Which came first, the chicken, or the egg? For me there is absolutely no question, the egg! One of my earliest memories is of being presented with a small, steaming, brown oval package of liquid gold, simply served with heavily buttered toast cut into soldiers. With little more than a pinch of salt and a brief twist on the pepper mill into that molten pool of joy and you had yourself one of the finest meals a child of 5 could imagine. So powerful was the impact of this humble, boiled egg, that it really began my fascination with the culinary arts. It seemed a magical thing to my young mind that you could simply drop these strange orbs of mucus into a pot of boiling water and they could be transformed into a sublime experience of rich, creamy awesomeness. I was obsessed. I beseeched my poor mother to divulge the secrets of these magical spherical treasures until, at last, she “cracked” (pun intended!).
The mighty chicken egg. Hands down the most versatile ingredient in a chefs edible tool box, its uses are so ranged and varied that you could (and many have) write a whole book on them. Sweet, savoury, fried, poached, scrambled, boiled, emulsified, whipped, but never beaten (hang on folks there are a lot of egg puns to get through today!) the corner stone of the worlds finest meals or simply hurled at neighbouring houses in fits of youthful rebellion, they are the seed and symbol of new life and sustenance the world over.
We haven’t the time, or energy to delve too deeply into this bottomless pit of possible subject matter concerning our old friend, the egg, so for today I just want to focus on some of the basics. Working at a café I am constantly baffled by customers who will come in and happily pay $5-$10 for simple poached eggs on toast. There is no excuse for this behaviour people! Every person from a young age, living in the civilized world, should possess a basic set of skills concerning egg cooking techniques. What I hope to achieve with this entry is to:
- Give you the tools to create café-worthy meals at a fraction of the price, and;
- Cut down on the soul crushing frequency of boring breakfast orders placed around the world every day. We chefs labour long and hard to create unique dishes that you can’t easily produce at home, please take the time to read the fucken menu and try something a little different!
So here are my top five breakfast egg techniques for you all, they should not be too challenging to master, but of course everyone has their own preference when it comes to how they want their eggs, so once you have the basics down I urge you to adjust these recipes to suit your own taste buds.
Not as much of a straight forward thing as one might think. There are many different uses for boiled eggs which require different cooking. But all of them can be easily mastered with a little experience. I seem to get the best results from eggs that have come straight out of the refrigerator and get dropped into water on a rapid boil and a pot that is far larger than the size and amount of eggs would seem to need. This ensures that the water temperature does not drop too much once the cold eggs are added and hence throw your cooking times out of whack.
Soft boiled: Carefully lower the eggs to the bottom of the pot being careful not to crack the shell. Cracking the shell will allow too much direct heat to reach the yolk and may over cook the golden glory within, also it will look like shit! Maintain a rapid boil for 4 mins and 30 seconds for the optimum toast dipping consistency.
Medium boiled: These are great for Asian dishes like “son in law eggs” (eggs boiled, peeled and then deep-fried and served with chilli jam) or for soups like ramen or laksa. The egg will hold its shape but still yield the gooey richness and intensity you want to compliment the soup. Using a thin knife, or a metal spike, puncture a small hole in the wider end of the egg. This allows the air bubble to escape the egg as the white expands upon cooking, leaving you with a perfectly shaped egg once it is peeled. Prepare an ice water bath. Carefully lower the egg into rapidly boiling water and cook for 6 mins, turning the eggs every 2 mins to ensure even cooking. Remove at once to the iced water bath to halt the cooking process. Allow to cool for a full 20 minutes. Lightly tap the egg on the bench, cracking the shell all over the surface of the egg. Carefully peel the shell away paying extra attention at the narrow end of the egg as this is the most likely to tear during peeling.
Hard boiled: Great for salads, sandwiches or pickles, these are often the most overcooked in this bunch. It seems not too great of a challenge to just cook it until it’s rock hard, however this will often leave you with a really dry consistency and a discoloured yolk (in other words, a pile of shit!). Once again I recommend jabbing a little hole in the fat end of the egg shel to allow the air to escape during cooking. Prepare an ice bath. Drop your eggs into rapidly boiling water and cook for 9 minutes. As this is when you would normally find yourself cooking a large number of eggs together, I will reiterate the need for a much larger pot so that the water temperature, and thus the cooking time, are not affected. Remove the eggs at once to your iced water and allow to cool for a full 20 minutes. Lightly tap the egg on the bench, cracking the shell all over the surface of the egg. Carefully peel the shell away paying extra attention at the narrow end of the egg as this is the most likely to tear during peeling.
Onseng Egg (slow boiled): Also known as the 60/60 egg. This is the most difficult technique to master (unless you have a immersion circulator handy) but, in my opinion, produces the most superior results. It produces an egg that has the same texture from the white all the way through to the centre of the yolk. Wonderfully creamy and lush this wee beauty is found on the finest of fine dining menus around the world. In a very deep pot bring the water up to 60ºc. Drop a wire rack into the bottom of the pot to keep the eggs from touching the heat source directly. Carefully lower your eggs into the water and cook for 50 minutes, being sure to add a couple of extras for checking. Check the water constantly to ensure that the temperate is maintained to as close to 60ºc as possible. If the water gets too hot add some ice or cold water to bring it down again. Prepare an ice bath. Check your eggs at around 40 minutes, and again at 45 mins. Once they have attained a homogeneous texture remove the eggs to your ice bath, or serve immediately. If you are serving later, simply bring a small pot of water to the boil, drop your cooked eggs in, remove from the heat and allow to warm through for 2 minutes. Carefully crack the shell and break the egg onto your plate like you would a raw egg.
