A fresh egg, nothing better to brighten your day. Photo: David Reist
Everyone should have chickens. I've said it before and, right here I'll say it again: I'd vote for a politician who promised to make sure all Australian families had a chook in a shed. You have no idea how happy it makes your day to start with a fresh egg.
As far as farm animals go, chickens are the easiest to maintain. They won't jump on your car like a goat, or attack you for no reason like a goose, or be totally useless like an alpaca, or destroy your marriage like an unpenned pig.
If you feed them, they basically worship you. Chickens are the perfect minion, they would help you take over the world as long as you gave them all your scraps, fresh water and somewhere dry to sleep.
Bryan Martin with one of his chickens, a backyard essential. Photo: David Reist
Just stay away from roosters. It's interesting that kids always want a rooster around, completing the family circle, no doubt, and creating the sense of order that males clearly bring to the table in all situations. Yes? Are you with me, my brethren? Hello, anyone?
Sure, I know the evidence of having two roosters in the room is pretty grim. Witness the great debates in the past few weeks of the election campaign. All you needed to do was attach a sharpened claw to their Berlutis and let them loose.
So, no, you don't want roosters. I am feeling as if I need a change, though. I've been raising isa browns for 12 years. I'm pretty sure the kids think they are the same half dozen chickens, but due to natural attrition (a fox), old age and a rampant pig, we are on to our 12th generation at least.
So when I was at a wine show in the real country recently, out Forbes way, I came across some information about chicken breeds that caught my interest. I'm a long way from being a chicken fancier, but these things have a habit of creeping up on you. One minute you are content just collecting eggs then - boom - you have hundreds of rare breeds, you are a member of a strange society and you spend your time travelling to poultry shows the world over. Alone, yes, always alone.
Just recently, here in the ACT, we had the Wyandotte Club of Australia 2013 national show. Did you go? This is a majestic breed from the United States, very popular in Australia before the isa browns came with their promise of 300 eggs in the first year.
Isa browns are a cross between two Rhode Island breeds and are very easy to look after, but they tend to lay all their eggs when young, which is why you should never buy an old isa. I'm drawn to the flamboyantly named Transylvanian naked neck. Now these guys, much like our political leaders, have a look that only a mother would love. They seriously appear to have been strangled and have the auspicious desirability as a meat chicken as there are fewer feathers to pluck.
That all said, the variety I have my heart set on is the ''modern game'' breed, solely because the chickens look like a road runner, as in the Wile E. Coyote nemesis, only with a chicken head. They look fast, long of leg, as if someone has stuck a chicken on heron legs. Luckily, and this is quite common, there is a society devoted solely to this breed: the Modern Game Promotional Society.
It is a bit elusive, even though its website calendar appears, as you would expect, devoid of any commitments, but I think they should be able to help me in my new campaign to raise a feathered army.
Getting back to where I started, an egg is nature's perfect food. No one is hurt in its production, other than the hen if it's her first, but after that, she's just fine. Eggs are meant to be eaten, albeit by a baby chicken as it grows, but that's splitting hairs. And they are a complete food. I just love them. Each morning walking back with a shirtful of eggs, I'm thinking of all the potential. All the cakes and tarts, pastries and custards, pancakes and terrines that you can think of rely on an egg or two, and that's just scratching the surface.
For breakfast, a perfectly poached egg, sourdough toast, good butter (and on this topic, look for Pepe Saya's cultured butter, the best around; the Spence supermarket has it regularly), a sprinkle of Murray River pink salt, a grind of pepper and I'm in heaven.
You know an egg is fresh if you can hold the yolk in your fingers and it holds almost a perfect globe. Given some heat, this fresh egg becomes a great way to start a meal, a dipping sauce for raw and cooked vegetables or grissini. Some of the greatest restaurants in the world serve eggs as a starter. As tricky as chefs get, nothing proves their worth more than dealing with such simple pleasures.
The way to a perfectly cooked egg, cooked through but soft and oozing, is to cook it very slowly in water at a temperature just above hot tap water. You need to hold the water at 60C for about 45 minutes, which isn't that hard; it's not as if you're cooking a short rib or beef cheek, which can take days.
>> Bryan Martin is a winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla; bryanmartin.com.au.
Use a digital thermometer (if you haven't got one, buy one - they are so handy). Place a pan of water over an element set very low, using a flame tamer if you have one. Have water on the boil, and some ice cubes, and use these to adjust the temperature of the water in your saucepan as needed, keeping it between 60C and 63C. Cook at this temperature for 45 minutes.
Once the time is up, chill the egg in iced water until you need it. Then heat it up by putting it in a bowl of hot tap water for about five minutes or so.
Crack the egg and scoop out the perfectly cooked yolk. You don't want the white, which will still be quite runny.
Serve the yolks with very thinly sliced radish, or scrubbed and steamed baby carrots. Brussels sprout leaves that have been very quickly tossed in hot oil are also good, as are asparagus tips and raw baby beets. You can quickly put together a mixture of these to serve as a lazy lunch on the weekend.
The eggs are also great with steamed rice and chicken wings. The yolk cloaks the grains and is one of the tastiest treats.