How to Cook the Perfect Fried Egg (on Toast, with Coffee)

IMG_1117There are four essential elements to the perfect morning.  The first, obviously, is a cup of good coffee.

The second,  good music.

The third, a fried egg.

It also happens to be, I’ve decided, the best indication of one’s level of cookery.

Something so simply achieved, yet almost even more so easily butchered.  I cringe when I order a breakfast of fried eggs at a cafe, only to be presented with A) a couple of clear, shiny snot-like egg whites and cold liquid yolks or, worse, B) a matte-colored egg white mass surrounding two firm and lifeless powdery yellow globs.  I can only hope that maybe, possibly, an order of “over-medium” will imply that I am hoping for something in between slimy mucus and a yellow brick.  But due to the fact that my egg ordering experiences at various brunch spots has proved to be both inconsistent and unreliable, I’ve taken it upon myself to ensure that when I’m the one cooking, I know how to do it right.

This is something that has taken me quite a long time to master.  My whole life, in fact.

But I do believe I recently broke the code, and like The Sound of Music I want to sing it from the mountain tops with such joy for the world to hear!

There are certain aspects to my surefire recipe for success that are absolutely essential in cooking a fried egg, and these will be noted in bold.  That which isn’t bolded are simply a few personal preferences, little suggestions to kick it up a notch or ten.

You will need:

  • Eggs (2) of very good quality.  Preferably farm eggs, but as always local, organic and cage-free will suffice.  
  • Butter (about one tsp.)
  • A small or medium sauce pan
  • A lid or something that can act as a lid (this can be in the form of a  plate even, anything that will seal the heat into the pan space)
  • Salt, pepper and various other seasonings of your choosing (preferably sea salt, though).  I use fresh cracked pepper, garlic powder and chia seeds.
  • Any other add-ons your would like to include, although absolutely not necessary.  Previously used examples: sliced avocado, sliced tomato, chopped fresh garlic, sauteed onion, sauteed kale, sliced ham, bacon(!)
  • Cheese, again, optional
  • Sliced bread
  • Coffee grinds, preferably of good quality
  • Water
  • A french press
  • Spatula

1.  Turn the oven on to anywhere between 300-350 degrees and place the allotted amount of toast onto the racks (this is, of course, if you don’t have a toaster like myself).

2. Turn the heat of one burner onto a low-medium flame and place the saucepan on top, allowing it to warm up for about 30 seconds.

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3.  Turn another burner onto medium and place a full kettle of water on top, allowing the water to heat while you cook eggs.

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4.  If using a french press, add coffee grinds to your press.

5.  Place butter in the pan and allow it to spread evenly over the pan as it melts.  Note: I use only real, unsalted butter with my eggs, it seems to protect the egg from burring or overcooking on the bottom and it tastes wonderful.  I do not use olive oil (burning or cooking olive oil a)has a lower smoking point and b) denatures the amino acids in the olive oil, negating the nutritional value entirely)

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6.  Exactly at the point the butter has melted, crack two eggs into the pan. IMPORTANT: MAKE SURE THE YOLKS ARE RESTING ON THE PERIMETER OF THE PAN, NOT IN THE CENTER WHERE THE HEAT IS CONCENTRATED.  The whites should immediately start to solidify and whiten upon contact with the pan, but shouldn’t start to sizzle too loudly or bubble.  If the latter occurs, turn the heat down and remove the pan from the heat for about 10 seconds until the eggs calm down.

7.  Season your eggs, minus salt.

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8.  Cover the pan.   Allow to sit for at least one minute, no more than 2 minutes.  If the yolk starts to develop a white film on top, uncover immediately.

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9.  Check the toast.  If only slightly crispy, turn it over and continue cooking.

10.  If kettle water steaming at this point, add your water to the coffee grinds.  Allow to sit while you complete the preparation of your eggs and toast.

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11.  If you would like to add cheese to your egg, this is the time to do so.  Uncover, sprinkle or grate cheese on top, and then re-cover your eggs.  

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12.  Remove from heat but allow eggs to stay covered in the pan until either the yolks are still squishy but white or the cheese has melted.  If yolks are firming up, uncover the pan immediately.

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13. Remove toast from oven.  If toast consistency has reached desired state, remove from heat and onto a plate, spreading butter immediately on the toast.  Turn off your oven (I always seem to forget that part, and then remember after having left the house).

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14.  Using a spatula, carefully place fried eggs on top of toast (or on a plate). 

15.  Press your coffee, then pour into a mug.  Add milk, sugar, or in my case, a spoonful of Oregon Chai powder and stir.

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16.  Salt your eggs lightly.  

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17. Arrange various add-ons to your egg and toast at this time.

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18. Bask in the deliciousness of a firm (but not chewy) egg white and warm yet still runny yolk on a crunchy piece of toast.  

19.  Take a sip of coffee.

20.  Appreciate the moment. 

(And the fourth?  That one I’m still keeping a secret.)

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Repurposing: The Fourth “R”

You’ve heard the expression “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” a million times probably, the Three R’s so commonly stated in anything sustainability-related.  Well, I propose we add a fourth: repurpose.  Sure, this could pertain to the typical recyclables here, but that’s not what I’m referring to.  I’m speaking strictly of the kitchen, where the cooking happens.  Food, specifically, and the incredible amount of waste we (I!) produce unnecessarily.

This is the story of how I came to take a stand against food waste, and how I plan to do my part in repurposing the foods I buy as much as possible.

