My dear friends, would you be up for bearing with me for just a moment so I can talk about scrambled eggs?
Plain old scrambled eggs. Not scrambled eggs with crisped asparagus or lacy pieces of prosciutto, not scrambled eggs with cheeses and meats and peppers and mushrooms. Not scrambled eggs with anything, except perhaps a helpful piece of toast. Just scrambled eggs. Soft scrambled eggs.
Scrambled eggs are a staple breakfast of mine, and it has occurred to me – given the many times I have been given not very good scrambled eggs – that this absurdly simple preparation, requiring only a few ingredients and minutes, can be quite tricky to pull off.
I think, like me, for many people the ideal of scrambled eggs is soft and creamy, a smooth pillowy mound of golden eggs with barely a curd to spear into. Eminently scoopable eggs, almost like a savory custard. But more often our eggs turn out dry, in large chunks. It’s disheartening.
I didn’t used to feel this way about scrambled eggs. When I was little, scrambled eggs were my favorite food, after any of the sweets we weren’t allowed to eat, but I liked them cooked until totally hard and dry. Then I’d chop them into tiny pieces with my fork. I was weird.
When I was 6 or 7 I got into a huge argument about this with my grandmother, in fact. She explained to me that the proper way to cook scrambled eggs was to leave them partially uncooked and creamy. I insisted this was a disgusting and terrible idea. We faced off, dug our heels in, and neither of us would give an inch on our stance.
It was time that wore me down (happily). I began to prefer my yolks runny and my scrambled eggs soft, and it became a point of intense experimentation to try to achieve my new vision of scrambled egg perfection.
This is the method that I have finally settled on. It yields very creamy, custardy eggs. I use no milk or cream so as not to mask the glorious flavor of the eggs themselves. And, rather than melting butter and heating the pan before adding the eggs, I add the eggs and some pieces of cold butter to a cold pan. I find this helps the eggs to heat evenly throughout as the butter slowly melts. Another critical element is using a small pan, or even a saucepan. You want your beaten eggs to be at least a half inch deep, or more.
If you’re making eggs just for yourself: use a fork or whisk to beat two eggs with a good pinch of salt and pepper (if you’re making eggs for others, beat two eggs per person and use a slightly larger -but not too much – pan). Take out your small frying pan or saucepan and pour the eggs into it. Add about three-quarters of a tablespoon of cold butter (per person), cut into several smaller pieces (at least quarters and preferably into 6ths). Put your pan on the stove and turn the heat somewhere between low and medium.
If you use quite low heat, this will help the temperature of the eggs stay more even throughout the eggs and the cooking process, leading to smoother eggs with tiny curds, more custardy. But, it can also take forever. I’ve had scrambled eggs take close to 20 minutes because I was being so measured in my heating. If you use closer to medium heat, the cooking process will only take a few minutes, but you’ll have to stir furiously to make sure none of the curds get too large or dry. Anyway, I leave that choice to you. I like to use a wooden spoon or a small whisk, and once I put my pan over the heat, I start stirring constantly in small, quick circles. Making these small stirring circles I move the spoon constantly around the pan so that all parts of the pan get stirred. I don’t do any of the pushing around of the eggs that’s usually recommended.
At first as the eggs warm up and the butter slowly melts, it may seem like your eggs aren’t cooking at all. It may even seem like they’re getting more liquidy. This is fine. It means they’re heating evenly so that they aren’t sticking and cooking over-quickly on the bottom of the pan anywhere. Keep stirring! Eventually you’ll see very small opaque clumps forming. Keep on stirring! The eggs will thicken and become opaque all over and your spoon will start to leave a trail. As soon as the eggs look just a little bit less cooked than you would like them to be (they should still be on the wet side) remove the pan from the heat. Keep stirring, letting the eggs finish their cooking in the after heat, then scrape them onto a plate. If you’d like, serve them with a piece of buttered toast.
Of course, if you like, once you have the soft scrambling part down you can add all sorts of things to your eggs to keep things interesting. I really like sauteed spinach in mine, or smoked salmon. If you stir in some cubes of cream cheese and pieces of lobster at the last minute and then pile this all on a toasty piece of olive oil and garlic rubbed bread, you’ll have the most wonderful starting course or the most decadent holiday breakfast you could imagine.
But, a lot of the time it’s nice to have just eggs.