For some reason this is often the most feared style of breakfast egg. There are a multitude of different little tricks and personal tips that I have been given over the years but here is the basic way to achieve that nice, tear-drop, café egg that has so far eluded you all these years. The only real secret here folks is vinegar! Vinegar causes the egg white to coagulate before the motion of the boiling water can tear it apart. White vinegar is the most common, and cheapest, but any will do. My mother used to use malt vinegar, which I find pleasantly earthy, but some may find a tad confronting and odd. With poached eggs, especially when doing a great volume of them, as in a commercial kitchen, I find that it is best to leave your eggs out to come up to room temperature before cooking so that you aren’t wasting valuable time during service waiting for your water to come back up to the boil.
Take a deep pot and fill with hot water adding enough vinegar that you can clearly taste it when you taste the water, but not so much that it is overpowering. Bring the water up to a rolling boil. Carefully crack the shell in the middle and drop the egg into the centre of the water. The idea behind using such a deep pot is so that as the egg falls through the water, the outside of the white has set nicely before it reaches the bottom where gravity will give you a flat, unattractive, old lady lying on her back in a bikini, kind of shape. Cook the egg for 2 mins and 15 seconds. Don’t ask me why, but that extra 15 seconds seem to make all the difference. Remove from the water carefully with a slotted spoon and dab on a kitchen cloth before serving to remove excess surface water and pop any nasty little water pockets that may have formed during cooking. (Nobody wants shitty, soggy, toast!)
Always wonder why café scrambled eggs are just so much better than your moms watery, lifeless attempts? Cream bitches!! There is simply no substitute in this case, milk will not do, and if you even think about coming near my scrambled eggs with soy milk, almond milk, or whatever un-godly, lactose free abomination the “cool” kids are trying to push on the world this week, I will slap you into next week! Cream is the key. 1 part cream to 2 parts eggs, a pinch of salt and pepper, blended with a sick blender or vigorously beaten with a whisk until smooth. The other hate crime that you have no doubt been subjected to is the over cooking of ones scrambled eggs. Literally have everything else ready to go before you cook your scrambled eggs. The toast should be buttered and on the plate awaiting its glorious destiny as the sublime vessel for this delicacy. Bring a deep sided frypan to the a moderate heat and drop a knob of butter in. Allow to melt and become foamy and then, spatula in hand, pour your egg mix into the foamy mess you have created. Work the egg mix quickly with the spatula never allowing the mix to sit and set. Once the eggs have almost cooked, remove the pan from the heat and allow the eggs to mostly coagulate. Serve immediately. Nicely eggs will continue to cook and set as they sit on the plate and await their final destination. Over cooked eggs will leak water all over your plate and be rubbery.
Do I really need to explain fried eggs? You should have a firm grasp on the basics but here are a couple of handy tips you can use. Heat your pan to a moderate temperature and drop in a knob of butter. Allow the butter to foam before dropping your cracked eggs in. the caramelised milk fat will lend a pleasant nuttiness to your eggs. When your eggs are cooked on the bottom but still a bit too raw on top, dump a tablespoon of water into the hot pan and cover with a lid. The steam will cook the top of the eggs gently as well as cool down the pan so that you do not overcook the base of your eggs. Over-easy eggs are simply fried eggs that have been flipped in the pan and, in my opinion, are a fucken waste of time, unless you want really well done fried eggs, or slightly firmer eggs say for a bacon and egg sandwich.
This is probably my personal favourite. It was the last to be added into my personal repertoire and I never really mastered it until I worked at a café pumping out 300 meals on any given sunday. So versatile, there is some form of omelette in pretty much every style of cuisine in the world. I often use it as a garbage bin sort of breakfast, any kind of left overs or seemingly mismatched ingredients still kicking around the fridge at the end of the pay week will undoubtedly meets its demise inside an omelette in our house. Here I am going to give you the basic European, folded omelette, that most of you should be familiar with. Have all your filling pre-chopped, in separate little piles ready to go, also have your eggs well whisked and ready for cooking (I generally use 2 eggs for an average size omelette, or 3 or a large) . Heat your most non-stick pan to a fairly high heat and fry your ingredients in order of cooking time, so onions would be first, followed by what ever meat your using then lastly mushrooms etc. Spread your cooked filling evenly over the surface of the fry pan and starting from the centre, pour our egg mix into the pan spiralling outward. Tilt the pan so that the egg mix fills in all the gaps and sits evenly on the pan surface. Season with salt and pepper, and turn the heat down to 1/3. When the eggs have mostly set, sprinkle any spinach or other leafy greens, along with some grated cheese in a straight line across the centre of the omelette. Tilt the fry pan slightly away from yourself and taking a spatula, flip the edge nearest to you over the top of the line of filling in the centre. Give the pan a little shake and push the omelette down so that the bottom side comes to the lip of the pan. Now the tricky part! Take your plate in one hand, fry pan in the other, touch the bottom side of the pan just inside the edge of the plate, with the plate being on top of the pan and carefully tip the pan and the plate so that the plate ends up on the bottom and the omelette has folded out of the pan. Sounds complicated but once you give it a try you will get a feel for the physics of it.
So I hope all this is helpful in your quest for eggcellent eggs. I feel it is a skill set that is crucial in a modern world that seems so hindered by convenience, that the art of preparing ones self even the simplest of meals seems to be a task relegated to a professional. It is my earnest hope that this article will in some way help you to provide more wholesome nourishment for you and yours, as well as perhaps venturing outside of your little “eggs on toast” bubble during your next café visit.
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. – C S Lewis