90% of us, pro and home chefs alike, have cooked eggs, one of the most common foods on the planet, wrong. For generations!
The often rubbery rubbish, coated in burned fats which we turn toxic, from the sandy-yolked fast food egg sandwiches to the upscale cream-laden “soft” eggs of the Euro breakfast traditions, we proudly keep applying culinary band-aids to bad practice where tradition turns toxic.
Part bad practice, part fear of bacteria, destroying eggs comes from the Culinary Dark Ages before the advent of refrigeration.
Eggs are one of the most magnificent, versatile, simple foods on the planet. Let’s make ’em sexy again!
Only a few, and I mean a few chefs know how to cook them properly. That’s why Helen Mirren’s character, the owner of a Michelin-rated restaurant, uses the perfect omelette as a yardstick to hire her staff. Yet, you’ll laugh, but the food porn omelette in the Hundred-Foot Journey is cool looking, but still wrong!
You can achieve amazing things with eggs in your kitchen, with your equipment, humble as it may be. Great eggs are not heat, or special gadgets. They’re about understanding, patience, and skill.
Learn this stuff, and you might want to get a receipt book so you can leave your family the bill for it when they’re done!
Let’s try to understand the egg, from the science of it, and prepare it with that knowledge, and any egg dish, from scramble to quiche, can be perfect, light and airy.
THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS THAT CAUSE EGGICIDE:
- Too little time;
- Too much heat;
- Lack of aeration;
- Germaphobia/Wrong sanitation;
- Improper handling/Lack of confidence;
- Poor quality eggs/old eggs;
- Wrong fats/oil, and too much of them;
Buy the good stuff in small quantities, use them up, and do not let them get so old that they file for Social Security (Get rid of them).
Read my article on how to shop for them, avoid the egg scams, and buying unsafe eggs.
Pasture-raised are your best bet for top grade. Locally sourced eggs from small farms and neighbors’ yards, or even from your own yard, are great, as long as they’re handled properly and cleaned well, and you know that the hens are well cared for.
Let’s start with what’s in an egg, beyond that most people know there is a yolk, and a white.
Eggs are mostly water. 90% of the white, about 27 grams of the 30g in an egg white, and 50% of the yolk, according to Hervé This in his landmark book “Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor.”
How does an egg rise?
A tremendous amount of steam is created by heating one egg: 30 litres/32 quarts worth!
That steam from water in the egg itself is what cooks the proteins in the egg. The amino acids that make up the proteins fold in on themselves in part when they cook, forming web-like lattices, little pockets.
The pockets trap steam and expand, which makes the egg rise.
What defines tenderness in an egg?
The quantity of water that you can trap in it. The more time you give the egg to form those lattices, and the more lattices it creates, the more water it traps and retains in the protein chains, making a lighter, moister, more tender egg. The same is true of the yolk. Properly cooked eggs, even hard boiled, don’t have that “sandy” texture to the yolk.
68/154 GIVES YOUR EGGS A LITTLE MORE
Through scientific experimentation, then, we know that the ideal temperature for eggs:
The ideal starting temperature for a whole egg, or a scramble with yolk, is 68°C/154°F.
An overcooked egg at what are “normal” temperatures now takes 1-3 minutes. Ours will take 5-8 minutes, allowing for variables like air temperature, altitude, humidity, etc.
We trade off excessive heat for time/duration of cooking. It allows for both the proper rise time, and for the sterilization of the egg from unwanted pathogens like bacteria.
As some of you probably know, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a finished temperature of 71°c/160°F or over to eliminate internal bacterial contamination that can occur in raw eggs. Many doctors and scientists, including those who cook, will tell you that is overstated. Pathogens in chicken and eggs that can cause harm to humans, like salmonella, die off at 50°c/122°F. My method exceeds both safety lines handily.
If we set the heat under a pan for starting temp of 68°C/154°F, we will get an increase of about +5°c/+12°F in temperature, to 73°C/168°F or more finish temp, as we take a bit longer to fully form the egg structures using this method.
