Long Reads

'Lucky Peach' Has Always Made Us Understand What's Behind the Latest Trends

April  4, 2017

Considering the amount of egg yolk-porn you can find on Instagram, among other signs, there’s probably someone, somewhere, who’d claim that we’re in the midst of a years-long egg trend. By utilizing the same cultural, multicultural approach to covering food as it’s employed since publishing the debut ramen issue in 2011, Lucky Peach excels at undercutting the shallowness of trends.

Put an egg all over it. Photo by James Ransom

That skill is on full display in All About Eggs, their latest cookbook out today. It joins Egg Shop: The Cookbook and Joy the Baker Over Easy as egg-related books released in the last few weeks, and it’s also perhaps their last cookbook: The company will fold after its final two issues.

Just take the book’s recipe for çilbir: After putting on a pot of water to boil, you smash a clove of garlic and stir it into a bowl of yogurt. When the water hits a simmer, slide in two eggs to poach and melt a pad of butter in another pan and sprinkle in some chile flakes as the fat sizzles. The eggs are nestled into the yogurt, the butter is poured over the top.

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It’s kind of perfect.

But as has been the case with Lucky Peach over the last six years, it’s never just about the recipe. The book gives you two methods of poaching eggs to pick from: Jacques Pépin’s or Julia Child’s, which, naturally, involves those old-school perforated-metal egg poachers that sit in the simmering water. (Pépin cooks eggs for three to four minutes; Child, four minutes of simmering after cooking the eggs, both ends pricked with a pin, for 10 seconds to set the white.) And no matter how the eggs are cooked, there will be a swirly cloud of cooked white left in the water—the albumin.

Julia and Jacques's poached eggs Photo by Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford

And since this is a Lucky Peach publication—wry, technical, exhaustive, hilarious—All About Eggs delivers on the promise of the title with a detailed description of how, over the course of two to three hours inside a chicken’s infundibulum, “protein-secreting cells of the oviduct coat the yolk with four layers of albumin of alternating densities,” including the chalaza (the white) “which acts like elastic cords that suspend and anchor the yolk to each end of the shell.”

The recipe comes from Filiz Hosukoglu, a culinary researcher from Gaziantep, who sets the eggs onto of the garlic-spiked yogurt in order to show them off. That’s really the point of the cookbook, at the end of the day: Eggs are cracked in kitchens around the world. They are, as editor Rachel Khong writes in her introduction, “what we humans have in common.”

Oh, God above, if heaven has a taste it must be an egg with butter and salt.
Frank McCourt, in Angela's Ashes

And while their ubiquity can lead to joyless things like egg-white omelets or push put-an-egg-on-it beyond the pale, there are few other ingredients that can taste so sublime in the simplest preparation, or can be used to make other ingredients do so many amazing, different things in the kitchen—from emulsifying mayonnaise to binding cake to giving loft to soufflé. “Eggs,” according to Khong, “are a cornerstone of eating, cooking, and, yes, being human. They’re the world’s most important food.”

This is a very un-cool literary reference to make in a piece about the food publication that can make the best claim on the punk mantle, but here goes: In Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt’s memoir of the Irish famine, there’s a scene where Frank and his brother, Malachy, are each promised their own soft-boiled egg for Sunday breakfast, which seems like an almost obscene luxury. “Oh, God, I already had plans for my egg,” McCourt writes , “tap it around the top, gently crack the shell, lift with a spoon, a dab of butter down into the yolk, salt, take my time, a dip of the spoon, scoop, more salt, more butter, into the mouth, oh, God above, if heaven has a taste it must be an egg with butter and salt."

When I think of what it means to eat an egg, I come back to the essence of that passage—to the longing, the simplicity. It’s the baseline for the most work-a-day recipes in the book, whether that’s a soft-boiled egg, or Singapore-style half-boiled eggs seasoned with soy sauce and pepper, and eaten with toast.

Even more in involved preparations like Arzak Egg, which are simmered in a bundle of plastic wrap, like they do at the 3-star Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain, the process is a means to the same end: a rich orb of just-set yolk. It’s universal, and deeply human.

Arzak Egg
A Guide to the Regional Ramen of Japan

From the first magazine to the last cookbook, Lucky Peach has managed to find the humanity that underpins a trend, the thing that makes a dish, ingredient, or style of cooking into something so widely relatable. Consider ramen, the ultimate trendy food, complete with the fan-boi following. What Lucky Peach managed to do with their first issue is to go well beyond scratching at the surface of the ramen trend. Instead of telling one story about why ramen is good and cool, it tried to tell all of them: the story of instant ramen, of Jewish-American ramen, of every kind of regional Japanese ramen.

Maybe you picked up the ramen issue, or any of the issues that have followed, because breakfast or Chinese food or whatever is zeitgeist-y. But you come away with more than two or three cook-at-home recipes that synthesize trendy restaurant food—you come away with understanding.

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1 Comment

MelissaH April 5, 2017
The only issue that ever made me laugh out loud was the sex issue, the one that opened from either end and contained Fuchsia Dunlop's story Dick Soup. That was so marvelous an article, I bought copies to give to two friends.