Some facts about eggs: Your basic supermarket chicken egg contains nearly every nutrient known to be essential to humans. An average-sized egg tops out at about seventy calories. The egg is considered to be such an effi cient source of protein that it’s the standard by which the protein quality of other foods is measured. Yep, eggs are good for you.1 Plus, they’re yummy. That’s why the ability to cook an egg is one of the most essential skills of adulthood. Sure, you could let others know you’re at home in the kitchen by saying something like “Port du Salut makes a fi ne dessert cheese,” but that’s not nearly as cool as asking someone, “How do you like your eggs?” and then cooking them up to order.
Here’s how to do it.
Start off with really fresh eggs, which will hold the best shape (shape being a main concern in frying a good egg, because everyone knows a lopsided egg doesn’t taste nearly as good as a lovely, concentrically yolked one).2 Heat up a nonstick skillet. If you only have a regular skillet, grease it with a small amount of margarine or cooking oil, remembering that this will likely add fat or calories. When the skillet is hot enough to sizzle a drop of water, it’s ready.
Break your eggs, one at a time, into the skillet. Some people prefer to break their eggs onto a saucer, then slip each egg off into the skillet from the saucer. This method is overly cautious and borderline anal-retentive. But to each his own.
Once the eggs hit the skillet, reduce heat to low. Cook the eggs slowly until the whites set and the yolks begin to thicken. For eggs sunny-side up, stop here. (Keep in mind that eggs prepared this way often are not fully cooked.)
For eggs over-easy or, my favorite, over-medium, you’ll have to cook the other side by gently flipping it with a nonstick spatula. Doing this without breaking the yolk can be the trickiest part of the process. It takes practice, dedication, and nerves of steel. And a really wide spatula, if you can find one. If you have trouble with the egg flip, you can cook the top side by spooning a little water or melted butter onto the egg, then covering with a lid. Just don’t tell anyone you had to resort to the sissy method.
Season as desired.
Any fool can scramble an egg, right? Sure. But haven’t we all had scrambled eggs that were dry, rubbery, and barely edible? There are scrambled eggs, and then there are good scrambled eggs. Here’s how to make the latter.
First, break the eggs into a small bowl and use a fork or wire whisk to preblend the yolks and whites. Some choose to add a little milk at this point, for extra creamy eggs. Others may add a little water or melted butter. Some recommend adding salt at this stage, while others insist this makes the eggs rubbery and you shouldn’t season food until it’s on your plate. It’s quite the controversy.
Preheat a nonstick skillet or saucepan at medium heat (or grease a regular skillet). Pour the egg mixture in, and then turn the heat down a little more. This is the secret to good scrambled eggs—low heat. If you allow the eggs to cook too fast or too much, you get the culinary equivalent of yellow packing peanuts. Using a wooden fork, spoon, or rubber spatula, stir all around the saucy eggs. Don’t let the mixture sit long enough to crispify on the edge of the skillet.
Don’t, don’t, don’t turn the heat up. Just keep on stirring. Once most—but not all—of the eggs move from a creamy state to a solid, turn off the heat (the eggs should still be a little shiny and very slightly underdone). Remove the skillet from the heat source, but keep scrambling until everything finishes cooking away from the heat. Serve immediately. The mistake many people make is to stir the eggs over heat until done. Then they turn off the burner, and the eggs continue to cook in the still-hot skillet. Silly people. Their eggs end up dry, overcooked, and chewy.
For kicks, melt cheese over your scrambled eggs. Or sprinkle on some chives. Or blanket them with a warm tortilla.
Here’s where you begin to enter the egg elite, as a well-poached egg is becoming a lost art. Start with fresh, refrigerator-cooled Grade AA eggs, which best allow the whites to gather neatly around the yolks.
Fill a medium-sized frying pan with a layer of water—two to three inches is ideal. Heat the pan to boiling, then reduce the heat as low as possible while keeping the water at a simmer. Expert’s secret: Add a little vinegar and salt to the water at this point, which will help the eggs retain their shape. Break the eggs into a saucer, then dip the edge of the saucer into the water, sliding the eggs out to cook (you can probably pull off five eggs at a time, six if you’re really heroic). Let ’em cook uncovered until the whites firm up. This takes between three and five minutes, depending on how solid you like your yolks.
Remove the eggs with a spatula or slotted spoon. Drain the eggs on a paper towel before serving. Try poached eggs on toast or a biscuit. For Eggs Benedict, combine them with an English muffin, ham or bacon, and hollandaise sauce. Bask in your superiority.
For a two- or three-egg omelet, start by hand-blending the eggs in a separate bowl with a tablespoon of water. Experts recommend using a fork for this, so as not to over-blend. Add a little grated cheese to the mix.
The most important next step is to use the right-sized pan. Six to eight inches is ideal. If your skillet is too large, it won’t hold the heat as well, resulting in a tough omelet. And a small skillet makes the omelet hard to fold.
Swirl a tablespoon of butter over the surface of the pan until it stops foaming. Then, turn up the heat and pour in the egg mixture.
Tilt and rock the pan so the eggs cover its entire surface. Leave everything in place for five full seconds, then push the cooked mixture to the center with a spatula. Tilt the pan and allow the uncooked part to flow back into its place at the bottom of the pan. Keep doing this until the omelet is slightly browned on the bottom and soft and moist in the center.
Add grated cheese and any other ingredients now by spooning them across the center of the omelet. Tilt the pan again and, with the spatula, fold one-third of the omelet over the center filling. Holding a serving plate in the other hand, tip the omelet onto the plate; the final fold will occur as it rolls onto the plate. Remember, as with scrambled eggs, the omelet will continue to “cook itself” due to its internal heat, so serve immediately.
HARD-COOKED (HARD-BOILED) EGGS
The easiest egg-cooking option. Place your eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water (enough to cover the eggs by at least one inch). Rapidly bring the water to a boil, then cover the pan and remove from heat. Let stand. After fifteen minutes or so, cool the eggs down by first draining the hot water and then running cold water over them. Crack and eat. Decorate them for Easter. Make egg salad. Juggle. Balance them on one end during the vernal equinox. The possibilities are endless.
A moderate serving of eggs is nutritious, delicious, and, when cooked properly, quite impressive. My dad can fry an egg over a mountain campfire in frigid weather using a rusty pocketknife, some squeeze butter and a Boy Scouts of America mess kit (circa 1964). If he can do that, then you can certainly cook a good egg in the modern convenience and comfort of your home. So get crackin’.
1. In recent decades, the egg has suffered from some bad nutritional press, mainly a result of people getting all worked up over high cholesterol. This is not necessarily because eggs are an extremely high source of cholesterol, but because a breakfast of eggs usually also includes bacon and/or sausage and/or fatty biscuits and/or a whole lot of grease. It’s cholesterol by association. But don’t worry. You can eat two or three eggs per week without, say, clogging up an artery or something.
2. Grade AA eggs are the best for keeping their shape when you release them from their shells. They have thicker albumen (the white stuff) and firm yolks and are therefore ideal for frying. If you ask an egg what he wants to be when he grows up, he’ll say, “Grade AA.” At which point you’ll want to seek psychological attention because, let’s face it, you’re asking questions of your eggs and, even worse, getting answers.