Saturday, April 5, 2008

Eggs: A Mini-Survey

This week’s issue of London’s TimeOut magazine, for their round-up of the top 30 breakfast spots in London, features a giant blown-up picture of a buttery toast-point plunging into a soft-boiled egg. The soft-boiled egg is a national obsession here; a house in England without eggcups would be like a house in Iowa without corn-holders.

I like eggs nearly every way they come, including soft-boiled (although I have managed so far without the aid of eggcups). I have never dared to try a pickled egg from one of those giant glass pickle barrels that you see in dive bars, nor will I ever eat a thousand-year egg, but otherwise I’m a card-carrying member of the egg fan club. Eggs can (and should) be involved in any meal of the day in my book. Because of my egg-love and love of all things breakfast related, I have obsessed for years on the best way to cook eggs. I admit that I’m still fairly hopeless with poached eggs. My last attempt came out quite decent, but using red wine vinegar because we had no white or cider vinegar was an unfortunate move. As you might guess, a pink poached egg is not very appetizing.

My major source of egg cooking pride comes from my total mastery of scrambled eggs. Yes, it is true; I am The Master of Scrambled Eggs. So imagine my unpleasant surprise when I discovered that what they call scrambled eggs in Europe are not the same as what is called scrambled eggs in America.

When we first visited London, our hotel breakfast buffet always included a chafing-dish full of really unpleasantly soupy scrambled eggs that left a pool of water on the plate and made the toast soggy. We thought at the time that this was just the hotel attempting to keep the eggs from drying out. In actuality, scrambled eggs in England and elsewhere in Europe are nearly always soupy. It seems that the desired consistency is something akin to cottage cheese mixed with water.

Let’s analyze a recipe for ‘Luxury’ scrambled eggs from the BBC website to see why (my comments in red):

1. Break the eggs (two eggs per person) into the mixing bowl, taking care not to let any shell slip into the mix. Okay, so far so good.
2. Do not whisk the eggs, but mix them until the eggs are broken into the whites, retaining a streaky white and yellow look. Um, no, this is wrong. Why would you want partially mixed eggs?
3. Add two tablespoons of milk, cream, or water per serving. Too much liquid for my taste.
4. Add a knob of butter. Wait, shouldn’t you add this to the pan?
5. Add salt and pepper to taste. Preferably to your taste. I like the addition of “Preferably to your taste”.
6. Pour the mixture into a heavy-bottomed pan, put on a very low heat and stir slowly with the wooden spoon. Too much stirring makes scrambled eggs mealy.
7. After a few minutes the mixture will start to thicken; at this stage place in a heat-proof bowl and into a warm oven, or better still the cooler oven in an Aga. Okay, this is where it goes totally wrong. Plus I just had to look up what an Aga is.
8. Leave for five to ten minutes and serve. Ideally, it should be served hot and semi-solid, on hot buttered toast. Mmmm, semi-solid. Delish.

In my world, the eggs need to be whisked, the butter needs to be melted in the pan, and scrambled eggs shouldn’t be left in a warm bowl until they are “semi-solid”.

Andy’s Recipe for Perfect American-Style Scrambled Eggs
1. Break two eggs per person into a mixing bowl.
2. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Add a tablespoon of sour cream or crème fraiche per serving (I got this idea from Ralph Cifaretto right before Tony Soprano whacked him).
4. Whisk egg mixture together for a good thirty seconds until well mixed and a little aerated.
5. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan (the smallest that will comfortably fit your eggs) over medium heat.
6. As eggs begin to set on the bottom, stir, folding the set parts into the liquid. Turn down the heat to medium-low for the remainder of the time. Don’t stir continuously - let the bottom start to set, and fold, and repeat, never letting the eggs brown.
7. When nearly done, turn off heat and let sit for 30 seconds, fold one more time and serve.
8. Remember, yours won’t be as good as mine, because I’m The Master of Scrambled Eggs, but they should be pretty darn tasty.

So, naturally, to follow this egg discussion, we have devised a short egg-based survey. The survey is now done - see results in this later post.


RW Apple Wannabe said...

Hi Andy,

I've been reading "My Life in France," by Julia Child. By coincidence, I just got to the part where she talks about her first lessons at the Cordon Bleu and describes her surprise upon learning that the "proper" way to cook scrambled eggs is as you described it using that BBC recipe, though without putting it in the oven until it's "dense." I was surprised, too, by this recipe for the perfect oeufs brouilles, and now I'm curious to try it. I'll let you know how it goes because, like you, I'm skeptical.

