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The Other Half Of The Egg

There are two different kinds of people in the world: those who use up egg yolks, and those who use up egg whites. I'm a yolks kind of girl. I go through yolks a half-dozen at a time for ice cream and creme brulee; I sometimes make fresh pasta dough, and I often brush my breads with an egg yolk wash. I often end up using even more for Easter's egg breads and custards, which are basically yolk-eating machines.

Above all, I like my egg whites combined with nuts. You can use them to hold a spice coat on pecans. You can mix them with ground almonds to make the buttery yet airy cakes known as financiers. You can toss them with grated coconut to make macaroons.

In addition to being the kind of person who uses up egg yolks, I am the kind of person who cannot comfortably wash the other half of an egg down the drain. I store the egg whites in a jam jar, which I keep in the freezer. You can store almost a dozen egg whites in the kind of jam jar I use, but even so, after a couple of months, I have three or four jam jars of egg whites, and the freezer is starting to run out of room for frozen vegetables and meat. Egg whites stay good frozen practically forever, which, in a crowded freezer, is a virtue that rapidly turns into a fault.

It being out of the question to simply throw them out, I have over the years acquired a collection of egg white-disposal recipes.

If you know your Eggs 101, you know that yolks and whites have very different properties (and I don't just mean from the cholesterol worldview, in which yolks are evil and whites saintly). Yolks are moistening and thickening, and they give baked goods a glossy golden finish. Whites are leavening and drying, and they coat food with a crackly sheen. Therefore, whites are miracle workers when you want a high, light confection from the oven.

Without a doubt, the fastest way to use up most of your egg whites at once is to bake an angel food cake. You can do away with a dozen egg whites in one go, and then you're free to go make as much ice cream as you want. But personally, I don't really like angel food cake. I eat it once a year during strawberry season, and that's enough. Probably the next most efficient way to use up egg whites is to make royal icing (the type used for gingerbread). But you can't eat royal icing all by itself — that is to say, you can, but I wouldn't recommend it.

The recipes I've included here are a few of my favorites. Above all, I like my egg whites combined with nuts. You can use them to hold a spice coat on pecans. You can mix them with ground almonds to make the buttery yet airy cakes known as financiers. You can toss them with grated coconut to make macaroons.

And if you've maxed out your sweet tooth, there are plenty of savory applications for egg whites, starting with the virtuous egg white omelet, but certainly not ending there. I always feel especially sly when I use egg whites in a stir-fry — you can toss chicken or pork in egg whites to achieve the silken yet sauce-trapping "velvet" texture so prized in Chinese cuisine.

"But wait," you say, "I detect a problem: Egg whites normally come pre-measured, as in '1 egg white' or '2 egg whites.' How am I supposed to know how much to use if I'm dipping them out of a jam jar in a slurpy mass?" No problem. One large egg white equals 1 fluid ounce, or 2 tablespoons. If you have a measuring cup or measuring spoons, you're all set.

"But wait again," you say. "How am I supposed to thaw a rock-hard 12-ounce chunk of egg white ice for my recipe?" Well, the best way is to take it out of the freezer and thaw it in your fridge overnight, or on a kitchen counter overnight if it's not too warm out. If you haven't planned that far ahead, you can put it in your microwave on its absolute lowest setting and run it for 5 to 10 minutes, to the point where about half the whites are thawed. (Don't try to thaw the whites completely in a microwave, or you'll end up cooking some — and scraping cooked egg white out of the bottom of a jam jar is no party, believe me.) Once the whites are thawed, you have three days to use them safely.

There are other things you can do with whites, such as clarifying soup stock with them or crystallizing violets. You can make crispy meringues, delicate tuiles and voluminous popovers (though you'll need a whole egg or two as well for those). If you worship at the altar of cake, you can make Italian buttercream as well as royal icing. You can make a low-fat egg white batter and then dip something in it and deep-fry it (so much for low-fat).

As a matter of fact, egg whites are so useful you may eventually find yourself with the opposite problem: a surplus of yolks, which do not freeze as nicely and do not last as long. If you're not in the mood to make ice cream, my best advice for you is to mix the yolks with some rum and shampoo your hair — messy, but rejuvenating. Plus, it makes you smell like zabaglione. Now, all we need is a way to use up the shells.

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T. Susan Chang
T. Susan Chang regularly writes about food and reviews cookbooks for The Boston Globe, and the Washington Post. She's the author of A Spoonful of Promises: Recipes and Stories From a Well-Tempered Table (2011). She lives in western Massachusetts, where she also teaches food writing at Bay Path College and Smith College. She blogs at Cookbooks for Dinner.