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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Hot Dog Relish, a recipe by Norma Gibbs

Cheers to those extraordinary moments, those breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, those unexpected connections.  The ones in which my spirit awakens, in which I feel most alive and for which I am filled with a deep sense of appreciation.

It is to a place seen only by those fortunate few that I dedicate this piece.

I never expected to find myself at a lake in the middle of Michigan.  I never expected to fall in love with this place either, let alone visit here at all.  But I did, three times over.

The lake is called Higgins, and it’s where the Gillespie family has called their summertime home for over three generations.

With each visit I am shown again of the unwavering generosity and warmest of welcomes.

To visit Lake Higgins is to take a step back in time, to a slower pace unconcerned with life’s most consuming trivialities.  Anyone is invited, everyone pitches in, and nobody’s counting.  Out there, it’s about the simplest forms of enjoyment, and enjoyment there is to be had.  It’s a gift alone to be a part of it.

The Gillespies have a neighbor and friend who also spends her summers at the lake.  Her name is Foxy, and her effervescent demeanor is a welcomed wake in the tranquil morning waters of Higgins. She’s just a joy to know.

When she heard of my passion for slow foods, canning, and farming, her excitement grew impossibly greater.  She grew up on a farm, she told me, and she’s been eating food from jars since before refrigerators were a household staple.  She even offered me a taste of her latest batch of homemade hot dog relish for me to taste and a recipe to bring home. It was her Grandma Norma’s recipe from when she was just a child, and it was simply delicious.

I followed the recipe once I returned home to Portland.

In cooking recipes both traditional and unique, there is something to be said for those tried and true, the ones that are passed down from generations before.  For in those dishes lies the flavor of hard work and memories, the flavor of deeply rooted family traditions.  It is the flavor of a weekend spent at Lake Higgins.

Hot Dog Relish, a recipe by Norma Gibbs

Ingredients

  • 3 cups ground (well chopped) cucumbers
  • 3 cups ground onions
  • 3 cups chopped celery
  • 2 Hungarian hot peppers
  • 2 ground sweet red or yellow peppers
  • 3/4 cup salt
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 quart white vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. mustard seed
  • 2 Tbsp. celery seed

Add salt to water, combine and add to vegetables.  Let sit overnight.  Drain and rinse lightly.

Heat white vinegar, sugar, mustard seed and celery seed to boil. Add vegetables and cook slowly, 10 minutes. Seal in hot jars.

A special thank you to The Gillespie Family for an always wonderful visit to Michigan and the lake.  Also, to Foxy for the inspiration and wonderful family recipe.

Garden Greens with Grilled Peaches and Figs

The other day on my way to the dog park, I saw a sign for an estate sale in bright orange paint on a bright yellow poster.  Now, seeing as every four houses on a saturday in Portland is either having a garage sale or an estate sale, I normally wouldn’t detour too far out of my way for one unless I was truly on the hunt.  But this sign, for some reason, called to me.  I turned a sharp right on the next street, found a parking spot and went inside.  Among piles and piles of needless stuff,  I almost immediately spotted and couldn’t take my eyes off of a cast iron grill pan that was sitting quietly in the corner of the kitchen.  I couldn’t leave without it, and I knew I had to have it.  Instantly we were bonded.  It may sound silly, but it almost felt to me as if it had spent its entire existence at this house so that it would be sold, for eight dollars, to me.

Serendipity.  It’s not just a horribly cheesy movie.  It’s also pretty much how I try to live my life.  Opportunities present themselves, sometimes in the form of a job or experience opportunity, sometimes in new and old friends and acquaintances, and sometimes in bright yellow signs with orange paint.  I make an effort to leave space and time in my life for spontaneity, and for the most part I am rewarded.  I’ve also learned to let the things go which do not bring positivity into my life without necessarily being prepared to replace it.  Usually, in this case I am rewarded too.

It’s not easy moving to a new place without having any sort of concrete plans or a solid friend base.  I have my boyfriend, who’s not only a boyfriend but a true friend above all else.  We have an amazing puppy.  We both have at least one job that fulfills us, that makes us happy and has rewarded us in some way.  We are meeting some great people.  We’ve already encountered bumps in the road, impediments that force us to make difficult decisions and sometimes ones with unforeseeable outcomes.  But in making time for the good stuff, and in weeding out the bad, we are making it happen.  Slowly, things are coming together.

I received some great news today, and consequently spent the morning tearfully overjoyed and hugging my puppy.  Yes, good things are brewing on the home front.  Sorry to leave you in suspense, but it’s too early to divulge…and no, I’m not pregnant.  Just wanted to clear that one up.

So instead, I’ll just leave you with this recipe for garden greens with grilled peaches and figs.  There’s really nothing serendipitous about it, except for the fact that I used my amazing new-ish cast iron grill pan and it met- nay surpassed- my expectations.

Garden Greens with Grilled Peaches and Figs

Ingredients:

  • Juicy peaches
  • figs
  • An assortment of garden greens.  Mostly arugula and spinach.
  • Mint
  • Pistachios
  • Some kind of crumbly cheese.  I used homemade farmer’s cheese from my Portland Culinary Workshop class)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Juice of half a lemon

Start by gathering your greens.  Farmer’s Market, Trader Joe’s, New Seasons, your neighbor’s garden.  Don’t matta.  Just pick up a bunch and make sure they’re organic and healthy looking.  None of that supermarket iceburg crap.

For this salad, I mooched some spicy arugula, refreshing spinach, and cooling mint leaves from my neighbor’s backyard.  Rinsed, chopped, thrown into a bowl.

Chop the peaches into slices, half the figs and place on a sizzling hot griddle pan with maybe a drizzle of olive oil.  Allow to grill for a few minutes on each side, using tongs to flip, until the fruit is softened and has some grill marks on both sides.

Meanwhile, shell some pistachios.  Use a knife to smush and crack them into smaller pieces (as you would a garlic clove to remove the peel) and throw them in a small pan on low to medium heat for a few minutes to bring out a roasted nutty flavor. Watch carefully so as not to burn, as nuts can and will burn quickly if you don’t keep an eye on them.    Remove from heat, allow to cool.

When your fruit is sufficiently grilled, turn off the heat and remove from the grillpan (or grill).  Allow to cool then cut into chunks.

Assemble the salad.  Throw the greens into a bowl, sprinkle the pistachio, grilled fruit, and some goat cheese, farmer’s cheese, or feta.  Or maybe even blue cheese if you have that on hand instead.  Drizzle generously with a mix of olive oil, salt, pepper, and the juice of half a lemon.  Take a moment to appreciate the simple beauty of the dish.

And then devour.

Plate & Pitchfork: Champoeg Farm est. 1856

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Yesterday began my first experience as a staff member of Plate & Pitchfork, a Portland-based company that brings the dining experience to farms throughout the greater Portland area in the summer season.  Each weekend Plate & Pitchfork hosts these events, which include a farm tour, guest speakers, and an ingredient-driven coursed dinner with wine and beer … Continue reading