On a fine spring morning when people are outside in the garden hunting for Easter eggs, it seems as good a time as any to dedicate a few lines to that most perfect of foods: les œufs.
The challenge with eggs in France is not eating them – we have no shortage of farm-fresh eggs and specialties ranging from omelettes, quiches, mousses, meringues and flans – but to spell and pronounce the words properly.
First we must get past that funny little vowel configuration created by the ‘o’ and the ‘e’. When these two characters get overly familiar and become one as in ‘œ’ this is called a ligature and has its own particular sound, somewhere between the two vowels. A bit like the ‘ou’ sound in enough. But it changes slightly depending on what comes after.
Un œuf (uhf) in the singular becomes des œufs (euh) in the plural. Put like that, it seems easy enough. But for some reason I’ve always struggled with these words.
For one thing, in French they have a weird similarity to eyes. Un œil (oy) and des yeux (yeuh). Am I imagining this?
Eggs in France are almost always brown in the shell rather than the sterile white I grew up with in North America. They sometimes bear scraps of dirt and feather on the shell, reminding us of their origins. They are date-stamped with either the ‘date de ponte’ (date they were laid) or the ‘date limite de consommation recommandée’ (DCR or use-by date).
I recently learned of an easy trick you can use to tell if an egg is still fresh.
Here are a few of the ways you will find eggs on the menu in France:
- Œufs au plat: fried eggs, usually served sunny side up
- Œufs durs: hard-boiled eggs
- Œufs à la coque: soft-boiled eggs
- Œufs brouillés: scrambled eggs
- Œufs pochés: poached eggs (my personal favourite)
And of course, les œufs de Pâques. Easter eggs. Preferably au chocolat. Hope you are enjoying the kind you like best on this holiday Sunday.
And, in case you’re wondering, this year the Easter bunny will not be on the menu.