That Perfectly Humble Soul (A Fried Egg)

January 29, 2013

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.

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