The Perfect Fried Egg – Chef vs. Tradition

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, I’m sure, 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.

Notes:

  • 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.

Notes:

  • To fairly compare flavors, I purposely overcooked the yolk on this egg, and backed off on going for the browning on the edges (since the Andrés egg had no browning at all).
  • Because I was particularly focused on cooking the egg — usually a fairly absent-minded activity frequently interrupted by other tasks — I noticed just how tricky it can be to flip that sunny-side up egg without folding over the whites. It was especially noticeable compared to the Andrés egg, which took no particular finesse at all to achieve the adorable little poached-egg-like package.

And the verdict?

Mr. Andrés’ method is by far the better method. Not by just a little … by a lot. The egg is somehow creamy all the way through, and the flavor transition from whites to yolk is smooth and seamless. I honestly don’t know how that could be — there was no sharp “there it is” bite from the yolk — but I swear it’s true. Straight up smooth eggy goodness.

Comparing it to my favorite form of cooked egg — the poached egg — well, this is my new favorite. As cool weather sets in, and eggs begin topping many of my favorite autumn and winter dishes, I’ll be turning to this method again and again.

Karen xo


Comments

  1. Really? I’m as skeptical as you were, but the results don’t lie. I’ll try it next time, although I’m not the one who eats them, but a little experimentation is good for the soul, yes?

    • I’m not gonna lie – it was hard getting past the oil … but, wow … it’s a winner, and I’m really glad I took the time to try it out (even with my sort of botching it).

  2. I’m always up for learning something new. I’ve always made them like you, instead I usually use butter! But, this looks intriguing and I’m an egg lover, so I’ll have to give it a whirl!

    • Oh, it’s definitely something egg lovers should try – if anything, the presentation is so unique (to us pan fryers) that it’s a technique worth having in one’s egg cookin’ repertoire.

  3. Super cool! I was expecting the traditional method to win out. I’ll have to try this.

    • I was expecting that, too – or at most, that there was no difference at all. I didn’t brown it all the way, so I don’t know what that was like, but this just-lightly-golden version was really good.

  4. Very interesting. I checked out the NYT slide show link and was surprised at the browned little packet. I may try this out sometime since I love eggs, just to see what you mean by the uniform creaminess. I’m pretty stuck on sunny side up, spooning bacon grease over the top of the egg till the whites are all cooked but the yolk still runny. His method would be a nice alternative to a poached egg.

    • That’s actually what made me happy about this method – it’s a very nice, much easier alternative to poached eggs. The traditional version still has a rustic appeal to it … and for folks who use bacon grease, there’s no way this method would replace that! :) (Edited to note that I stand corrected: folks have used bacon grease with this method – awesome!)

  5. I learned how to cook eggs in oil from my Grannie. Actually, she used a mixture of bacon drippings and melted Crisco. Mine always have those brown crunchy edges, the soft creamy whites and the runny yolks. Two eggs cooked in oil, along with a pan of buttermilk biscuits, a strip or two of bacon and grits cooked in milk is our favorite Saturday morning breakfast around my house. I always enjoy your posts.

    • Andres claims it’s a Spanish technique, so it doesn’t surprise me that I hadn’t heard of it (my ancestry is Austro-Hungarian with a tinge of Irish), but that others have (and have it as part of their own traditions). I really love the simplicity of it, and also that it seems to be the best of both fried eggs and poached eggs. That’s a win-win!

  6. I just tried this, and wow. It really is much better. I don’t think I tipped the pan enough, so my egg spread a bit and didn’t form as compact a packet, but there was that uniform creaminess and perfectly warmed egg yolk. I’m going to want to cook my eggs this way every morning now!

    • So glad you tried it! Since the article didn’t mention anything about creaminess, it’s the last thing I was expecting, but the very first thing that stood out in the result.

  7. My grandmother used to make fried eggs just like chef Andres, and she was no chef at all. I used to think that she used too much oil, but still, her eggs always tasted awesome.

  8. Question – how much oil is leftover vs how much oil is actually absorbed by the egg. I’m probably going to try it any way, but I’m having the same issue you were initally having with the amount of oil.

    • I don’t know for sure – a lot was leftover. I think I’ll have time to try it again tonight – if I do, I’ll report back.

    • Okay, I did a repeat tonight – all but about a teaspoon was still in the pan. I cooked the egg to about the same doneness as I did above (only I didn’t over cook the yolk this time) – not golden and crunchy, but rather nicely poached. There was oil clinging to the whites here and there – easily blotted off with a paper towel.

  9. Fried eggs (over medium) is how I typically like my eggs. What’s interesting the guidance on making eggs is usually how to poach or make a perfect scramble. It is really good to see how to create perfection in making fried eggs. This is noted for thsi weekend batch of fried eggs.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Velva

  10. All of my Italian friends do their eggs in oil, as does my Norwegian husband–all with delicious results.

    If you’re concerned about “wasting” oil, re-purpose it as one might with bacon grease; refrigerate it in a glass jar until ready to use in another savory dish, and use it in reasonable time. OR dress your toast with the olive oil, instead of butter. Add a late tomato slice to it, maybe a shaving of pecorino romano, as well–and slide your fabulously-prepared egg on top.

  11. Very intriguing. I’m willing to try this experiment at home. Always ready and willing to learn new techniques. The oil is a bit off putting, but I’ve learned to trust you. And, I’ve also learned to keep regular olive oil at hand because my sister yelled at me for wasting evoo. Thanks for sharing. (BTW, I just ordered The Flavor Bible, at your recommendation.)

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