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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

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Sprigs of Rosemary

Saturday 29th of September 2012

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.)

thatgirl

Friday 28th of September 2012

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.

Velva

Monday 24th of September 2012

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

SoupAddict

Monday 24th of September 2012

I agree - that's why it caught my attention!

Nancy

Monday 24th of September 2012

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.

SoupAddict

Monday 24th of September 2012

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.

SoupAddict

Monday 24th of September 2012

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.

Adriana @ FoodCocktail

Monday 24th of September 2012

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.

SoupAddict

Monday 24th of September 2012

The more food I sample from the wide world of cooking, the more firmly I've concluded that grandmothers always know best. :)