Kitchen Basics: The Perfect Fried Egg

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Funny how a lot of basic cooking involves eggs...

Well if you're like me, you love yourself some good eggs in the morning. Or afternoon, or evening for dinner. Now that you know how to easily poach an egg, scramble them, and soon you will know how to perfectly boil them just in time for Easter, you should also know how to properly fry them.

Many people, myself included, shy away from the fried egg. Why? Because it involves hot oil, usually splattering about your stovetop, and the delicate procedure of transferring said fried egg from pan to plate without breaking the delicate yolk. But with just a few tricks, you too can make the perfect fried egg that will kick any restaurant's ass!

First, there are two kinds of fried eggs: "sunnyside up" also known as simply "fried egg" which means the egg white is cooked, the yolk is left golden, and this usually means a very thin layer of undercooked egg white is floating about the egg around the yolk (some people love this) OR the "eggs over-easy" which simply means the fried egg is gently turned over and cooked very quickly on the yolk side to cook up that remaining white. I personally prefer the "eggs over easy" myself. I will teach you how to do both here.

First, you need the right equipment:
  • a non-stick pan (aka teflon or cast iron, etc.)
  • vegetable oil or other neutral oil
  • eggs at room temperature
  • a good flexible plastic or preferably silicon spatula
It's important to use a non-stick pan for fried eggs because it will make the egg easier to flip if doing over-easy or remove when done. Sometimes with metal pans the egg will stick to the pan despite your best efforts to lubricate it with oil, so try to use a non-stick if you can for sure proof eggs success. You want to use a neutral oil such as vegetable, peanut, canola, or safflower oil because they won't color the egg or overpower the flavor; olive or any nut oil are too heavy and carry an overwhelming taste that will completely overpower the egg. A huge trick for the perfect fried egg I've found is actually using room temperature eggs! Do you have the problem where you'll add the egg to the hot pan and the egg white will spread all the way out and then you have to catch it or it makes a bizarre pattern, then bubbles about the edges but the center isn't done so it tastes like the outside is crispy and over-cooked but the center is barely done? That's because you used a cold egg right out of the fridge onto the hot pan. Simply taking out the eggs about 5 minutes before you plan to fry them will avoid the crispy edges and keep your whites closer to the yolk which ensures even cooking and even makes the egg much easier to flip and remove. It's logical -- less surface area makes a smaller item to fit better on your spatula, thus making it easier to flip or remove. If you're pan is large enough, you can even fry multiple eggs at the same time this way without them touching each other! Finally, the utensil you use is just as important. Because you're working with non-stick this usually means you need to use a plastic or silicon spatula; using a metal one will scratch your pan and ruin the special coating. If you're using a metal pan then go ahead with the metal spatula. Personally I prefer silicon spatulas because they have a nice "give" when using. And when working with delicate items like fried eggs that can be easily broken, that "give" is good to prevent it. Sometimes plastic spatulas can be too stiff and then you fight your food rather then coaxing it about when transferring.

Now that you have the right workings, the egg will practically cook itself.

How To Fry An Egg: Sunnyside Up Style

1. Preheat your pan on medium heat. If it's too high the egg will cook too quickly and you'll run the risk of overcooking it; if it's too low you'll be there all day and have a soggy egg. This is why God created "medium."

2. Add about 1 Tbsp of oil to each egg, swirling the oil about the pan to evenly coat the bottom. So if you're cooking one egg then add 1 tablespoon; if two eggs add 2 tablespoons, 3 eggs add 3, etc. The point here is you want the pan well-lubricated so the egg won't stick. Even though you're using a non-stick pan, the proteins in the egg still make it very stick, adhering to everything. You know this if you've ever cracked a raw egg and the stuff dribbles about the counter, and it's annoying to clean up. So adding enough lubricant by way of the oil will ensure the egg can be easily transferred back out of the pan.

