Every time I’m served a dish with raw egg or other worrisome substance in it, I flash back to the time my husband and I spent in Ollantaytambo, Peru, waiting for the train to Macchu Picchu. We killed a few hours scanning the cobbled alleys for the red plastic flags that signal visitors can sample chicha de jora, a corn beer for which — in some places — the maker chews the corn into a paste prior to fermentation.
Red flags, indeed.
We finally stepped into a dim, dirt-floor basement room occupied by an old woman who, grinning and nodding, pointed us toward a plastic bucket filled with a yellowish, frothy, somewhat chunky liquid.
I’m not unadventurous, but I do consider consequences. Namely, “Tomorrow, we visit one of the great wonders of the world. Do I want to risk spending that time crouched in a high-altitude Port-a-Potty?”
Lacking the Spanish to politely inquire whether the beer had been made in the ancient fashion — my version would probably have come out, “Are you to making this in the mouth-hole?” — I drank it. And I was none the worse for wear.
That is just context for why raw eggs, in cookie dough or cocktails, don’t hold much of a fear factor for me. Salmonella is no joke, but in my experience, it’s always the food you least expect that nearly puts you in the hospital. (I’m looking at you, green salad.)
Raw eggs turn up in many delicious cocktails: whole in flips and eggnogs, in pale heads of egg-white froth in drinks such as the pisco sour and the Ramos Gin Fizz. Eggs add a new element to familiar cocktails, says Alexandra Bookless, head bartender at the Passenger. “You get this completely different texture, and also it gives a very creamy and dessert-y element to a cocktail without adding dairy.”
Perhaps I don’t have to persuade you. In my experience, cocktail aficionados tend to be the “damn the torpedos and/or our digestive tracts” type. At the Museum of the American Cocktail’s recent holiday seminar, when Bookless whipped up her Amaro Flip, I heard no complaints about raw egg. All I heard was appreciative slurping.
I got interested in flip — an ale-and-rum-and-sugar drink — after I ran across a Colonial-era recipe in William Grimes’s “Straight Up or On the Rocks.” It described heating the drink by plunging in a red-hot loggerhead (a tool designed to stir tar), causing the liquid to boil into foam and the sugars to scorch. I have not yet attempted that — I want to do it with a chum who can handle a fire extinguisher — but Dani Paulson, head bartender at Hogo, near Mount Vernon Square, says the bar has several loggerheads and has been known to practice that traditional method during cold weather. (Please, don’t get me banned from Hogo by ordering this when they’re three deep at the bar.)
Flips have come to be defined by eggs, though the Colonial version didn’t always contain them. Hogo’s flip incorporated 3 Star Brewery’s chocolaty Pandemic Porter and rum, no eggs — but that wasn’t out of fear of putting people off, Paulson says.
“People who walk into a bar and ask for a pisco sour know exactly what they’re asking for,” she says. “If someone’s gotten sick, you can see their concern, but most people who order egg drinks are looking for that consistency, that frothiness, that rich texture.” She notes that Hogo sold out of eggnog at the holidays and had to make more to keep up with demand.
Still, when I queried the consumer chat at FoodSafety.gov, the first response to my question about how to reduce salmonella risk when eating raw eggs was, “Firstly, always cook eggs until firm.”
The American Egg Board’s Elisa Maloberti was no more encouraging. “We do not recommend the consumption of raw eggs,” she said firmly. Nor, she said — crushing my hopes — are they aware of research that shows alcohol kills salmonella. (A small 2002 study did indicate that drinking alcohol had a protective effect on people exposed to salmonella; the effects were greatest for those who drank the most. I’m happy to report a health benefit for boozers, but take such invitations to binge with a grain of taxi ride.)
When Maloberti suggested cooking the egg at a low temperature with the nonalcoholic components of the cocktail, I envisioned wisps of poached egg floating in my amaro. I began to grow despondent.
Finally, Maloberti suggested pasteurized eggs. I saw light at the end of the tunnel, so I bought some to make Bookless’s flip. But here, again, I was disappointed: Pasteurization noticeably thickens a raw egg’s texture, and even after intense shaking — Bookless says people should shake an egg cocktail as long as they think they should, then shake it three times as long — the egg wasn’t fully emulsified. Strands of white and little dribs of yolk clung to my strainer, looking slightly cooked, and the drink had a faint, unpleasant aftertaste.
Where does that leave a drinker who wants to ova-indulge? I can’t answer that for you: How would you have dealt with the chicha de jora situation?
Me, I’m not planning to tempt fate by drinking eggy cocktails regularly, and I wouldn’t order one if I saw the bartender scratching himself. But occasionally, when I can make a flip or fizz with a fresh, clean, refrigerated egg, from a hen I know has been treated well and will (I hope) return the favor? I won’t chicken out.
Allan is a Takoma Park writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter: @Carrie_the_Red.