What’s done cannot be undone.
~William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Eggs “up, sunny side up, with a skirt, basted, over easy, over light, flipped, dippy, runny, broken, over medium, stepped on, medium well, over hard, hard, done, over well, over cooked, nuked, dead“…an expectant diner’s heaven, but often a server’s and line cook’s hell. So many chefs and home cooks have dabbled with, have pondered and toiled over, have been bewildered and bullied by, and have sometimes finally mastered the divine fried egg.

The lipid of choice tends to set the stage whether unsalted butter, olive oil, canola oil, chicken fat, duck fat, goose fat, bacon fat or some other shared friend(s). But, the chosen mixes and methods for eggs, fat, heat, and timing tend to rule in the end.

While some consider them prosaic, when done right and softly savored, fried eggs are flat deific.

For me? Try frying one or two eggs at a time so your attention is focused on those brief moments that it takes to transform the critters. Melt a couple tablespoons of “fat” in a heavy, medium skillet over medium heat until it is gently foaming or just lightly shimmering. While the fat melts, crack fresh, local eggs into a glass cup or saucer then slide them into the foaming butter or shimmering oil. Cover with a clear domed lid and adjust the heat so that the butter does not brown, but is just hot enough that the white begins to set. Begin spooning the hot butter or oil over the eggs until the runny whites turn opaque and the yolks begin to set ever so slightly, but remain rather runny. (The white no longer clear and the yolk still loose.) Remove to a plate by simply sliding them out of the pan or use a slotted spatula. Season promptly with salt and pepper, and dine barefooted with a knowing smile.

Still, some disagree on the perfect technique. So because a fried eggs are rather personal by nature, a loosely wound decet (in no order of preference) follows.

FRIED EGG

1 fine egg, fresh and locally raised with a robust orangish yolk, at room temperature
Fat (unsalted butter, extra virgin olive or canola oil, poultry or pork fat)
Sea/kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbs, if desired

(1) In a small, nonstick skillet, melt unsalted butter over moderate heat. Add the egg and fry, turning once, until crisp around the edges, about 4 minutes total. The yolk should just begin to set, but still be in a runny state. Cook longer should you so desire. Remove to a plate with a slotted spatula or spoon and season with salt and pepper.

(2) Bring 1/4 cup of olive oil to medium high heat in a heavy, sided, smaller sauté pan. Tip the pan at a steep angle, so that the oil collects in a small bath, and slide the egg into the hot oil from a glass cup. Spoon the oil over the egg. After about 30 seconds or so of cooking, the egg white forms a protective coating around the yolk without becoming attached to it. Once the egg develops a golden hue from the oil, remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and season with salt only.

(3) In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium low heat. Meanwhile, crack the egg into a glass cup or saucer, and then add the egg and cook gently in the heated oil. Even consider cracking the egg into a cool pan, and allowing it to heat with the oil until soft and silky. Remove to a plate with a slotted spatula or spoon and season with salt and pepper.

(4) Crack the egg into a glass cup or saucer. Gently slip the egg into a well buttered medium, heavy pan which is on low heat. Fry the egg over low heat, with the butter allowed to foam rather than simply melt. Cover the pan for the duration of the cooking process, which results in a soft, but firm white, and a runny yolk. Remove to a plate with a slotted spatula or spoon and season with salt and pepper.

(5) Place a smaller, heavy nonstick frying pan over the lowest possible heat. Add unsalted butter and allow to slowly melt. When all the butter has melted but has yet to foam, swirl the pan to coat the skillet and then crack the egg into a small glass bowl or saucer. Gently slide the egg off the dish into the frying pan and cover with a lid. Continue cooking approximately 4-5 minutes until the egg white solidifies from transparency into snow white cream; the yolk will thicken slightly as it heats.

