Marco Pierre White says you can tell a lot about a cook just by the way they prepare an egg. When he talks about fried eggs he explains it’s more poaching in butter than it is frying. “If you can hear the egg cooking when you put it in the pan… your heat is too high.” After the whites have set carefully spoon the melted butter over the top of the egg until the tops of the white are set and voila, the perfect fried egg complete with a yolk that for all intents and purposes is its own sauce. It compliments anything it goes on from a cheeseburger to pizza even the toasted bread of a simple egg sandwich. Today I know this to be gospel yet somehow, that wasn’t always the case.
I started cooking eggs not long after “The Great Pudding Incident of 80.” This cooking thing was fun and easy and hey, I even managed not to kill anybody! I made fried eggs for sandwiches that were cooked past Silly Putty stage both in texture and flavor. I couldn’t manage to flip the egg without breaking the yolk which although being fine by me, it was sacrilegious to my father. My scrambled eggs were surprisingly good being both creamy and yet somehow fluffy.
Then there were omelets, sadly I made my parents eat all manner of omelets not fit for human consumption. Sure there were some winners with onion, peppers and ham topped with cheese. But then there were those oregano, garlic and ginger fiascos that they somehow managed to choke down. They were overcooked, rarely folded in an omelet like manner and most definitely awful. My parents never said an ill word about any of it… and today I have them to blame for my love of cooking.
Dad’s famous egg dish was the simple fried egg. To pull this off you need a white hot cast iron skillet heated to somewhere between 1200 degrees Kelvin and the sun, a dollop of bacon grease (you mean there are other fats you can use?) and an egg. Melt the grease then drop your egg into the pan then as soon as you can grab your spatula your fried egg is done. This will give you a perfectly laced nearly burnt egg white on the bottom, on the top you get the stuff that hangs from the jowls of a St. Bernard and the yolk will be nearly as cold as it was when the egg was cracked. Dad liked to dip toast into this mess and I liked to drown mine with ketchup.
Mom’s Idea was a little different with regards to eggs and actually had the right idea in theory if not in practice. She would crack a dozen or so eggs beaten with a touch of milk and a little salt and pepper, cooked slowly in a low cast iron pan. She cooked the eggs slowly taking care to keep stirring the bottom of the pan nearly constantly making sure to hit the entire bottom in a back and forth motion like a tractor seeding a field. I suggested she turn the heat up but she wouldn’t hear of it and kept stirring gently. The only thing mom did that made them less than perfect was she cooked them a little too long.
Her hardboiled eggs were incorrect in every way imaginable in that you cover the eggs with water, boil them just shy of a decade, and take them off when there was no water left in the pan, or the egg. This would make for a Sahara dry green yolk perfect for adding to everything from salmon pea wiggle to potato salad?! My mother dearly loves adding eggs to dishes and if you turn your back long enough they’d end up in who knows what and for some reason, I still love them. Yes I love a creamy yolk as well, but I never balk at a mom’s cooked to death hardboiled egg.
Today as I start making what I now know to be a perfectly “fried” egg I realize I can learn a lot about myself just by looking at that egg “not making any noise in the pan.” I can see the evolution of me in it as a cook, not only the present successes but also what I’ve learned from my past failures. Then I smile and turn the pan up just a little and hear the egg start to spit. I grab two pieces of bread to toast and reach for the Sriracha to do an over easy egg sandwich. A little bit over cooked, a little bit under cooked to honor the people who faced odd combinations and botulism to help me become the halfway decent cook I am today. Oh and mom, dad… thanks for not becoming physically sick from the canned tuna and macaroni omelet.