make the process more difficult, and some people go so far as to use round copper bowls for the process (the extra ions make the foaming process go much faster). You know a really good place to find fat near an egg white?

The yolk. 

Go back and check that picture of the egg separator again. What do you see? That's right--the slotted cup into which you crack the egg is sitting right over your cup of egg whites. Putting aside the aforementioned problem of the egg shells, what happens if you get to cracking egg #11 for a souffle and the yolk breaks? Yep--you're making something else for dinner tonight, because those whites aren't going to foam. 

So, let's get back to the positive: how do we separate eggs?

Simple: with the three-bowl quarantine method. 

You'll need three bowls--one for the whites, one for the yolks, and one for the separating. Over the middle bowl you put your regular egg separator/slotted spoon, and crack the egg into it. Lifting up the yolk, you can put it into your yolk bowl (which may or may not have other things in it as well). You can then examine the quarantine bowl for any signs of yolk or shell in the white, and when you're satisfied it's safe, you put it into the whites bowl (which may also have other things in it as well). In the unfortunate event that you get something undesirable in with your white in the quarantine bowl, you can throw it out without having ruined the other whites (unlike our featured unitasker, that is). 

Simple, effective, and efficient. Everything you should be in the kitchen (and, at a good price less). 

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