Andy M. said...

There is a video of Gordon Ramsay on YouTube making scrambled eggs with a recipe similar to the BBC one without the warm bowl rest period - his come out looking pretty good, but still too mealy for my taste:

I like it when he burns his toast.

rw apple wannabe said...

That was a fun video, though the Julia Child way is to *not* do too much stirring and mixing, and after seeing how Gordon's eggs came out, I'm now curious if the way I've liked eggs all these years (i.e., in bigger, airier pieces) is wrong.

Andy M. said...

If Julia recommends not to stir too much, then I have hope for her recipe. GR's eggs came out pretty decent looking - I still think the consistency is not that appealing.

I've had variations on this theme everywhere I've had breakfast in London and Paris). And, come to think of it, I had the loose scrambled eggs in Calcutta too. Admittedly, this was my mistake for eating eggs in Calcutta when I could have been eating yummy idlis and utthapams for breakfast, but it was just like I've had here in London.

Kellie Pickler said...

In regards the pickled eggs: Is it true that one can simply place eggs in a jar of vinegar, sans cooking, and the shells will somehow re-integrate and the bloody things will become pickled? A certain fellow, who nearly always duped me into doing stupid things, told me this in sixth grade. I'm on board as far as the egg becoming pickled, but where does the shell go?

Andy M. said...

Dear Kellie -

I've heard the thing about pickled eggs too. If only it was true... Actually, if it was, I would be a little worried about eating vinegar - if it can eat through an egg shell, what is it doing to my intestines every time I eat a salad? Nope, all recipes for pickled eggs involve hard boiling the eggs and removing the shell before dropping them into the vinegary brine.

BTW, I loved you on "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader":

kellie pickler said...

Thank you for disabusing me of yet another of my multifold ignorances. Those fifth-graders never guessed that my oh-so-silly yokel look is just shtick. Plus, I got to shake hands with Jeff Foxworthy. The guy who I used to think was my daddy really thought he was a hoot.

cabernet said...

Well, Martin likes them mealy, but he's from the country with the thinnest cookbook(Ire.)! We do have egg cups! You've got to get them, or they'll kick you out of the country(maybe that's your point?) However we do make our poached eggs with a little balsamic vinegar, weird, but pleasant. And I remember reading Julia Child's cookbook when I was a precocious teenager, and she talked about scrambled eggs as being a souffle, so aerating is nessesary, as is less stirring during the cooking. Martin thinks this is too similar to an omelette, again, I'd like to point out which culinarily depraved island he's from. I've never heard anything about the "warm bowl rest period" and will strike such nonsense from my memory!!! I would like to add that a little cheese never hurt a good scramble!

Andy M. said...

Hey Cab!

True, a bit of cheese never hurts scrambled eggs. Chives are good too. Chive 'em if you got 'em.

I like the image of a "culinarily depraved island" - it sounds like a new concept for a Gordon Ramsay reality TV show.

Olivia said...

I know this is a really old post - I happened upon your blog because I just moved to London, so I was going back to your posts about London. (Thanks for all the restaurant ideas etc! Never knew you'd be helping out strangers right?)
Anyway, I too love eggs, all ways, and like American scrambled too (but find that most Americans way overcook their scramble.)
I haven't yet had British scrambled eggs, but, when I was really little, our old Italian neighbor used to make me scrambled eggs which I loved so much that she taught me to make them too.
Put some good quality olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan, lightly whisk together with a fork the eggs in a bowl and then pour them into the not-yet-hot pan. Keep the heat on low. Now use a plastic spoon (yes, she always insisted it must be plastic, and I don't know why, but I've never done otherwise) and scrap up the bits of egg as they slowly cook. Do this continuously until done. I'm telling you they are absolutely to die for - rich and creamy and oh-my-goodness good.
Your old posts have given me such good ideas for how to spend my time in London that I had to reciprocate by sharing my egg recipe with a fellow egg-lover. Hope you like it!

Andy Murdock said...

Hi Olivia - thanks for the comment! Those sound like some delicious scrambled eggs to me - I can definitely get behind some good olive oil scrambled eggs.

It has been a couple years since I wrote this post, and I've changed my egg cooking ways a bit. I've shifted to lower and lower heat, with a little more stirring, and I whisk the eggs like crazy (partially because it entertains my daughter to no end, but it also makes for very light scrambled eggs). I agree that most American scrambled eggs come out overcooked, but I'd still beware the super-runny ones that are so common across England.

Enjoy your time in London - truly one of the best cities in the world for food.