A few months back an old Snowmass Lifty friend came to visit.  His name is Ian, and he left after the ’10-’11 season in Snowmass to pursue his passion in the culinary art.  He currently works as Sous Chef at Edibles, a top class restaurant in Rochester, NY and is planning to attend an honors program at a culinary school in New York City in the fall.

Skirt steak and green beans over a brussel sprout, bacon and potato hash

Naturally, he cooked two incredibly delicious meals for a gathering of friends while he was in town.  One of them was skirt steak and green beans with a brussel sprout, bacon and potato hash, and the other was a pork tenderloin served over mushroom risotto.  Also naturally, I was right behind him every step of the way, asking a million questions and taking pictures of every little thing he did.

He pan sauteed the potatoes in reserved bacon grease, which he used to flavor many elements of the meal

There was a focus in his eyes that I admired greatly while he cooked.  There was a purpose in his every preparation, and there was an absolute patience that I have yet to develop.  But what struck me the most about the way he cooked was the use of almost every meat scrap he trimmed and every part of the vegetables he diced.  Almost nothing went directly into the trash without being utilized in some way.  He told me that he often saves vegetable scraps from previous meals in a bowl in the fridge, using them to create a broth or sauce when he wants the extra depth of flavors.  “Fat”, he says unfailingly, “equals flavor”.  I assume he would say the same for vegetable skins, scraps and ends as well.  Absolute genius, this kid is!

Into this sauce he added beef fat trimmings, red wine, water, whole peppercorns, bay leaf, the skin and ends of an onion, salt, and butter

It’s this exact mentality that got me thinking about the amount of food we amateur chefs often waste in our preparation of a meal.  I had previously assumed that the fat trimmings and bacon grease should be disposed of immediately.  I never considered repurposing a lemon once the juice was squeezed, or the stem and skin of a vegetable that was not of immediate benefit to the meal.  It makes perfect sense now though, as I learn how to enhance my kitchen experience, that using these bits and pieces in nonconventional ways can not only enhance a flavor profile but also tie the elements of a meal together simply and without over-seasoning, which is crucial to a well-rounded meal.

Then, I stumbled upon the book An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler.  It is a book in which the ideas are as invaluable as they are numerous (and with almost 300 pages, that’s a lot of ideas).   A main theme, I gather, is how to enhance flavors through simple cooking, mostly by repurposing pieces of your last meals to utilize in future cooking.  She says “the bones and shells and peels of things are where a lot of their goodness resides…the skins from onions, green tops from leeks, stems from herbs must all be swept directly into a pot instead of into a garbage.  Along with the bones from a chicken, raw or cooked, they are what it takes to make chicken stock, which you need never buy, once you decide to keep its ingredients instead of throwing them away.” (p. 81).  It makes sense that when you buy a whole ingredient you would want to make the most out of your purchase.  Another suggestion: “save the lovely green murk from the Swiss chard pan to warm the Swiss chard tomorrow, which will be happier for the chance to spend time with yesterday’s more experienced cooking” (p. 82).  This idea is applicable to far more than Swiss chard, just as this book is applicable, clearly, to far more than what I’ve described in this post.  I suggest that you read it.  Like…NOW.

Fat trimmings, skin and bones of meat can, and should, produce the richest broths when boiled in water.  But what about fruits and vegetables?  Citrus peels should be zested before they’re tossed, or further could be combined with sugar and water to produce a citrus simple syrup or be made into a marmalade to spread on some crusty toast.  You can save your fruit and veggie scraps in a small bowl in the fridge for up to a few days when you have the time to boil them in water and strain the ingredients to create a simple, easy and beautiful homemade vegetable broth.  Or take a handful of wilted greens and throw them in a blender with some garlic, a ton of olive oil and some toasted nuts and you’ve got yourself a homemade pesto.  You’re hopefully starting to get the idea here.

A mix of rainbow chard, celery stalks, celery leaves, parsley, and garlic

So, yesterday I found a whole bunch of wilted greens that were somehow forgotten among the kitchen frenzy that exists in this apartment of five.  In the spirit of Ian, I seized the opportunity to do something good for myself, the integrity of the greens and even the environment.  I coursely chopped the bunch, added it to some water in a saucepan and brought it to a boil.  To this mix I added a dash of salt, a couple cloves of whole garlic, and the core and skin of a tomato which I had just blanched for a different recipe.  Once boiling, I reduced the heat to a simmer and allowed it to sit for an hour or so, strained the solids, poured the liquid into a jar and placed it straight into the fridge. Now that I have a flavorful broth available anytime the next meal calls, I can do away with the greens guilt-free, knowing that I was able to repurpose them rather than just throwing them out blindly.

Not only is it the environmentally conscious choice to repurpose your scraps, ends and wilted produce, but it’s also fun to get your creative juices flowing and leads to a more flavorful meal.  Quite importantly, though, and not always considered, it provides each individual ingredient with a purpose greater than one flavor in one meal.  By extracting flavors, nutrients and textures that might otherwise have been thrown out, you are extending the life of a plant or animal.  And for the amount of vitality plants and animals bestow upon us as humans, it’s really the least we can do.

Think about it.

Money-Saving Tip: How To Keep Your Herbs Fresh

This happens to me all too often! Buy a whole bunch of fresh herbs for a recipe and use only a small portion, only to forget about them…and then find them wilted and brown in my fridge a few days later.  Hopefully this article can help prevent this from happening to all of us, as much as possible.

Money-Saving Tip: How To Keep Your Herbs Fresh.