Feeling tired and run-down? Need a pick-me-up? Don’t reach for Red Bull or any other readymade energy drink. Make yourself some Coag.
Coag is a hot beverage made of milk and eggs, sweetened with sugar and spiced with freshly grated nutmeg and a splash or two of vanilla essence (or Brandy). According to my mom, this was something made and fed to women after they had given birth as a form of extra nutrition to “build up” their bodies. Coag was served either in the mornings or evenings for a period of time until the woman regained her “strength.”
While that may have been the original intention of this natural body builder (packed with calcium and protein), I remember Coag being made whenever anyone was sick, feeling weak, overworking or generally unwell (mostly adults). Coag was never made as a regular beverage, such as porridge. The making of Coag always signified (at least for me) that something was not right with someone and that they needed extra nourishment.
I cannot remember in which decade I last had some Coag. Actually, I hadn’t heard that name mentioned in such a long time until a few weeks ago while reading the comments to one of my columns on Stabroek News’ website. C A Griffith noted the peculiar offering of his “nephew” (Observer) with the addition of nutmeg to his swank. Griffith reserved his nutmeg for Coag. The only thing I recalled about Coag was that it was always frothy and highly fragrant with nutmeg. I made Coag for the first time, this week, in preparation for this column.
The nutritional value of Coag and its intended purposes reminds and re-emphasizes the importance of getting proper nutrition directly from our food and not always from a pill, tablet, can or readymade bottle. Foods such as Coag, bush teas, and specific types of soups provide healing and strengthening. It’s what many turn to when some modern medicine fails. It’s what our parents and grandparents grew up on; and look how strong they are/were; look how long they live/lived. I am saying all of this to say that there is value in food that goes way beyond satisfying a physiological need or even a pleasurable one. We live in a time where the current discourse about food is a call for a return to the basics. It’s about getting in touch with our roots (culture and heritage) and connecting with the environment (the land and sea). Making Coag or other such restorative food and beverage – Manish Water, Plantain Porridge, Fish Broth etc – is all of the above and more. We don’t always have to do away with the ole-time things for they are still of immeasurable value.
Coag is easy to make. Let me rephrase that. Coag is relatively easily to make. I say relatively because there is the issue of tempering, in the case of Coag, mixing hot milk with eggs so they become a silky creamy mixture without the eggs curdling. Crème anglaise (a light pouring custard used as a dessert cream made of sugar, egg yolks and hot milk) and ice cream custards require similar preparations such as Coag – the mixing of hot and cool ingredients.
The milk should be heated until hot but not boiling, try for between 180 to 190 degrees F. The eggs should ideally be at room temperature. I asked my mother how she went about mixing Coag back in the day. Her response was all about seeing and feeling – in other words, getting in touch with the food. Mommy said that she’d look at the milk and see when it had some tiny bubbles at the edges of the milk and knew it was hot enough. “So when you do add the egg?” I asked. She said that she’d let the milk cool down a little but it would still be hot and she tested this by feeling the side of the vessel in which she heated the milk. The egg, or eggs depending on how much Coag she was making, was beaten with a whisk until frothy and then gradually poured into the hot milk all the while whisking the ingredients together. Once the eggs were added, the Coag was done and ready for immediate drinking.
How does it taste? Heavenly. If you like eggnog or punch de crème then you will really enjoy Coag. And if you’re a fan of nutmeg ice cream, then you’ve got to try Coag. So the next time you are feeling a little worn, overworked, ill, or need a little pick-me-up, make some Coag. Find a comfortable chair and curl up or stretch out; lace your fingers around the warm cup and drink. Be careful, you might find yourself not removing the cup from your lips until it is empty. All gone in one drink.
2 cups whole milk
2 – 3 tablespoons sugar (depending on your taste)
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs, room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
1. Add milk, sugar and nutmeg to a pot, place on medium-low heat and stir to mix the ingredients and dissolve the sugar. Heat milk to 180 – 190 degrees F and remove from stove.
2. Crack eggs in a large bowl, add essence and whisk until frothy.
3. Using a ladle, slowly drizzle the hot milk into the eggs, one ladle at a time as you continue to whisk. The whisking must be continuous and vigorous until all the milk has been added to the mixture.
4. Pour into cups and serve immediately.
Start with 2 tablespoons of sugar and taste the milk as it is warming, if it is not to your level of sweetness, then add accordingly.
Do not be tempted to use an electrical mixer as you can overbeat the eggs.
Be sure to add the grated nutmeg to warm through with the milk and sugar, this will allow the spice to really bloom and meld with the other ingredients. If added after, it might be too intense and gritty.
Use freshly grated nutmeg and not something from a jar, the flavours are different.
You can use 1 teaspoon of your favourite Brandy instead of essence