(6) Crack the egg into a glass cup or saucer and set aside. Heat unsalted butter in a heavy, smaller skillet over low heat. Once the butter has melted, but has yet begun to foam, swirl it around the pan to coat, then slide in the egg. Cover with a domed lid and cook until the white is set, about 3 1/2 minutes. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and season with salt and pepper.

(7) Heat unsalted butter in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. When foam subsides, reduce heat to low and break the egg into a glass cup or saucer. Slip in the egg and then add a sprinkling of water to the pan (not the eggs themselves). Cover and cook slowly until done. The steam will cook the whites over and around the yolks.

(8) Break the egg into a glass cup or saucer. Meanwhile, heat poultry fat (chicken, duck, or goose) in a heavy skillet over low heat. Once melted and before shimmering, slide in the egg. Cover with a lid and cook until the white is set, occasionally basting with the melted fat, about 3-4 minutes. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon or spatula and season with salt and pepper.

(9) Heat canola oil in a heavy, smaller skillet over medium heat. Meanwhile, crack the egg into a glass cup or saucer. Once the oil is hot, slide in the egg. As it cooks, spoon hot oil over the egg whites. Towards the end of cooking, carefully pour a couple of spoonfuls of oil over the yolks. Cook to desired doneness. Remove to a plate and serve.

(10) Put a few bacon strips in a skillet. Start with the heat at medium high, but as the bacon begins to cook, reduce it to medium so the bacon does not burn. Cook the bacon slowly until it is slightly crisped on one side and then turn to cook slowly on the other side. When the bacon is done, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined plate and tent loosely with foil. Allow the skillet to cool for several minutes before cooking the eggs. Pour off any excess bacon fat.

Break each egg into a small glass cup or saucer and then slip the egg into the warm bacon grease. Place the pan back over low heat and allow the eggs to cook slowly. When the egg whites begin to set, tip the pan and baste with some hot bacon fat to cook the yolks. Remove to a plate and serve.

It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.
~André Gide

A brief obit on courtship.

One sad day, Dating, a longtime mate who has been fighting an insidious illness for a decade, quietly passed almost overnight. Her closest friends whispered that the cause was cancerous by nature. She had been a tireless advocate of couplings for centuries, merging innumerable sometimes seemingly mismatched relationships, many who went on to be life long partners and others who did not quite reach that supposed paradigm. She encouraged couples to address each other directly, to communicate face à face, and openly share interests and intimacies without codes, pretenses, online personas or flat screens. Dating would not have countenanced a couple strolling through the park, engaged only by their screens and not one another, texting whomever else about whatever. With Dating, sensuous trysts steeped in droll wit, mutual charm, eager eyes, seductive words, and even homey sociability were urged. Ever exploring one anothers’ minds and bodies, exalting each other’s uniqueness, while bearing blemishes and flaws over time, became the standards. That was soulful sychronicity in full bloom.

While not fully expected, others subverted the rules of courtship rather recently, sadly causing Dating’s descent and demise. The disease process spread more rapidly than expected. What with texting, e-mails, social media, smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, online dating sites, and instant messages, Dating stood little chance in her later years. Narcissitic texters, bizarre checklisters and flyspecking online data collectors, especially, would lead to her hastened departure. The now obsolete traditional dinner + movie was replaced by online liaisons, non-dates, hookups and hanging out in groups, small and large, sometimes known and more often unknown. Commitment free flings, screen only paramours, and ambiguous dalliances that leave both halves unhappy, sexually unfulfilled, and confused about intimacy have now become all too common. We lament that there were no simple solutions Dating could have offered nor that she could have proposed before her untimely end — other than to revert to the romantic days of yore. Without her, the courtship landscape may indeed prove bleak.

Oh, we will miss the furtive and lingering glances, flirtations, seductions, angst and joys of romance, madame Dating. So many of us still embrace you in your afterlife.

