A few years back, I was talking with my friend and then-neighbor Chris Birch about eggs. Ok, that might be an odd subject to talk about, guys hanging out, drinking a couple of beers and what are we talking about? Eggs. But it makes sense, really. You just need the background to set the scene.
Chris is a professional chef in England who cooked a variety of places, classically trained, a good food guy all around. His job at the time was working for a company that sold professional ranges to restaurant kitchens and other mass preparation operations. Serious gear indeed, one of these days I’d love to have one in my kitchen. My way of smacking a fly with a sledgehammer, total overkill. But what Chris did primarily was travel around and demo the product by cooking a meal on the equipment, demonstrating ease of use, versatility, all those selling points. One day Chris tells me that he has been selected by the company for the dubious honor of planning a meal for a business conference. The attendees? Chefs, each and every one…
So, what I ask, does a chef cook for other chefs? It obviously can’t be half-assed, can’t be too pretentious, has to be producible in mass quantities to feed the whole group and overall, has to be good. This being in England, I should have hit on the obvious answer. Chris tells me the team is going to make a full English Breakfast to serve to this collection of chefs. I’m sure he was nervous at the idea of it , there is only two ways that can go, total praise or total disdain. So, eggs, perfectly cooked, the best ham, the freshest produce, good bread, the best of the best goes into the planning. Not only did Chris pull off a successful meal but he sparked a notion in me.
I like eggs. Quite a bit. But, as with everything, there is a right and a wrong way to cook an egg. We all have our preferences but I like them over easy, yolk warm but not even thinking of solidifying… a little salt and pepper and on the plate with a slice of white bread for yolk-dipping. Immediately after hearing about the meal Chris was preparing, I decided. I would cook the perfect egg for myself.
Ok, when it comes down to it, cooking an egg is simple right? Well, maybe it’s the perfectionist in me but I disagree. You can cook a pretty good egg most of the time. Hell, you can go to your local IHOP or Denny’s and get a pretty good egg. But I wasn’t after a pretty good egg. I wanted the egg that was perfect for me.
There are a few variables under your control when cooking eggs. The type of pan used. The cooking medium. The heat applied. The time the egg cooks. I started working with all these in a search for the perfect egg. Every weekend, I would set out my materials and work with it until finally one day I got it right.
I use a griddle to cook my eggs. The flat surface and low lip around the pan make for a really consistent cooking area and allow easy access for turning. After experimentation with different techniques, trying the Italian method of almost deep frying it in a thin layer of olive oil, the traditional method of cooking bacon and using the leftover fat as your medium, even trying dry pan cooking (not suggested), I hit upon the one medium that works for me. A couple spritzes of butter spray and that’s all you need. The heat was the most difficult variable to master. Too hot and the sugars in the egg white caramelize, giving you that crispy egg that is so common to greasy spoons everywhere. Too cool and the egg sets too slowly, missing out on the actually “fried” aspect. Every stove is different but I found that one mine, a medium low temperature (4 on this crappy electric stove I’m stuck with) is the perfect compromise, hot enough to fry without scorching. The time is subjective. I’ve found the only way to accurately know when its time to flip an egg is by watching how it reacts. For me, the egg is ready to flip when the edges start to pull away slightly from the surface of the pan. The egg white in the center around the yolk should still be translucent. I sprinkle a dash of salt and pepper and then flip. This is also a good time to start your toast, light brown perfect for dipping takes about the right time for the flipped egg to finish cooking.
And there it is. I had perfected the over easy egg to my tastes, a simple dish with so many poor variations that it really pops when you get it right. After my lengthy attempts and finally success, there I was, talking with Chris, drinking a beer, on the subject of eggs…
His response… “well mate, that’s great… the real trick is scrambled though.”