By Harold McGee
Doubtless bird eggs have been roasted ever since humans mastered fire; in As You Like It Shakespeare has Touchstone call Corin “damned, like an ill-roasted egg, all on one side.” Salting and pickling eggs are ancient treatments that preserved the spring’s bounty for use throughout the year. We know from the recipes of Apicius that the Romans ate ova frixa, elixa, et hapala—fried, boiled, and “soft” eggs—and the patina, which could be a savory quiche or a sweet custard. By medieval times, the French were sophisticated omelet makers and the English were dressing poached eggs with the sauce that would come to be called crème anglaise. Savory yolk-based sauces and egg-white foams developed over the next three centuries. By around 1900, Escoffier had a repertoire of more than 300 egg dishes, and in his Gastronomie Pratique, Ali Bab gave a playful recipe for a “Symphony of Eggs”—a four-egg omelet containing two chopped hard-cooked and six whole poached eggs.