My friend Rebecca left a voice mail this week asking how long eggs and butter can stay out of the refrigerator before they go bad. I get calls like that a lot. Usually, I can help, but the hard ones are from friends entertaining at a restaurant, when they’ve been handed the wine list and they’re calling, panicked, from a restroom. (I can always tell — that tile echo is unmistakable.) They don’t know what to order, and I understand the pressure. They don’t want to appear unknowledgeable or cheap.
Wine lists can be many pages long and overwhelming–I know a lot about wine, but compared with the amount of information about varietals, vintages, wine producers, regions, etc., I know a mere smidgen. Anyway, I can usually navigate a wine list, but muddling through what everyone wants to drink can be difficult, on top of trying to match the cuisine being served. One person orders a soup with a lot of cream and a main course of spicy meat. Another starts with an artichoke-laden salad followed by lamb.
Try asking the person serving you how well he or she knows the wine list, and get recommendations. If you’re still sweating like Nixon, ask to speak to the sommelier and express your needs. That’s his or her job: to maintain the wine list and to get you what you want at a price that makes sense to you. No shame in that, I promise. And may that be the worst thing that happens to you this week!
Anyway, I got back to Rebecca and it turns out, lovely person that she is, that she wanted to make cookies for her new neighbors. She took the butter and eggs out and put them on the counter. A combination of kids, phone calls, work, car pools, grocery shopping, text messages, pets, snow, sun, hockey, and basketball intervened, and those eggs and butter stayed on the counter for 10 days. “I had good intentions, but I don’t want to poison the new neighbors,” she laughed. And being a frugal New Englander, she wasn’t quite willing to throw the ingredients away.
Here’s the deal. Most supermarket eggs can stay out of the refrigerator for a few hours, depending on the temperature of your home, but you must store them in a cool (40 degrees) fridge. They should last 4 to 5 weeks in the fridge, depending on when they were delivered to your market. If you buy fresh eggs from a farm, you can keep them out on the counter for a good week, assuming that your kitchen temperature is in the 70s. Farm eggs aren’t scrubbed the same way supermarket eggs are, and the shell’s natural protective coating is still there. It prevents air, bacteria, and just about anything else from passing through the shell, thus keeping fresh eggs … well … fresh. But whether it’s from a basket on your counter or the container in your fridge, if an egg looks or smell odd for any reason, don’t use it. It’s better to err on the side of safety, especially with eggs.
As for the butter, smell and appearance are the giveaways. My parents to this day don’t refrigerate their butter. Occasionally they lose a stick, because they don’t use it fast enough. If the butter separates, curdles, or smells “off,” move on. Despite what my parents do, I strongly suggest not leaving butter out in the summer. Salted butter, by the way, will last longer out of the fridge than unsalted; the salt acts as a preservative. The refrigerator will certainly keep your butter fresher longer. Be sure to keep it well-sealed, as it’s really good at picking up refrigerator odors.