Boiled, Scrambled, and Omelette
Last time, we started our exploration of breakfast egg dishes by discussing the poached and fried eggs, delving deep into the level of controversy created by something as simple and ubiquitous as a fried egg. This week, we will explore three more egg classics, starting with the humble boiled egg.
Thankfully, people are a lot more tolerant when it comes to boiled eggs. There is no one right way, as is evident from the entire spectrum of doneness ranging from soft-cooked to hard-boiled. As with steak, posh gourmands tend to lean towards the less cooked side of the spectrum, and the photogenic soft-cooked egg with its delicate white and oozing yolk on a piece of avocado toast is bound to fetch thousands of likes on Instagram. Rich, creamy and decadent, a soft-boiled egg is an almost perfect substitute for the poached egg in case you’re craving them but lack the expertise to make them.
The hard-boiled egg is the quiet, nerdy cousin of the sultry soft-boiled egg. Although much less impressive than the soft-boiled egg in terms of looks, the hard-boiled egg is easier to make. Mashed up and spread on untoasted bread, it makes a great sandwich, served at Coffee House in College Street. Soft-boiled eggs also make a lovely, more decadant sort of sandwich, a famous street food grub from Free School Street in the New Market area, with eggs spread out on mayo-covered before frying it crisp in butter. While the hard-boiled egg is a perfectly acceptable replacement of the soft boiled egg at the breakfast table and is, in fact, one of the most common forms in which it is consumed in India, the real power of the hard-boiled egg is harnessed beyond the breakfast table.
While the soft-boiled egg jealously guards its territory, yielding only to certain exceptions like sandwich eggs, pickled eggs and ramen eggs, the hard-boiled egg is the undisputed king of culinary collaboration, which makes it the egg of choice when you what the egg to be the hero of a main course. When taken a step further and deep fried, the skin of the egg browns and wrinkles, perfect to hold on to sauce, the basis for the Chinese tiger egg and our own dim er kosha. And then of course, there are the devilled eggs and egg salads would not be possible with a soft-boiled egg. And who said those can’t be Insta-worthy?
Let’s move on now to the two breakfast classics that feature beaten eggs. When making scrambled eggs, you could go down the Gordon Ramsay / Heston Blumenthal route and cook eggs and butter over a double boiler for 20 minutes to get a custardy concoction. Alternatively, you could go in with a high heat to create more prominent curds with an edge of char to them to create a more familiar dish. Indian scrambled eggs like the bhurji or the Parsi-style Akuri is a far cry from Ramsay’s creation. Here, we see the introduction of onion, tomato, chilli and spice, which works with this chunkier style of scrambled egg. Take it too far though, and it will turn rubbery.
Whampoa chaodan is a Cantonese style of scrambled egg that acts as a bridge between the two, deftly balancing the creaminess of Ramsay’s style to the chunkiness of our own bhurji. This style of scramble has silky sheets of almost omelette-like curd, something that is creamy and luscious but have more body than the custardy style, meaning you could eat it on its own without having to rely on a piece of crisp toast to balance out the texture. That being said, it is often used in combination with other ingredients like meat and veggies.
Finally, the omelette. We Indians love the rustic style of omelette, similar to the American diner-style or a Denver omelette, an easy to make dish with a decent amount of delicious browning. It is sturdy, more suited for the addition of other ingredients, which Indians are more than likely to do. Onions and a handful of chopped green chillies are uncodified essentials in our morning omelettes. You could grate in a sharp cheese like cheddar to make a wonderful cheese omelette. And then there is the masala omelette, chock-full of spices and veggies. More complicated than our rustic style is the classic Japanese omelette, tamagoyaki. It takes incredible skill and patience to make, made by rolling together multiple layers of fried egg.
Even more dainty and daunting than the Japanese omelette is the dreaded French omelette. This style of omelette showcases the egg and classic technique in all its glory. A picture-perfect masterpiece of a pale-yellow spindle specked with greens, encasing a luscious, almost custardy center. It is a lot more difficult to make. It is extremely delicate, almost akin to creamy scrambled eggs, and is served very minimalistically with some toast and a sprinkling of herbs, commonly chives. A fancy French variant is the soufflé omelette, where the eggs and separated, the whites beaten into a meringue before mixing in back with the yolks and cooking it. The result is a gorgeous, pillowy omelette with a brown crust.
Legendary French chef Jacques Pépin has a popular video where he demonstrates two styles of making an omelette: the so-called country style omelette, rustic and browned, and then the picture-perfect classic French style. And that duality covers most of the ground when it comes to omelettes. What I like most about the video is a line he says at the outset about the two styles of omelette: “One is not better than the other. It’s just a different technique, a different taste, a different look that you have in it.”
And that, my friends, is the take-home message of this entire conversation. While a French omelette or a soft-boiled egg clearly takes more skill and time than the Denver omelette or a hard-boiled egg, all eggs have their place. Play a delicate Chopin nocturne in a bustling, crowded bar and you’ll know what I’m talking about. There is no right or wrong way to cook eggs for breakfast. It is all about context and of course, preference. Widen your horizon, try everything out, and then pick to what you like. So go ahead, explore, and widen your options at the breakfast table. You won’t regret it.