When I was little, one of the first “tricks” my father, a New York City high school physics teacher, showed me was how to tell if an egg was uncooked or hard-boiled after he got me to reluctantly admit that I couldn’t tell by looking at them.

He brought me close to our kitchen table and said, “Watch!” while he spun the two eggs.

To my 5-year-old eyes, it was magic to see one egg spinning wildly (the hard-boiled one), while the other made one or two sluggish turns in the same time.

Thus, my lifelong interest in food and food science commenced.

Egg’s versatility

Many years have transpired, and although I understand scientifically that it’s the coagulated proteins in the whites of the egg that enable the egg to spin rapidly, I’m much more awed by the incredible culinary versatility of the egg itself.

Perhaps because eggs are so abundant and familiar, we forget just how nutritious and versatile they are. Just two eggs provide 25 percent of the adult recommended daily protein with 160 calories.

They can be scrambled, poached, fried, roasted, boiled or combined with other ingredients to create entirely new foods. Beat them with cream and herbs and they create a savory quiche filling; add some sugar and you’ve got sweet custard.

Separate the whites from the yolks and now there are two different ingredients to use. Whip the whites and fold into a sweet or savory base for the ultimate dish in French cuisine: the soufflé.

Or whip with sugar and bake for a crispy meringue. Whip, add sugar and flour for an angel food cake. And on and on.

From insult to injury (of the egg)
The innocent egg has been part of the greatest culinary insult a person can throw: “He can’t even boil an egg.” I’m here to tell you that making a perfectly cooked hard-boiled egg isn’t that easy.

I’ve made thousands of hard- and soft-boiled eggs in my 31 years as a restaurateur, and I’m often amazed as to why some eggs will peel easily and quickly while other shells peel off in tiny torturous flakes.

This generally has to do with the age of an egg: Fresher eggs have the white adhering more tightly to the shell, so use a 3- or 4-day-old egg for boiling to make the peeling easier.

Place room-temperature eggs in water that is slightly below boiling to prevent the eggs from banging into one another and cracking the shells. And after about eight minutes of simmering, thrust the eggs under cold water and peel immediately.

Whip it up
Another seemingly simple but elusive technique is that of whipping egg whites to the degree of perfection required in a recipe.

Having grown up with mechanical kitchen devices, I almost always opt for using a food processor, blender or electric mixer when I can. However, when it comes to whipping egg whites, there’s nothing like a very large balloon whisk and a stainless-steel bowl.

Contrary to logic, I can whip egg whites faster by hand to the perfect consistency in a couple of minutes than with an electric mixer, as long as the whisk is large.

The best bowl to use is made of copper, which can be difficult to find in this country and is expensive, so I use a stainless-steel bowl that is very clean and very dry.

Eggs should be at room temperature and very carefully separated so that none of the yolks get in with the whites. The tiniest speck of yolk will prevent the whites from mounting.

I crack the eggs into my hand, using my slightly spread fingers to hold back the yolk and let the white run through into the bowl.

If you see that the yolk has broken when you crack the egg, immediately toss the whole thing into another dish and save the egg for another use.

Begin by whisking slowly to get air trapped into the mix, then increase your speed of whisking. Adding a tiny pinch of cream of tartar shortly after beginning to whisk will keep the whipped whites stable and not leak liquid.

In all cases, use the whipped whites immediately.

Recipes to share

Here are two egg recipes that demonstrate the versatility of the egg. The first is for Cheese and Cream Baked Eggs, a la Madison Park Café; the other is for a very simple chocolate soufflé that gets rave reviews.

KAREN BINDER owns Madison Park Café.