THE SECOND FASTEST WAY TO MAKE A MEAL
As far as we’re concerned, a fried egg should be fried. That’s how it’s done at the best diners: sunny-side up and crisp on the underside and edges, with a tender opaque white and a perfectly runny yolk.
Maybe it’s the lack of a hot, slick commercial griddle or a short-order cook’s expertise, but most eggs fried at home fall short in one of two ways: The first likely problem is undercooked whites—specifically, a slippery transparent ring of white surrounding the yolk. The second common flaw is an overcooked yolk—often it is fluid on top but cooked solid on the underside.
These faults are due to a predicament that plagues most egg cookery: Yolks and whites set at different temperatures. This means that yolks, which start to solidify at 158 degrees, are inevitably overcooked by the time the whites set up at 180 degrees. The goal when frying eggs—to have the yolks less set than the whites—would seem impossible, except for the fact that diner cooks regularly succeed.
There are two basic approaches for tackling an egg’s disparate doneness temperatures: Cook low and slow, or cook hot and fast. The former calls for breaking the eggs into a warm, greased skillet over low heat and letting the whites gradually firm up, hoping that very little heat actually reaches the yolks. Even if it works, this method produces no browning.
The opposite method blasts the eggs with the goal of getting them out of the pan before the yolks have time to set up. Clearly, strong heat is necessary to achieve any crispness, but how can you manage this process when there are multiple eggs in the pan, each demanding rapid-fire attention? Our solution combines both methods for perfect results.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Bowls Ensure a Consistent Start
Many home cooks crack the eggs directly in the pan. Not only can bits of shell end up in the pan, but this process takes a minute or so, which means the first egg is racing ahead of the last egg. Cracking four eggs into two small bowls, and then simultaneously pouring the eggs into the pan from either side, ensures that all the eggs start and finish at the same time. And you can fish out any bits of shell before the cooking begins.
Preheat the Pan Over Low Heat
Hot spots are a particular problem with the hot and fast cooking method. Letting the pan heat for 5 minutes over low before turning the heat up ensures that the entire pan is evenly heated. A nonstick pan is a must when cooking eggs, and a large pan (at least 12 inches in diameter) provides ample room to fry four eggs.
Use Oil and Butter
Adding a little vegetable oil to the pan helps the cook gauge the temperature. Once the heat is raised to medium-high the oil should quickly shimmer, indicating the pan is hot enough to fry the eggs. At this point, we add a pat of butter—the milk proteins help brown the edges of the eggs. Don’t add the butter at the outset, with the oil, or it might burn. Once the butter melts, the eggs can be slid into the pan.
Cover It Up, Finish Off the Heat
Adding a lid to the skillet traps heat and steam so the eggs cook from above as well as below, which helps the whites to firm up before the yolks overcook. Moving the pan off the heat after 1 minute of covered cooking allows the whites to finish cooking—gently—while keeping the yolks liquid.
Dividing the eggs into small bowls is the first step to perfect cooking. And don’t forget the lid, which traps heat and prevents slippery whites.
Perfect Fried Eggs
- 10 minutes (including prep)
- 12- or 14-inch nonstick skillet with lid
- 2 small bowls
- Plastic spatula/turner
Substitutions & Variations
- To cook two eggs, use an 8- or 9-inch nonstick skillet and halve the amounts of oil and butter.
- You can use this method with extra-large or jumbo eggs without altering the timing.
- In addition to serving fried eggs over pasta, you can use them to turn salad greens (spinach is especially nice) into a light meal. As with the pasta, the runny yolk helps to moisten the greens.
- For the ultimate breakfast sandwich, fry the eggs in rendered bacon fat or sausage grease. Cook the meat first, drain off all but 1 tablespoon of fat, and then fry the eggs as directed in the same pan. Once the eggs are cooked to your liking, top each egg with the bacon or sausage and a single slice of American cheese. Replace the lid and continue to let stand (the pan is still off the heat) just until the cheese begins to melt. Sandwich the egg-meat-cheese combo in a toasted and buttered English muffin, along with baby spinach and/or a thin slice of tomato, and serve immediately.
When checking for doneness, lift the lid just a crack to prevent loss of steam should the eggs need further cooking. When cooked, the thin layer of white surrounding the yolk will turn opaque. If desired, serve with Oven-Fried Bacon.
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs
- Salt and pepper
- 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces and chilled
- Heat oil in 12- or 14-inch nonstick skillet over low heat for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, crack 2 eggs into small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining 2 eggs and second small bowl.
- Increase heat to medium-high and heat until oil is shimmering. Add butter to skillet and quickly swirl to coat pan. Working quickly, pour 1 bowl of eggs in 1 side of pan and second bowl of eggs in other side. Cover and cook for 1 minute. Remove skillet from burner and let stand, covered, 15 to 45 seconds for runny yolks (white around edge of yolk will be barely opaque), 45 to 60 seconds for soft but set yolks, and about 2 minutes for medium-set yolks. Slide eggs onto plates and serve.
SPAGHETTI WITH FRIED EGGS AND BREAD CRUMBS SERVES 4
Be sure to cook the eggs just before serving, so that the yolks will still be runny and help create the sauce. Rather than using vegetable oil and butter, fry the eggs in 4 teaspoons olive oil.
- 2 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1 ounce parmesan cheese, grated (½ cup), plus extra for serving
- 1 recipe perfect Fried Eggs
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Pulse bread in food processor to coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses. Toss crumbs with 2 tablespoons oil, season with salt and pepper, and spread over rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring often, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Cook 3 tablespoons oil, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt in 12- or 14-inch nonstick skillet over low heat, stirring constantly, until garlic foams and is sticky and straw-colored, 8 to 10 minutes; transfer to bowl.
- Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Add Parmesan, remaining 3 tablespoons oil, garlic mixture, and ½ cup reserved pasta cooking water and toss to combine.
- During final 5 minutes of pasta cooking time, wipe now-empty skillet clean with paper towels and place over low heat for 5 minutes. Fry eggs as directed, making sure yolks are still runny.
- Season pasta with salt and pepper to taste, and add more reserved cooking water as needed to adjust consistency. Top individual portions with bread crumbs and fried egg and serve, passing extra Parmesan separately.
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