The nanny state vs. egg drinks

The NYT explains the recent egg controversy at the excellent Pegu Club:

Nevertheless, on that fateful evening, an inspector from the New York City Department of Health cited Pegu Club, at 77 West Houston Street in SoHo, for serving the MarTEAni without telling the customer who ordered it that it contained raw egg. The notice said it was a serious infraction that required a court appearance.

Raw eggs are among the ingredients most fervently embraced by cocktail revivalists who have sought out new techniques and circled back to classic recipes. And the MarTEAni is a signature drink at a bar that is seen as a paragon of the new cocktailians.

Serving raw eggs in drinks is, thankfully, not illegal. You just have to tell customers that the drink contains them. A simple note on the menu serves as adequate warning. Unless a customer orders without looking at the menu:

The inspector reported that the customer who asked for the MarTEAni didn’t order it from the menu and that the bartender didn’t mention raw eggs were in it. But the bartender on the night of the inspection, Kenta Goto, said that no MarTEAnis were served while the inspector was present. The inspector who signed the violation sheet, Nathalie Louissaint, could not be reached for comment.

This puts a ridiculous burden on bartenders. How is one supposed to know if a customer has looked at the menu? If a regular comes in and orders the drink, must one warn him of the eggs every time in case a city inspector is watching? Rather than take these chances Pegu Club has taken the drink off the list, a loss to craft cocktail drinkers in the city.

As with many food dishes, raw eggs play an important role in giving cocktails texture. Sensitive buyers should beware and avoid egg drinks if they’re worried, just as they would avoid housemade mayonnaise or other products. For the rest of us a simple menu disclaimer should suffice.

If you’d like to try the drink in question, the recipe is here. Be sure to warn yourself about the raw egg before proceeding.


7 thoughts on “The nanny state vs. egg drinks”

  1. This has nothing to do with whether the government should be writing drink recipes, but…

    Adding a raw egg white doesn’t do much that adding a pasteurized egg white, or egg white powder can’t do. I’m aware that many recipes, both modern and traditional, are written for raw egg whites, but they are easily converted to use pasteurized or powdered. The primary reason for the whites is the role their proteins play in stabilizing the bubbles and foam created when shaking, right? But they don’t even do as good a job of this as many other ingredients (soy lecithin, or xanthan + versawhip). Obviously the raw whites alter the drinks in other, more subtle ways (diluting slightly due to the water in the whites, slightly inhibiting flavor release of other ingredients, adding some viscosity, etc.), but if what you want is the foaming, you can certainly accomplish it without running afoul of the DPH.

  2. “If a regular comes in and orders the drink, must one warn him of the eggs every time in case a city inspector is watching?”
    The NYC code also stipulates that raw eggs can be served if “requested by the customer.” Whatever that means. Wouldn’t a regular be inherently requesting raw egg in their cocktail if they requested the drink?

    Would a DOH-acceptable “customer request” be please sir, may I have the marTEAni and please include raw eggs in that? And would any establishment worried about the potential responsibility, infractions or fines actually accommodate?

  3. @Barzelay: Audrey addresses this in the article, saying, “Pasteurized eggs impart this really funky wet-diaper nose.” I’ve yet to verify this myself – time for a blind tasting! — but she’s a credible source. I also suspect that using local, organic eggs is a selling point, regardless of whether there’s a scientific reason to prefer them in a cocktail.

    @Alison: I don’t know the details, but I hope they’re still serving egg drinks to customers who request them. Unfortunately new customers may miss out on this delicious class of cocktails.

  4. Personally, I don’t get the wet diaper thing. I use in shell pasteurized eggs in my cocktails all the time. Local and organic don’t mean free from pathogens. Unfortunately, bacteria just don’t operate that way. After a considerable amount of research, I felt this was the best option for me.

  5. So has there been any research about the alcohol killing any bacteria that might be in the egg. The whole point of spirits and wine in the first place was to make water drinkable, wouldn’t the same principle apply here?

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