Very few chefs have paid as much attention to chickens and eggs than Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. He discovered in Italy the wonders of the unlaid and sometimes undeveloped eggs produced by older hens, which he called “embryonic” but had to change the name to “immature” to help customers get over the idea. He has explored the relationship between pastured chickens and the soil and the best time of the year to butcher a chicken.
Last week Barber of released this series of photos on his Instagram of eggs with red yolks. They weren’t dyed in the kitchen. The eggs were naturally laid from barnyard normal hens. His secret? Feeding the chickens high-carotenoid red peppers:
A photo posted by Dan Barber (@chefdanbarber) on
Barber spoke of the process with researcher Michael Mazourek during Season 1 Episode 2 of Chef’s Table on Netflix (at the 39-minute mark), where he visited the Vegetable Research Farm at at Cornell University.
“We came up with the idea of pureeing these peppers and feeding them to chickens,” he said. “Mike wanted to breed us a pepper that could have a concentrate that the diet for the chicken would allow for the yoke to be truly a red egg yolk.”
Mazourek explains that they have about ten times the red pigment than a normal red pepper. Barber states that chefs have the opportunity to get people to think not only about what they’re eating, but what they’re eating is eating. He then asks Mazourek why they should waste a perfectly good red pepper on a chicken instead of feeding it to people?
Peppers evolved to being eaten by birds. In general, birds have far fewer taste buds per millimeter of their tongue than humans do, and thus cannot taste the heat of the peppers. Eating them is part of the natural system.
Barber’s red yolked eggs are often served to diners at Blue Hill at Stone Barns with the story of a farmer who notice his hens feeding on a red peppers and then laying eggs with red yolks. The eggs are served with everything those particular chickens ate: red peppers, rye grains, herbs, onions, garlic scapes, corn, and blueberries.