CHICKEN WITH DATES, FENNEL AND LEMON

4 chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Ras al hanout
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter

1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, peeled and thinly sliced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Hefty pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
1 T ras el hanout
2 cinnamon sticks

2 preserved lemons
1+ C chicken broth

1 1/2 C pitted dates
2 t ground cinnamon
3 T honey

Sesame seeds, toasted
Cilantro leaves, chopped

Season chicken with ras al hanout, salt and pepper. In a large, heavy skillet add the olive oil and butter over medium high heat. Sauté the chicken until browned, about 5 minutes per side, and set aside in a baking dish tented with foil. Then, add the onions, fennel, garlic, saffron, ras al hanout, and cinnamon sticks. Cook over medium to medium high heat for about 8 minutes. Add the chicken broth and lemons and increase the heat just to bring the liquid to a gentle boil and then promptly lower to a simmer. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is done and the sauce reduced some, about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile place the dates, cinnamon and honey in a heavy saucepan. Stir gently to combine, then simmer over medium heat until the dates are tender and the sauce is syrupy, about 5-10 minutes.

Spoon the dates and syrup over the chicken and friends, and then garnish first with sesame seeds and then cilantro.

Vinegar: that’s what fear smells like.
~Jennifer Egan

Tangy fine wine vinegars are aphrodisiacal…much like fear in today’s world.

From the French vin (wine) and aigre (sour). In the Middle Ages, alchemists poured vinegar onto lead in order to create lead acetate. Called “sugar of lead,” it was added to sour cider until it became clear that ingesting the sweetened cider proved deadly. By the Renaissance era, vinegar making was a lucrative trade in France, many of them infused with pepper, cloves, roses, fennel, herbs, raspberries, and the like.

The guild of vinaigriers (vinegar makers) received French royal recognition in the 14th century under Louis XII. The trade was centered on the town of Orléans, but the rue des Vinaigriers in Paris (near the fetching Canal St-Martin) suggests that there were vinaigriers in City of Light too. Today, one of the remaining traditional vinaigriers based in Orléans is Martin Pouret (founded in 1797).

In the making of vinegar, science and art merge, and like its alter ego, wine, vinegar is a subject of scrutiny by gourmands. The transformation of wine or fruit juice to vinegar is a chemical process in which ethyl alcohol undergoes partial oxidation that results in the formation of acetaldehyde which is later converted into acetic acid. Should you care, the chemical reaction flows something like this: CH 3 CH 2 OH=2HCH 3 CHO=CH 3 COOH.

I would heartily recommend maintaining a selection of vinegars in the pantry, with red wine vinegar as the central choice, but make room in the pantry for white wine, champagne, tarragon, apple cider, sherry, and balsamic vinegars (or the French take, banyuls).

This plate is a classic, but by no means should be considered antediluvian. More like primeval.

LEEKS VINAIGRETTE

8 small leeks
Sea salt

2 T Dijon mustard
2 T red wine vinegar
1 small shallot, peeled and finely minced
6 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 T capers
12 cornichons
12 niçoise olives, pitted
2 eggs, hard boiled and halved lengthwise

Trim leeks, cutting off hairy roots, removing tough outer layers, and trimming off the tops while leaving some green. Make a lengthwise slit part way down each leek. Put leeks in a large glass bowl with cool running tap water and swish to remove any sand or dirt. Remove leeks and set aside on a towel.

Fill a pot with cold water and bring to a boil. Then, salt generously and drop in leeks. Reduce heat some and cook at a brisk simmer until leeks are tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 8-10 minutes. Drain in a colander and cool to room temperature, again on a towel.

Meanwhile whisk together mustard, wine vinegar and shallot in a bowl. Vigorously whisk in olive oil to emulsify and make a smooth sauce. Season with salt and pepper and whisk a little more. The vinaigrette should be fairly bright, and the mustard flavor should come through, but not too patently.

Arrange leeks on plates. Spoon vinaigrette over leeks and sprinkle with capers. If desired, garnish each plate with cornichons, olives, and eggs. And then “oh yeah, baby.”