Eggs 201 (Part 1)

Poached and Fried

“How d’ya like your eggs in the morning…”, sang Dean Martin and Helen O’Connell in a rather corny duet back in the 50s. Indeed, there are a lot of ways you can cook eggs. We’ve had a two-parter on eggs two and a half years back, the Eggs 101 series, which was little more than a quick overview of the versatility of the egg. We will now continue the discussion, focusing on a different aspect every time. In this 201 course, we will tackle the ubiquitous breakfast egg, with specific focus on the almost polarizing cultural differences when it comes to some of the commonest and most basic egg dishes.

Let start with the poached egg, the most uncontroversial of the lot. This is one style of breakfast egg which I feel has just one way of doing right. Poaching eggs is still a bit of a niche and certainly the most cheffy, fancy way of cooking an egg. It is more difficult than boiling, as the whites have a good chance of unravelling without the shell to hold it together. You need the freshest eggs for poaching. Undercook it and it will collapse as soon as you retrieve it from the water, overcook it and you get a misshapen hockey puck that is unappetizing to look at and unappealing to eat.

Eggs Benedict (Courtesy: The Spruce Eats)

Poaching eggs gives you a delicate soft white encasing a runny yolk. The white of a poached egg is much softer than a soft-boiled egg, since you need to boil an egg to a certain level if you want to peel it, unless you’re eating it directly from the shell. If you want the best of both worlds, you’ve got to poach. Although poaching eggs is more difficult than other techniques like boiling or frying, it is still well within the home cook’s realm. Helen Rennie does a brilliant video on how to poach eggs efficiently at home, and an accompanying video that allows you to use these to make Eggs Benedict.

A topping of poached egg can elevate any dish, even a mundane piece of toast. Eggs Benedict is THE classic breakfast featuring the poached egg, sitting atop an English muffin and Canadian bacon. Swapping the bacon with spinach makes it an Eggs Florentine, while smoked salmon turns it into an Eggs Royale. The entirety is then draped with Hollandaise sauce, made with egg yolks and clarified butter. To please the Indian palate, you could serve poached eggs with some yoghurt, topped generously with butter infused with Aleppo pepper (red chilli powder would work in a pinch) to make çılbır, a dish dating back to the Ottoman Turks.

Çılbır (Courtesy : Six Hungry Feet)

Moving on now to a breakfast egg that is more familiar, yet extremely controversial. Fried eggs are a breakfast staple. You could have it on its own, with toast, or go the distance and pair the eggs and toast and some other stuff, like a tomato based salsa ranchera for the Mexican Huevos Rancheros (remember Breaking Bad?), or cheese and a spiced onion-tomato concoction for the famous Eggs Kejriwal, a dish named after a certain Devi Prasad Kejriwal who asked for eggs cooked a certain way in at the Willingdon Sports Club in 1960s Bombay (not Delhi. Yeah, I’m just as surprised as you are).

People in specific cultures get so hung up on particular things being cooked in certain ways that a variant from a different part of the world feels alien, often plain wrong. And nowhere is this more obvious than with the fried egg. When cooked low and slow, you get an egg with an oozy, gorgeous yolk and tender white. If you cook it gently and manage to get no colour on it, you get a picture-perfect emoji-esque sunny-side-up, perfect on a piece of crisp toast. It is delicious, and many people enjoy it. If you flip it midway during cooking, you get eggs over easy, with a yolk that is less yellow and more yellow. But, what is the “right” way to fry an egg?

Marco’s Full English Breakfast with the “emoji egg” (Courtesy : Singapore Food and Lifestyle)

“Visualize that fried egg on the plate. Do you want it to be burned around the edges? Do you want to see craters on the egg white?… The answer to [these] questions should be no. Yet the majority of people still crack an egg and drop it into searingly hot oil or fat and continue to cook it on high heat…. And the result…is an inedible destruction of that great ingredient—the egg. Maybe that’s how you like it, in which case carry on serving your disgusting food.”

Marco Pierre White in his autobiography, “The Devil in the Kitchen”.

Rather strong statement in my opinion, one which reeks of elitism. However, Chef James Kenji López-Alt, author of the iconic cookbook The Food Lab, goes the other way. “Screw Pristine Whites, I want my fried eggs FRIED”, he says in a Serious Eats article, cooking the egg in a lot of oil at very high heat, basting it from time to time, so that it cooks from both sides. The whole process takes under a minute, and you end up with a fried egg with crisp lacy frills, which adds not only a gorgeous colour but more importantly, a textural contrast to the still oozy egg yolk. You could top it with some sriracha or chilli oil for a spicy kick, but this egg is good enough to be had on its own, considering the intrinsic variety of textures. I personally prefer the crispy fried egg to the picture-perfect one.

Kenji’s crispy fried eggs (Courtesy : Serious Eats)

For a dish where you already have toast, like an English breakfast or Eggs Kejriwal, an emoji egg would work. But in general, if I want a super tender white and a runny yolk to pair with my crisp buttery toast for breakfast, I’d much rather poach or soft-boil an egg, not fry it. If I’m cooking my egg in fat, I’d make sure I’m making good use of it, scaling the heights the temperature scale which are out of water’s reach to create that gorgeous browning which adds both flavour and texture. Also, an emoji egg lies flat, and has much less theatrical oomph compared to a delicate rotund orb of poached egg, crowning an Eggs Benedict, daintily draping the dish the moment you cut it open. But, to each his own. If you love your eggs without a crispy frill, go ahead. Unlike Marco, I won’t judge.

Thankfully, people are a lot more tolerant when it comes to some other egg dishes, fully acknowledging that there are different ways of doing the same dish, while simultaneously rooting for one particular style. It is astonishing to see the sheer variety you get just within the realm of breakfast eggs. Join us next week as we explore three more egg staples of the breakfast table.

Eggs Kejriwal (Courtesy : My Big Fat Halal Blog)

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