Most home chefs and pros fire up the pan at more than double that temperature, about 163°C/325°F! Why?
Superstition kept us alive long before science started to refine our understanding of what to do with our food. Unfortunately, superstition also has its unintended, and frequently harmful, consequences.
OvER-COOKING EGGS’ DARK SIDE
Like pork and shrimp, eggs have generational fears attached to them. While they’ve been consumed since man stole them out of nests, fear of foodborne illness from eggs has made a whole string of great grandmas positively mental about cooking these bad-boys. High-temp cooking of eggs has three other downsides:
- Sending Oils to the Dark Side is Dangerous – If you’ve sprayed PAM on a hot pan, you’ve watched it smoke and turn black right away, then you have turned your oil to the Dark Side of the Culinary Force. More on the health dangers of that in a moment.
- Extra calories – To slow down the cooking process, and to get the right thickness without rising, chefs, home or pro, put more egg into the pan or onto the griddle. It cools the pan, and buys us a bit more time, but now you are doubling the product. That’s extra unwanted calories, and cholesterol, with which eggs are loaded.
- Omega-3 Obliteration – Omega-3 is the heart-healthy stuff present in eggs. It’s also sensitive to light and heat. When we overheat pans, we lose a lot of the O3 that makes eggs better for us to eat.
Low and slow is the way to go with eggs, just like barbecue. As the Rolling Stones sang, time is on our side, yes it is.
THE PREP BONUS
Low and slow allows you more freedom to stage a meal.
We generally put eggs on a breakfast as a finishing point in the kitchen, but often at the expense of other things being perfect, or warm, because there is nothing worse than lukewarm egg dishes, for those that are expected to be served hot.
BECOME A TEMPTIMELORD
If Dr. Who can master the world with his smarts and a sonic screwdriver, we can become TempTimelords of our own kitchens with a good culinary “screwdriver” that many of us leave lying by in our drawers: A digital, instant thermometer.
I know that home chefs generally find thermometers a bother, and therefore don’t use them.
It is essential, though, to know the real temperature and not guess, to get the heat that you want out of your equipment, and put the real powers of science to make your cooking better.
Instant-read keeps feeding you information. Older mechanical thermometers take too long to adjust, and often are just needle gauges which don’t give you much specific to work with.
Use whatever thermometer is available to you that works. If you don’t have a good one, I might suggest that my Thermapen Mark IV is the way to go. It’s been a game-changer for me.
TAKING THE PAIN OUT OF THE PAN
Eggs are more obligation than art for most of us, so when we buy gear, here’s our mainstream mantra:
If it’s non-stick and quick, it does the trick.
If it’s cheap it goes to the top of the heap!
There are a billion varieties of egg/omelette sized pans out there. Mostly bad ones.
The good news is that, whether you use an A-Line All-Clad copper or a cheap [Brand Here]-Mart non-stick, all pans work better at the low end of the heat range.
Ceramic pans have the added advantage, if you use them diligently with only wire whisks and silicon spatulas and spoons, of needing no added oil to cook.
Fewer calories, and less of a problem with burned oil, which we should worry about far more than bacteria in farmed eggs.
Adjust the heat to 68°C/154°F before you start getting things out for the mise en place of making your eggs, particularly if you’re using an old coil-heated range top.
Just touch the surface of the pan lightly with your thermometer, as the pointed tip of something like a Thermapen can scratch if you push down. Get your number. When it hits, put your eggs in. Keep the thermometer handy the first couple of times that you make eggs. You may need to adjust the temp a little bit the first couple of times to get it right.
Low and slow….
NO BURNT PANS MEAN HAPPIER DNA STRANDS
When you burn oil, you change it. Many of the “good” properties are not only lost, but you’ve sent them to the Dark Side.
When oils are pushed past their smoke point, they change chemically in ways that create free radicals.
Like hippies from the 60s, free radicals do their own “thing.” They’re not complete molecule strands, so they look for places to “latch” on to. When that place is the DNA in your body, not such a happy thing. Free radicals are a source of aging, and may cause/contribute to some types of cancer.
