Saturday, February 20, 2010

The chicken and the egg. They came together.

Raw eggs make great food.  If you’ve ever been to my house for dinner, or eaten something I brought to a party, you’ve probably eaten raw eggs.  Yes, I know, I’m a horrible friend because I didn’t tell you, and now I’m announcing it on the internet.  You may never come back.

But before you decide that you’d rather not acquaint with me, let me just say this.  Yes, salmonella infection is a risk if you eat raw eggs, and yes, I put you at risk.  Even so, according to the CDC, 1 in 10,000 eggs are currently contaminated with salmonella 1.  The highest rate of egg contamination is in the Northeastern region of the US, which, thankfully (not to off-put the lovely inhabitants of New England) I do not live in. 

A risk is a risk.  Let’s put this risk into perspective.  As a human dweller of North America, you have about a 40% lifetime risk of getting cancer, a 4/10,000 risk of having a pulmonary embolus if you take birth control pills, and if you were born in 2000, which obviously you weren’t, you have a 35% lifetime risk of developing diabetes! 2,3,4. So, one in ten thousand? I’ll take my chances on a creamy, yolky, tiramisu and work on becoming that one in three with “a touch of sugar”.  I guess my risk of salmonella is actually higher since I probably eat 200 plus eggs a year, but even so, most of them are cooked.*

Salmonella can dwell in the ovary of the chicken, and thus the egg becomes infected before the shell is formed.  Proper washing of the egg does NOT prevent salmonella, even though when I was sheepishly watching Rachel Ray the other day, she said her husband told her to put the eggs in warm water and whatdyaknow it’ll go away!  Check your sources, lady.  Even so, using fresh eggs and keeping them refrigerated can prevent the bacteria from multiplying. 

Eggs and chickens are not the only foods that put you at risk of salmonella.  Vegetables, peanut butter and other “safe foods” are contaminated with some nasty pathogens.  In a 2009 report analyzing food related bacterial illnesses in 2006, 21% of cases were related to poultry, 17% were related to leafy vegetables and 16% were related to fruits and nuts 5.  One multi-state outbreak was attributed to “baked goods contaminated by floor sealant”.  Maple syrup is not the same as polyurethane.

Raw egg yolks make a beautiful base for a salad dressing.  They emulsify the fat and water based ingredients to make a rich, creamy dressing.  In this salad, which is my punchy version of a Caesar salad, I like to add poached chicken thighs which are moist and flavorful, boiled new potatoes for starch, radishes for a strong bite, and red chilies for a kick.

Elizabeth’s Caesar-ian Section Salad

For the dressing:
One egg yolk (I like to separate eggs with my hands)
Juice of one lime
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
One clove of garlic smashed and finely chopped
¼ cup finely (and freshly) grated parmesan cheese
Lots of black pepper
1 tbs finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbs finely chopped fresh mint
medium shallot diced finely
½ tbs salt
¾ cup olive oil

1 lb chicken thighs
1 lb new potatoes boiled until tender
Radishes, finely sliced
½ pound of romaine washed, dried and chopped
½ red chili seeded diced finely
1 yellow pepper chopped
2 green onions chopped

For the dressing:
Separate the egg yolk from the white, add the garlic, lime and vinegar, whisk together. Add the parmesan, pepper, salt.  Add ½ cup of olive oil in a steady stream whisking constantly.  Add the shallots and herbs, add remaining ¼ cup oil.  Refrigerate for 1-2 hours for flavors to blend if you have the time.

To poach the chicken:
In a pan with lid, fill with water about ½ inch-1 inch, season with salt, add chicken.  On medium-low heat simmer chicken, covered for 10 minutes and then flip.  Cook for 10 more minutes.  If you are using chicken breasts instead, reduce the cooking time to about 7 minutes on each side.

To assemble salad, slice up chicken and potatoes.  Add veggies and toss dressing (you might have extra dressing).  I’m assuming people know how to put things in a bowl.




3. Farmer, RD., et al. 1997. Population-based study of risk of venous thromboembolism associated with various oral contraceptives. The Lancet 349, no. 9045:83-8.

4. Narayan, KM., et al. 2003. Lifetime risk for diabetes mellitus in the United States. JAMA : Journal of the American Medical Association 290, no. 14:1884-90.

5. 2009. Surveillance for foodborne disease outbreaks - United States, 2006. MMWR: Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report 58, no. 22:609-15.

* Disclaimer: if you are pregnant or immunosuppressed in any way, don’t eat raw eggs.


  1. Raw eggs are fine. Organic is better for raw eggs. Factory-farmed eggs and chickens are not the greatest in any sense.

    The key is what you otherwise eat. If you have been exhausting your intestinal bacteria by feeding them junk food, 0.3 Salmonella bacteria could very rapidly multiply. If you have been treating your flora nicely, then the pathogens have trouble competing with the good bacteria.

  2. Would washing the shell help, to rid any bacteria that might be washed into the raw egg with cracking? And I'm just finding your blog and am eager to check out more... But always remember a woman's right to her own level of "acceptable risk" in your obstetric career, too. Sometimes docs freak out over a 1/10,000 or 1/1000 risk in obstetrics....

  3. CountryMidwife--I think that washing the shell doesn't help because the bacteria usually dwells inside the egg. Thanks for the heads up about acceptable risk. There is certainly a lot of risk in OBGYN and I think proper counseling and patient education can make a huge difference (but what do I know?!) Thanks for reading.