Free-Range to Fine Dining, and The Perfect Egg

One man’s egg is another man’s organic, pastured, free-range and divinely raw treasure. A tribute to perfect albumen and the tastiest vitellus, as a prolific chef pipes in with his good egg guide.

By | January 20, 2021

Don’t try this at home. I ate eggs raw. Because it worked. TLDR: I, (then) egg-eating vegetarian (ovo-lacto in veggie talk), needed high-quality protein to rebuild my blood as the first step to regaining strength and vitality. I experienced no post-workout fatigue when I ate raw eggs but basked in an afterglow of all is right with the world.

But hell yeah. It was dicey now I think about it. I ate eggs au naturel (the eggs, not me) in my Guinness draught at trendy joints in the city and posh Chinese restaurants in the ’burbs after a bit of explanation to the wait staff. You knew their quality the moment you cracked them open: the industrial ones were sad; deflated and drained of yolk and spirit, waiting to die, and you felt the same way after ingesting them. The most salubrious were kampung eggs, especially the ones I had brought myself, swaddled in reams of paper towel and protected from being bashed by air-tight, K-Pop glass containers. 

Before the coming of food delivery apps and mishaps, I found kampung eggs in small shops, such as Ecogreen in TTDI, KL. Alas, earnest Mr and Mrs Wong were ahead of their time and the unfertilised, pre-millennial clean-eating market who weren’t born yet! The Wongs had partnered with dedicated small-scale farmers who could supply them the pukka stuff for bonkers customers (like me) at a premium, but were somewhat affordable if you didn’t run a restaurant or had to feed a large family.   

And you knew they were real the moment you laid eyes on them. Because their UFO spheres vibrated with an aura that beckoned you for a closer look, occasional soil marks and all. Picking them up as you would a bouncy new-born baby only served to confirm their heft and integrity. But it was when you clonked them against the side of your bowl to check what was inside that you were left in awe.

Absolutely smashing kampung eggs. Photograph: Flora Westbrook/Pexels

How could such a small shell seen from the outside hold such voluminous life on the inside? Perhaps because all life is built from the inside out. Kampung chickens do yoga. I’ll wager the geometry of good kampung eggs can be mathematically shown to align with the elliptical orbits of celestial bodies and the universe. Scientists say the egg-shape is the comfiest, roomiest, nicest space to be in, and the fluffy, pillowy, happy, lustrous contents of these kampung eggs make you think, well, ain’t that the truth.

I’ve cracked (mostly smashed) kampung eggs over hot plates and bowls of my favourite rice, noodles and pasta, and loved them all for it. Never mind keto, paleo, rodeo… try something as simple as kampung eggs on sourdough. There’s Tommy Le Baker and Bella and Luca, just two classical home-grown bakers serious about making what can still be called bread. But can something as basic as a raw egg really sex up staple foods in such eggsighting ways? Until you experience it yourself, you only have my word for it. So I asked James Won the chef for his guide to good eggs here.

James Won is chef patron of Enfin and opened BE (Bouchon Enfin) at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur in October last year. Won is a Krug Ambassade, part of the champagne house’s network of global envoys, a distinction he earned after his work at Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Japan over two decades. This is his good egg guide.

What does a good egg taste like?

“A good egg should not have a gamey smell, nor should it smell like a chicken (or duck); in other words, it should not have any form of smell. The egg itself should be bulbous, it should not be runny and slimy. The colour could vary from bright to pale depending on what the chicken or duck is eating. The albumen, the transparent white part, should be jelly-like in its firmness, not separated from the yolk; this is very important.

“It should taste sweet, clean and herbaceous, depending on what the chicken or duck has been fed. This is the taste of the raw egg. When it is cooked, the consistency or viscosity should be much thicker, not runny; the yolk should coat the tongue and grip the teeth. That’s what a good healthy, nice egg should taste like.”

The free-range chickens at Happy Eggs Farm are fed live spirulina, dong quai and clear spring water. Photograph: Happy Eggs Farm

Tell us about your egg supplier and the importance of raising chickens well.

“My current egg supplier is Eric, from Raub, Pahang. He calls his farm Happy Eggs, which is apt. Because for a chicken to lay really good eggs, they have to do it of their own accord, not forced, with plenty of room to run around, roam, forage and have access to good, clean spring water and plenty of options for greens and herbs. 

“Eric was introduced to me by my Japanese friends, Miu and Tetsu, long-time patrons of Enfin. Being Japanese, they are very fond of eating raw eggs; a bowl of steaming hot rice, or shabu shabu. 

“So to raise eggs of this quality requires the chicken to be very, very healthy; very, very stress-free. Eric actually feeds live spirulina and dong quai to the chickens, which are high in antioxidants (as well as being very nutritious). He doesn’t feed them any form of artificial supplementation. No chemicals; it’s a biodynamic farm and he’s very passionate about it. 

“The most important thing is, his hens roost and lay eggs for two years, after which they are retired. They are a local species, very beautiful; the feathers are very tight, the plumes sit one on top of the other, almost like fish scales; that’s how beautiful the chickens are. 

“It’s also an indication that the chickens are stress-free and very happy. With this kind of diet and lifestyle, they will give you amazing, high-quality eggs. They do not lay their eggs in a particular spot but find new places to lay them. Eric creates some nice, warm areas for them to do it so they know where their eggs would roughly be in the five to six-acre farm.

“When I got hold of Eric, he was kind of LCLY (Cantonese acronym): ‘I can’t produce very many eggs for you.’ Which is true till today; he cannot force the chickens to lay eggs every day. So the chickens are given the freedom to decide when they want to lay their eggs. Eric chooses who he wants to work with and we have developed a good relationship, so he will send me new eggs, hatched from different feed, new types of fruit and vegetables. It’s a really nice bond we have.”

A perfectly Happy Egg nestling on a Mushroom Tartar by Chef James Won, featured in the ‘Krug Single Ingredient’ book. Photograph: Enfin

How important are good eggs to your cuisine?

“Eggs are extremely important in French cuisine as you know, because Europeans have eggs as part of their diet for breakfast and dessert. We don’t use as much egg for the main plates, but for desserts and sometimes the entrees we do use them… My first submission for the Krug Single Ingredient book series was the egg. The dish I did was wong chow kai (rice wine chicken) with fried egg, my version of it.

“There are 108 ways of eating an egg. The French have a famous dish of poached eggs in red wine called eggs en cocotte. The chef’s hat has 100 pleats, each representing one way of cooking an egg. It shows the technical skills of a chef, who needs to know how to manage temperature, be able to spot whether the egg is any good.

A chef’s facility with eggs really shows off how good they are, particularly in techniques such as emulsification and soufflés.     

Chef James Won takes on classic French omelette. Photograph: Bouchon Enfin

What are the best ways to eat eggs at home, inspired by the Enfin and BE menus?

“At Enfin, we have the soufflé, which is very nice to make; we are famous for our soufflé, both savoury and sweet. At Bouchon Enfin, of course, our omelettes. I love making omelettes.

“At home, I like making the Chinese version of steamed egg custard from duck egg or century egg. These are things I like to eat at home. They are good recipes for breakfast, lunch or dinner.”

Jason Tan

Jason Tan

Jason Tan is a freelance editor and writer, and was formerly the editor-in-chief at Men’s Review, Vox (The Sun), Off The Edge, and Esquire Malaysia. He has a few more chicken and egg stories to tell.