Overcook eggs and oils, and the good Omega-3 fatty acids in both break up worse than a couple on The Bachelor.
DUMP THE SPRAY. BASTING IS EASY AS 1-2-GHEE
Spray oils are convenient, Some, like a nice extra-virgin olive or grapeseed may be fine for misting a salad, but the ones intended for spraying in your pans and grilling are a big AVOID.
Thin oils meant to come out of a spray head, they’re some of the easiest to burn. Most sprays are the lowest grade of commercial vegoils out there, and many, such as the refined, even “pure” labeled canola oil have traces of a petroleum product also found in gasoline called n-hexane, that shouldn’t be top of anyone’s list to consume.
The spray mist does get breathed in a bit, not good with regular use over years and decades.
Two musts for your eggs: A silicone basting brush and ghee.
Ghee is butter’s better Indian cousin.he smoke point of ghee is a whopping 252°c/485°F!
Free of milk solids, it is a better pure fat that rivals the best vegetable oils, and it’s dynamite as a pan lubricant for eggs! Just spoon a little into the warmed pan, brush it around with the silicone brush, and you just took your egg game up a couple of pegs!
If you don’t do dairy, both avocado oil and rice bran oil, which are neutral-flavored with a high smoke point, are great vegetable oils. Expeller pressed canola oil works too, although it has a bit of an adverse flavor. Avoid not only sprays but any of the volume producers’ vegetable oils. Even “pure” canola is made with stuff like n-hexane, a gasoline derivative, that you really don’t want in your food, even in trace amounts.
NOVEL FRIED EGGS, NOT NOVELTIES
Even fried eggs benefit from low and slow.
We’re used to superheating a pan dropping our egg in, and watching it sear immediately. That’s great if you’re trying to make rubber egg novelties for magic shops, or you like free radicals, but you can get a nice light fluffy fried egg that you can actually have the time to shape to fit any space, and watch it RISE!
See the perfect egg recipes, below, for the link to the fried egg.
Great OMELETTES AND SCRAMBLES Are Whippin’
People use the wrong tools to prep omelettes or scrambled eggs. Forks. Mixers. Even the odd blender or two.
You are fusing the egg yolk and white. Fork tines don’t provide enough aeration, and lift, even if you crank the fork like an Evinrude boat motor.
Mixers, food processors, and blenders are overkill. They tend to emulsify the egg so much that it breaks down the protein chains into something that comes out even more rubbery.
So a whip/whisk is your friend, both when prepping your eggs, and while cooking them if you’re scrambling.
Some things to remember when whisking eggs:
- Whisking eggs is a touch thing. You can really feel how the egg is handling under the whisk, and, unlike the machine, you have the fine motor control to make little adjustments to make the eggs lift up and aerate perfectly, without over processing them.
- Avoid coated or silicone or plastic whisks. They’re more work and they never work as well. Steel wires stick to the egg just enough to pull on it and stretch and integrate the protein chains, while breaking them down just enough to aerate the mix perfectly for a nice risen finished product.
- If you’re making an omelette, whisk a bit longer because we want a smooth, even finish on it.
- Doing a scramble? Try whisking less in the prep bowl. The more that the egg white stays together, the more structure it will give your scramble. Whisk just enough to integrate.
- Every egg, not just the brand you use, but every egg, has its own viscosity issues. Some are thinner. Some are thicker and tougher. When you crack the egg, how is it holding together? Is it loose or pretty tightly formed. The tighter the formation, the less viscous it is.
- Based on the pull, you can tell whether your eggs are breaking down and integrating properly. You may need to add a drop or two of milk or water to rehydrate an older egg. You will want to probably avoid adding milk or water to factory eggs, as they’re already pretty thin to begin with.
- Add a little extra egg white boxed, or saved egg white (from a separated egg). If you use boxed, remember that it has been processed and pasteurized and has a much thinner consistency than your egg.
- This may be a good place to get some exercise logged on your fitbit or iWatch. Whisking burns cals!