3. Carefully crack the egg on the counter in one good crack or on the edge of a bowl, then quickly transfer the egg into the pan. This entire process should take you .023 seconds. Don't fuck around cracking the egg on one side of your kitchen then running over to drop it in; you want to be cracking eggs right next to your pan for quick and painless transfer. You don't need to crack the egg into a bowl first, but if you're feeling nervous you can certainly do that and then gently slide the egg into the oil. Do NOT crack the egg on the edge of your frying pan! EVER! All this will do is immediately cook the egg dribble on the side of the pan, compromising the oil below and then will screw up your eggs. Plus, you can burn yourself and then you're really fucked for breakfast.

4. Once the egg is in the pan, leave it alone. Don't touch it. Don't even talk to it or stare at it. Let it cook and do it's thing. You're cooking the egg from the bottom-up, so you want the bottom to get nice and cooked through in one even layer before you start messing with it. If you start screwing around with the bottom too early, you'll leave some parts cooked fully, others not cooked as much, and this will screw up the removal of the egg as the undercooked parts will stick to the pan. Let the egg tell you when it's ready to come out: when you can easily lift half of it with the spatula, it's ready to be taken out.

5. To remove the egg from the frying pan, you can carefully lift it with your spatula or what I do, gently slide the egg or nudge it along with the spatula helping you to the side of the pan, then slide it right out of the pan and directly onto the plate. If you're super concerned about excess oil, then you can use a paper towel on the plate first to soak up the oil, but then be very careful when sliding that paper out before eating.

6. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

How To Fry An Egg: Over-Easy Style and The Art of Basting
To do over-easy eggs is the same process above, with one extra step involving cooking the yolk side. Prepare you pan and eggs the same way as described in steps 1-3. And now the difference:
4. Whereas for a fried egg you leave it alone until fully cooked, here you must manipulate the egg for the flip or baste. To cook the yolk side of the egg with the flip, cook the egg until the bottom is easily moved as described in step 4 above. At this point, if you wanted a fried egg you could remove it from the pan and consume. Instead, you lift it with the spatula and carefully flip it over. You want a pretty fast movement here actually, which seems counter intuitive. The more you take your time and think about it, the greater the chance of you breaking the yolk. You want both of your hands to help you here. Take the spatula in one hand and get the egg firmly on it, then raise it up out of the pan. Then with your other hand, hold the handle of the pan and bring it up to the egg off the stovetop. You want to create a maneuver where one hand flips while the pan catches the egg simultaneously. Then lower the pan back down and finish cooking the yolk side, about 30 seconds. Then transfer to plate and eat.
You can do what's called basting the eggs. Eggs are very sensitive and can cook instantly when heat is introduced. Case in point: when making hollandaise or other sauce requiring eggs and introducing hot liquids, you need to temper the eggs first meaning adding the hot stuff slowly and a little at a time to bring up the temp of the eggs or else they'll turn into scrambled eggs immediately. You can use the same idea to your advantage here. By adding twice as much oil to the pan when you preheat (so for 1 egg you'd use 2 tablespoons of oil then), you can actually use the hot oil to cook the top of the egg without having to flip it over!
What you'll do is heat your oil as instructed, then add your egg. Now, using a spoon, collect the hot oil and pour it over the top of the egg while the bottom cooks. You'll need to pick up your pan and rotate it around so the oil collects towards the bottom so you can easily scoop it up with your spoon. Keep pouring that hot oil over and over again the top of the egg. This is called "basting." You'll see that the top of the egg will begin to turn opaque, like having a very thin layer of white on top. This means you've fully cooked the top of the egg while having never had to flip it over! Then simply pick up the egg with the spatula or slide it off directly from the pan and onto the plate. Season and eat!
Try these new techniques and ideas next time you're in the mood for fried eggs. Making them at home versus the restaurant is still the way to go -- you can control quality, fat, and salt to suit your taste and diet much easier. Add some toast and maybe bacon or sausage and your breakfast is done! Enjoy!

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