Pitting Chef Against Tradition In Search Of The Perfect Fried Egg
A slideshow on the New York Times website recently caught my eye. Entitled "The Perfectly Fried Egg," it shows a step-by-step of Spanish chef, José Andrés, frying an egg in a pool of oil.
Like french fries. Or doughnuts.
Equally repulsed — an oil-immersed egg? "Perfect?" Seriously? — and intrigued, I had to try it for myself. And compare it to my family's long-standing tradition of frying an egg flat in a cast iron pan.
I'm not a "fine dining" home cook so, to be quite honest, chefs' techniques rarely interest me. Not they don't have anything to teach me — of course, they do — but simply because we operate in such different worlds. Sous vide? No, thanks. I'm sure it's awesome, but I don't want to commit that kind of time to cooking a chicken. Heat diffusers? Handy, no doubt, but it's just another gadget to store.
For us regular home cooks, it's also easy to get into technique ruts. I know I do all the time. (Undoing the poor knife skills I had developed in my early twenties was a project. Maddening and tedious. It was worse than a rightie learning how to write left handed.)
So when I come across a pro cooking a common dish in a completely different way, using the familiar tools of us mere mortal cooks with techniques that won't require months and a flow chart to master, I perk up. Something so simple as cooking an egg ... show me the way, Maestro! First, Chef Andrés' method (my photos below; view the slideshow on NYT):
- Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep pan over medium-high heat.
- Crack an egg into a bowl. When the oil is hot, tilt the pan to form a pool, and slide the egg into it.
- Keeping the pan tilted, spoon oil over the egg and cook until the whites are golden, about 30 seconds or so.
- Remove the egg to a plate and sprinkle with sea salt.
My main concern with this method was all that oil, but once I measured out the 4 tablespoons, it didn't seem so bad. The entire process went very quickly — no more than a couple of minutes.
- I made a couple of mistakes here: I didn't have regular olive oil on hand, just evoo, so that prompted me to use a slightly lower heat than "medium-high" — just a tad above medium. Although the evoo flavor didn't infuse the egg (a good thing), it was a waste of evoo. In the future, I'll use regular olive oil.
- Backing off on the heat prevented, I think, the brown crust that's shown in the NYT slideshow from forming quickly enough. I overcooked the yolk trying to get that golden crust (which I didn't achieve because I removed the egg from the heat once I saw what was happening to the yolk).
- Despite the fact that the egg whites didn't "fry" to the point of browning, and despite the fact that I overcooked the yolk beyond is optimal runny state, the egg was still delicious. And amazingly so.
- Although this is a one-egg-a-time process, cooking 4 or 5 eggs would still go pretty fast. A dozen would require holding the finished eggs in a warmer or in a low oven, I would think.
Now on to my long-time go-to method, cracked into a cast iron pan:
- Heat a small amount of oil — just enough to form a thin film over the surface — in a cast iron pan over medium heat.
- When the oil shimmers, carefully crack an egg into the pan. As the whites cook, use a thin, sharp metal turner to loosen the egg from the surface of the pan, taking care not to pull the egg apart or tear the yolk.
- When the undersides of the whites are firm, gently but decisively flip the egg. Cook for 20 seconds more, then remove to a plate and sprinkle with sea salt.