Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Eggs, Slowly Scrambled


 “Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg before it is broken.” ― M.F.K. Fisher

No one thinks that they need a recipe for scrambled eggs. Or at least I didn't. Aren't they something that you just know how to make, the same way you know how to boil water? A recipe for scrambled eggs feels a bit like Julia Child walking into her first class at the Cordon Bleu, and then going to Mme. Brassard and telling her "I'd like something just a little more advanced. I do know how to boil an egg."

Can't you just hear her voice?

I spent a delightful morning at the Smithsonian museum where her kitchen is a couple of weekends ago, and spent a lovely half-hour watching Julia on TV making omelettes before ogling every inch of the space where she used to cook. It was awesome. Just look at all that copper!

The first place I was presented with the idea that I might be doing scrambled eggs wrong was probably in Laura Calder's delightful book French Taste. Or rather, now that I think of it, it was on her show, French Food at Home. I distinctly remember the word baveuse being used--which literally means, for those of you not made to take mandatory French classes until the ninth grade, drooly.

No wonder it stuck with me.

But recalling many plates of horribly rubbery and dry scrambled eggs--half of them likely reconstituted from that awful powdered egg nonsense, the other half just seriously overcooked--the idea of drooly eggs seemed rather appealing. I'm a girl who believes that a runny-yolked fried egg can turn a bowl of just about anything into a meal,* so runny scrambled eggs sounded parfait. As, indeed, they are.

Perhaps the best thing about scrambled eggs done right is that they don't need anything other than themselves to be perfect. Well, they need salt, but since I believe that everything needs salt (hence the title of this site), that's a given. So even though Laura Calder's recipe for scrambled eggs calls for inordinate (to a non-French person) amounts of butter and cream, I don't add anything to my eggs. Just eggs, salt, and heat.

It's what you do with the heat that makes all the difference. I cook on a gas stove--a big one, one that I gave up fridge space for in order to fit it into our kitchen when we renovated last year--and I cook as much by sound, by the volume that the flame makes depending on how high it is, as I do by sight and taste. For scrambled eggs, the burner has to be so low that I can't hear even the faintest hiss of gas. And really, these eggs should be called eggs slowly stirred, for there is no scrambling. The motion is gentle, and sporadic--an occasional swirl of the spatula around the pan to bring golden curds of egg up from the bottom as they form. The curds begin to firm and cluster so slowly that I can walk away from the pan for whole minutes and nothing untoward will happen. There is no scramble to pull the pan off the heat before the eggs overcook. As soon as the eggs have reached the stage just before baveuse--when they're at the point just before there's nothing liquid left in the pan--I turn off the heat and continue stirring for a minute more. And there they are--golden, perfect, creamy scrambled eggs. They taste like the essence of egg itself.

So yes, you might want a recipe for scrambled eggs. I did. And you know what? I guarantee that Julia Child realized that she needed one for boiling an egg after all. We're both in search of the best way of doing things, she and I.

* Seriously, try it. Leftover quinoa stirred through with some chopped herbs and green onion? Yes. The scrappy bits of fresh pasta left over from making ravioli (called maltagliati, if you want to get technical) tossed with butter and Parmesan? Oh yes. The dregs of a batch of ratatouille? A resounding yes.

Eggs, Slowly Scrambled

As many eggs as you need to feed the number of people you're feeding; I've done this with two eggs, and with ten. Make sure they're from hens that have been well fed and well treated. 
A small pinch of flaky sea salt for every two eggs
A (preferably nonstick) skillet that will hold all of your eggs
A flexible rubber spatula

Turn the burner on low and begin heating your pan. Crack the eggs into the pan--no need to whisk them first.

Puncture the egg yolks with the spatula, and then gently but vigorously stir the whites and yolks together until they're roughly incorporated and no large expanses of white remain in the pan. Add the salt.

Gently and occasionally stir the eggs, attempting to move your spatula over the entire surface of the bottom of the pan. As the eggs cook and thicken,  you'll be able to see a trail left by the spatula. If you find that the eggs are coagulating too quickly and forming a sticky film on the bottom of the pan, turn down the heat.

Large, soft curds of egg will begin to form as you stir. Continue scraping the bottom of the pan to bring curds up and allow the uncooked egg to sink down.

When almost all of the egg appears to be cooked--the pan is full of curds, with only a little liquid egg still remaining--remove the pan from the heat and continue stirring. The residual heat in the pan will cook the last of the egg, without the fear of the eggs overcooking and drying out. The entire cooking process can take, depending on how low you have the heat and how patient you are, up to twenty minutes. (Laura Calder claims that she knows people who can stretch it to thirty, but I don't have the patience to go quite that far.)

Serve warm, unadorned or, as I sometimes like to do, topped with fine shower of snipped chives.

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