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Once Upon a Time There Was an Egg...

What’s in an egg? Besides its culinary versatility, the French œuf (egg) has some unique spelling and pronunciation features. Let’s discover its special characteristics and then take it into the kitchen to explore some egg-related vocabulary.


First, let’s explore the unique spelling feature of the noun œuf. A few common words have this special character œ, like le cœur (heart), la sœur (sister), l'œuvre (work), and le bœuf (ox):


Qui vole un œuf vole un bœuf.

He who steals an egg steals an ox (give someone an inch and they'll take a mile; once a thief, always a thief).


Let’s look at another example featuring the word œuf in Patricia’s fairy tale video, “Le vilain petit canard” (The Ugly Duckling):


Le septième œuf, le plus gros de tous n'avait toujours pas éclos.

The seventh egg, the largest of all, had not yet hatched.

Caption 10, Contes de fées Le vilain petit canard - Part 1

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Not only does the word œuf contain a special character, but it also has an irregular pronunciation in the plural form, des œufs (eggs), even though the spelling is perfectly regular. Indeed, while un œuf (an egg) rhymes with neuf (nine), des œufs (eggs) rhymes with feu (fire). Listen carefully to Lionel’s pronunciation of œuf versus œufs in his video on madeleine-making:


Ici devant moi, nous avons un œuf, o, e, u, f, mais également des œufs, le pluriel: des œufs.

Here in front of me, we have un œuf [an egg], o, e, u, f, but also des œufs, the plural: some eggs.

Captions 19-22, Lionel L'usine de madeleines de Liverdun - Part 1

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The letter œ is an example of a ligature, a character composed of two letters joined together. In French, œ is commonly called e dans l'o ("e in the o"), which is actually a pun, as it sounds like œufs dans l'eau (eggs in the water)!


Speaking of eggs in water, let’s proceed to the kitchen. As you know, there are many ways to cook an egg, but first you should know how to tell un œuf cru (a raw egg) from un œuf dur (a hard-boiled egg):


Est-ce que vous savez comment reconnaître un œuf cru d'un œuf dur ?

Do you know how to tell a raw egg from a hard-boiled egg?


Once you’ve established that your egg is cru (raw) and not dur (hard-boiled), you may want to prepare un œuf mollet (a soft-boiled egg). Not to be confused with the anatomical term le mollet (the calf), mollet here is a variant of the adjective molle (soft). Un œuf mollet (a soft-boiled egg) is often served in the country salad described below:


Nous avons une salade de lentilles avec un œuf mollet et une vinaigrette au lard paysan.

We have a lentil salad with a soft-boiled egg and a vinaigrette with country bacon.

Caption 7, Alsace 20 Grain de Sel: Au Caveau de l'étable à Niederbronn-les-Bains

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If un œuf mollet is not to your taste, you could try un œuf poché (a poached egg). The restaurant Le Relais de la Poste in Alsace has a delicious version of this on their menu:


Laurent Huguet du Relais de la Poste, lui accommode un œuf poché aux asperges avec un petit riesling.

Laurent Huguet of the Relais de la Poste, he prepares a poached egg with asparagus with a little Riesling.

Captions 22-23, Alsace 20 100 recettes pour 100 vins

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Another alternative is un œuf au plat (a fried egg, literally "an egg on the plate"), which can make a nice addition to a traditional savory French crêpe:


Tu peux faire une crêpe complète avec jambon, fromage, et en plus tu rajoutes un œuf au plat par-dessus.

You can make a complete crêpe with ham, cheese, and in addition you add a fried egg to the dish on top.

Captions 44-46, Claude et Zette Les crêpes bretonnes

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You can also make œufs Bénédicte, or a simple omelette. In their video, Elisa and Mashal discuss what mouth-watering egg dishes they would like for breakfast:


Des œufs Bénédicte ou sinon je te fais des œufs... un... une omelette.

Eggs Benedict, or otherwise I'll make you eggs... a... an omelette.

Caption 82, Elisa et Mashal Petit-déjeuner

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Les œufs are also an essential baking ingredient that you can crack into your mixture. In French, though, we don’t say craquer (to crack) but rather casser les œufs (break the eggs). In his madeleine video, Lionel asks about the art of casser des œufs:


Donc là ben, on va commencer par casser des œufs entiers.

So, here, well, we're going to start by cracking some whole eggs.

Caption 36, Lionel L'usine de madeleines de Liverdun - Part 1

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Here is another culinary technique: fouetter/battre les blancs en neige (to beat the egg whites until stiff; literally, "beat the whites into snow"). This is exactly what is required to make a chocolate-rolled Christmas log:


Vous fouettez les blancs en neige

You beat the egg whites until stiff

Caption 44, Il était une fois la pâtisserie Bûche de Noël

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If le blanc is "the egg white" in French, can you guess what "the yolk" is? That's right, le jaune (literally, "the yellow")! 


As you can see, there is more than one way to frire un œuf (fry an egg). Whichever way you choose to cook des œufs, be sure to use the correct pronunciation. Feel free to draw inspiration from our many Yabla cooking videos on how to prepare your eggs, and you will increase your kitchen vocabulary in the process.


Happy cooking!


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