The era immediately before Prohibition is chronicled by countless historians as a turning point in cocktail creativity–many of America’s most famous alcoholic drinks, such as the margarita, were originated during this time. Various unorthodox ingredients were used, and an unlikely one became quite popular: raw egg. Many popular cocktails of the time–pisco sours, a myriad of fizzes and flips, and seasonal drinks–featured raw egg white.
Lately, eggs have enjoyed a return to glory, especially in trendier cities such as New York and Los Angeles. Cocktail revivalists have reinvigorated timeless drink recipes, adding old classics like the Ramos gin fizz to new bar menus.
Although many people are turned off by the thought of raw egg in their drinks, experts contend that egg whites do wonders for the both the taste and appearance of cocktails. According to “A Companion for the Young Imbiber”, egg whites act as an emulsifier, forging the independent ingredients together. When an egg is shaken with a cocktail the proteins become physically agitated and then recollect near air, drastically changing the texture of drinks and creating a foamy layer on top.
However, the resurgence of eggs as a cocktail ingredient has been met with stiff resistance from governmental food agencies. The Pegu Club, a high-end cocktail hangout in Manhattan, was recently hit with an infraction serious enough to warrant a court appearance.
The New York City Health Department cited the club for serving its special Earl Gray MarTEAni, a drink containing raw egg white, without telling the customer who ordered it that it contained raw egg.
Widespread impressions of raw eggs are that they contain Salmonella. The American Egg Board, though, suggests otherwise. Only one in every 20,000 eggs contains Salmonella, its website says, and the Salmonella bacteria take three to five weeks to develop.
As a result, many restaurants and bars have protested the citation and the lengths the government has gone to in an order to protect the public from itself.
“I was really shocked that the Department of Health was coming down on the bar like that,” Joseph Schwartz, owner of a speak-easy style lounge in Greenwich, told the New York Times. “Imagine telling Parisians that they can’t have raw egg in their food? There would be rioting in the streets.”
As an alternative, health officials have promoted the use of pasteurized eggs, which has not resonated well with bar owners.
“Pasteurized eggs impart this really funky wet-diaper nose,” said Audrey Saunders, an owner of Pegu Club. “The raw egg white adds an ethereal mouth feel, much like a foamy mousse – the raw egg white has the ability to aerate into a much greater volume than pasteurized could.”
Elliott S. Marcus, an associate health commissioner, clarified the city’s health regulations, saying the use of raw eggs in New York is not illegal and there is no pointed cocktail crackdown.
“Shell eggs or foods containing shell eggs must be heated to 145 degrees or greater for 15 seconds, unless an individual consumer requests a preparation with raw egg,” he said. “The bartender has to make a positive, affirmative statement if there is raw egg in the cocktail.”
If a customer orders off a menu that identifies raw egg, he said, that can also serve as notification. Much of the uproar around the citation arose from this detail, because the bar’s menu lists the MarTEAni’s ingredients as “Earl Grey-infused gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, raw egg white,” and states that “we take the greatest care in the storage of our organic eggs. Please note, however, that like sushi, the consumption of raw eggs can be hazardous.”
Although the no one has been sickened by the MarTEAni in its four year existence, Pegu is removing the drink from its menu. Many bars across New York, Pegu included, have voiced displeasure with the health department’s actions and policy, citing unfair treatment.
“They (restaurants) use raw egg in béarnaise sauce and steak tartare,” Ms. Saunders said. “Is it that they (chefs) are O.K., but bartenders don’t know what they’re doing?”