Warning: this is not one of those analogy blog posts where I eventually tie in the process of cooking an egg to the experience of being a startup founder. It is just my recommended ways to cook eggs and why that’s an important set of life skills.
Eggs are a good choice if you want to please someone by making them breakfast, because the ingredients are usually at hand, you can do it on someone else’s pan and range, it’s easy to do if you know how, and sometimes the best way to show off is by doing a simple thing well. You’ll need:
- A pan big enough so that your eggs can all cook at the same time (if your pan isn’t big enough, your call as to whether you cook two for your friend and then two for you).
- A spatula or egg flipper
- Two eggs per person
- 1–2 slices of bread per person
- Roughly 100gm of salted butter per person (a fifth or a sixth of a standard block, or about two tablespoons). If the fridge only has unsalted butter then use that and a sprinkle of salt.) Blended spreadable butter is OK if that’s all there is, but legit butter is more legit.
- A little olive oil (about a teaspoon or so) can be useful dropped in with the butter it can help increase the smoking point so you don’t burn the butter.
- A little salt and a pepper grinder on the table
What is a good egg?
A good egg is served warm, straight from the pan, on freshly-made toast. It’s important that it be whole if fried, and not runny (under-cooked) or rubbery (over-cooked) unless requested.
If it’s fried, it should be served as requested:
- Easy (neither under- or -over-cooked and yolk-up)
- Hard (over-cooked and yolk up)
- Over easy (neither under- or -over-cooked and yolk-down)
- Over hard (over-cooked and yolk-down)
- If the friend doesn’t know how they like it, assume they want it “easy”
- “On the side” means “I’d like my egg to one side of my toast”
The classic fried egg is “easy”. If you don’t know how you like your egg and you want to set a good impression, cultivate a preference for your eggs served “easy” in the same way you like your martini shaken, not stirred.
Egg operating procedure
- First, set the table. The French (because they’re French) have a name for this – “mise en place” which means “everything in its place”. Cooking quickly and efficiently is the sign of a competent chef but trying to juggle table-setting, bread-slicing, egg-cooking and coffee-making is very hard, and you will probably fail. So since the goal here is to cook a great egg breakfast, set the table first: clean fork on the left, knife on the right, sitting on a placemat. (You’ll need the plates in the kitchen to serve onto).
- Select your pan, and place it on the cooktop, place your butter, eggs and olive oil on the work surface closest to the cooktop, and place your bread in the toaster, ready to turn on.
- Turn on the toaster, and turn on the cooktop to about 1/3rd of max temp. Move straight to step four as quick as you can, as even on 1/3rd max temp, the burner will heat the pan up way too much if you leave the pan on the burner without any food in it.
- Quickly drop the butter in the pan, splash in a little olive oil, and observe how it starts melting. If it’s sizzling, your burner is too hot. If it’s not melting, it’s a little too cool. If it starts to turn brown, it’s burning so that pan is wayyy too hot – tip the burned butter out into a heat-proof container (such as another pan or saucepan) wipe the pan out with paper towel or a spare tea towel and start again. Burned butter isn’t a good taste on eggs.
- Next up: my secret for keeping the yolk from breaking as you try to drop a cracked egg into the pan (it also helps you make sure no little bits of egg shell get into the pan). Crack the number of eggs you want to cook into a low-sided cereal or stainless steel bowl. This allows you to get your hands right down low into the bowl and minimise the distance the egg needs to fall. Trying to do this in a hot pan full of bubbling melted butter is a lot trickier and most of us end up dropping the egg from way up high, increasing the chance a yolk will break. If you’ve got some cracked shell in the bowl, fish it out with a fork.
- Now lower the bowl containing the eggs gently down into the pan until it’s touching the pan and slide the eggs gently out into the bubbling butter.
- With sufficient butter in the pan, and at the right temperature, the eggs will float off the surface of the pan, so they won’t stick, even if the pan isn’t non-stick. This will help you keep the egg looking symmetrical and pretty. Don’t be tempted to slide the spatula in under an egg until you’re certain the bottom of the egg is set, as half-set egg white sticks to a frying egg really well and you’ll have a devil of a time getting it off. Instead, gently swirl the eggs around in the pan every ten seconds or so, and if you can, allow a little of the melted butter to wash over the top of the white and yolk, helping it cook evenly.
- Ideally, your toast will be ready about now. Pull it out from the toaster and set it on the plates.
- Pick up the pan and drizzle a little melted butter from the pan over the toast – instant buttered toast!
- “Over easy” and “over hard” eggs should be flipped about now. Leave them in the pan for another ten seconds (easy) or 20 seconds (hard) while you get the other eggs out of the pan and onto the plates. “Hard” eggs should remain just where they are while you get the “easy” eggs out.
- When the “easy” eggs are 95% cooked, slide the spatula under each egg, and holding the pan nice and low and close to the toast, gently transfer each egg to the toast.
- Turn off the burner and rest the pan on a cold part of the cooktop (it can hurt a pan to leave it empty on top of a hot burner). In an unhurried and competent manner, carry the two plates of eggs and toast to your beautifully set table, and serve.
- Resist the temptation to pickup your smartphone and instead attempt to maintain an active-listening role in conversation with your breakfast guest.
- Maybe they still won’t call you next week, but at least it won’t be because of your eggs.
The secret of toast with eggs
The secret is simple: start toasting the bread a good 30 seconds before you start the eggs so that your eggs aren’t waiting in the pan, going rubbery, while the bread finishes toasting. And use some of the butter from the pan to butter the bread – it is easier to spread than hard butter straight from the fridge.
When eggs are served on toast they can disguise a multitude of minor flaws in your technique, soaking a little runnyness and helping with mouth feel if you’ve cooked them a little long. The carbs in toast go well with the protein and fat in the egg so your friend will stay satisfied for longer. And eggs on toast just look better than eggs on a plate.
Easier to make than fried eggs because structural integrity isn’t important, well-made scrambled eggs are light and fluffy, not dense and rubbery. It’s important to serve them still a little runny, as they will continue to cook when on the plate.
- To scramble eggs, break 2–3 eggs per person into a ceramic bowl and whisk them with a fork (or a whisk) just until they’re mostly mixed up (mix them too long and the whites will start to stiffen and nobody likes hard scrambled eggs).
- Melt about the same amount of butter (100–200g per person) in a pan on about the same 1/3rd heat until it’s gently frothing, and then pour in all the eggs.
- Take a spatula and starting at the outside edge of the pan, drag the cooking egg from the edge of the pan into the centre of the pan, allowing the still-runny egg to flow in to take its place and begin cooking. Keep doing this dragging motion all around the pan until there’s no more runny egg and quickly tip the scrambled egg onto the toast.
Leaving egg-sactly the right impression
Come on, I had to make just one egg joke somewhere.
Eggs symbolise fertility, unity and nature. They are healthy, nutritious and will help if you indulged in one too many martinis the night before. Sure, you could make something more showy for breakfast but it would take longer, would be more likely to fail if cooked in someone else’s kitchen, and would require advance planning to make sure you have the ingredients on hand, which makes it look like you’re trying too hard to impress. Eggs and toast say all the right things about you. Get cracking.
…OK, two egg jokes.