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Culinary Lesson #7 - Eggs

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Q11:  Anytime I order eggs for breakfast or cook them at home, I go for the usual sunny side up.  Is this different than over easy?  Or are they the same thing?

A11:  Although they are similar with respect to the yolk-doneness, there is one main difference in the cooking methods that set these variations apart, which I'll discuss in a bit.

Making eggs is fairly easy granted you know what to look for in each method, and (this is a big 'and') you have the proper equipment.  For any type of egg cooked in a pan (all but one of the methods I have listed below), it is essential to use a nonstick pan with rounded edges and some sort of rubber spatula.  If you're thinking to yourself that this is the easy way out, don't.  Nonstick pans are standard, and you'll find chefs of all levels using them when it comes to cooking eggs.  Other factors to keep in mind for the perfect egg include the level of heat used along with the type of fat you use (oil, butter, bacon fat).

In no particular order, the most common ways ways to cook an egg include:
  1. Scrambled - Begin by whisking together 2 large eggs, 2 tablespoons milk, and salt and pepper until just mixed.  Add a small amount of butter to your nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Once any foam has subsided, add the egg mixture and slowly run your spatula along the bottom of the pan, making sure that the eggs don't overcook.  As you do this, you'll create empty areas in your pan as the eggs start setting.  Rotate the pan (off the horizontal axis) so that any remaining raw egg fills in these gaps.  For one serving, this process should only take 2 minutes and should not result in any browned egg (unless you're one of the few like myself who prefer it that way).
  2. Sunny Side Up - Heat your nonstick skillet over low heat for 5 minutes.  Add up to 1 tablespoon of butter, and wait for the foam to subside.  While you are waiting for this to happen, crack your eggs into a small bowl.  This will help out in two different ways.  First, if you are cooking more than one egg in a pan, it will ensure that each egg has the exact same cooking time compared to if you would crack egg after egg directly to the pan.  Second, if you get any shells in your egg, you'll be able to fish them out before they hit the heat.  Once the butter is ready, gently pour out the egg(s) from your bowl to the skillet.  Season with salt and pepper (and any herbs you might like, such as Herbes de Provence).  You can either cook your eggs uncovered over low heat until the whites are just cooked through, or else use a lid to ensure that the whites are cooked through.  Either way, this should take between 2-1/2 and 3-1/2 minutes, depending on your yolk doneness preference.  What sets this method apart from others is that you'll never have to flip your egg(s) since the skillet cover will take care of cooking the whites all the way through.
  3. Basted - This is the exact same method as sunny side up eggs, except for the fact that once the eggs have just begun to set on the bottom, you'll need to add a couple tablespoons of either water or chicken stock and cover until the whites are cooked through.  Rather than depending on direct heat from the pan to cook your eggs all the way through, steam is the driving force for basted eggs.
  4. Over Easy - Once again, start by cooking your egg(s) as if you're making a sunny side up egg.  When the whites are cooked about 3/4 of the way through, gently run a spatula around the outsides, and jiggle the pan horizontally to ensure that they're not sticking.  Now comes the new step: flipping.  If you're feeling brave, you can flip the egg utensil-free by using the same wrist motion that comes with sauteing.  Otherwise, use a nonstick spatula to flip.  Once flipped, cook for only 10 seconds or so, just so that the whites are cooked through, but the yolk is left runny.  For this particular style, 'over' refers to the fact that you'll be turning the egg over halfway through, while 'easy' refers to the fact that the yolk should stay runny.
  5. Over Medium & Over Well - As you've probably guessed from the over easy description, over medium and over well eggs are prepared the same way, except they're left to cook slightly longer once flipped.  Over medium yolks should be partly cooked while still runny in the middle, while over well  yolks should be cooked all the way through.
  6. Over Hard - The last of the 'over' category, over hard eggs begin like over easy eggs, but before flipping, you'll need to break open the yolk with a fork.  I like to think of the end product as a cross between scrambled eggs and over well eggs.
  7. Poached - Most commonly used in Eggs Benedict, poached eggs differ from all of the previous due to the fact that they're not fried.  Begin by bringing a couple inches of water to a simmer in a medium pot.  While the water is heating, crack your egg(s) into individual bowls.  Unlike other methods though, if you're making more than one poached egg, they should each have their own container.  Once a gentle simmer is met, add a teaspoon or so of vinegar to the water and use a wooden spoon to stir and create a gentle vortex in the center.  Carefully lower your first egg into the water, and then remove the pan from the heat and cover for 3 to 4 minutes.  Once the whites are set, use a slotted spoon to transfer the poached egg from the water to your serving plate.  If needed, use a paper towel to drain off any excess water from the egg.
  8. Omelette - Begin by preparing your eggs (typically three large eggs are used, but two or four are sometimes done as well) the same way as mentioned for scrambled eggs.  Every step will be the same, except for the fact that you'll stop breaking apart the eggs about halfway through the cooking process.  Once the omelette looks mostly cooked through, but still has a thin raw layer on top, transfer your skillet off of the heat, and add any fillers that you want (diced ham, bacon, grated cheese, chives, onions, etc.).  Run a rubber spatula around the outside and give the pan a quick jerk to ensure it isn't sticking.  Next, tilt the pan so that the handle towards you is higher than the pan on the far side, and give it a few jerks so that the far end of the omelette slides up the far edge of the pan.  Use your rubber spatula to fold over the far 1/3 of the omelette.  Fold over the other 1/3, and serve, seam side down.  Additional notes:  I believe that the most important thing to watch for when making omelettes matching your pan size with the number of eggs you are using.  Note that for the standard 3-egg omelette, I have found that a 10" non-stick pan is the perfect size.  A 12" pan is doable, but it takes quite a bit of skill (and luck) not to tear the paper thin omelette when transferring out of the pan.  Similarly, I feel that an 8" pan creates an omelette that's too thick to be able to fold at the end.

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  1. Teej did you know it's National Egg Month?