WISE CRACKS

Right ways to cook eggs

EUGENIA UHL PHOTOGRAPH

There are very few things that I’m a snob about, but one of them is eggs. As a matter of fact, I’m so opinionated on eggs that I refuse to order an omelet in a restaurant.

I think it all started when dyeing Easter eggs as a child. My mother washed each one with soap to make sure nothing tainted the perfect pastels. It was always a frustration to keep the eggs from cracking, the dye from pooling and the finished product from getting fingerprints.

Little things make a difference in dealing with eggs, and I’ve assembled a sort of “Eggs 101” briefing to solve some of the problems that occur when cooking these wonderful, nutritional gifts of nature. That is, if you like eggs as I like them – which is basically not overcooked.

These are some of my pet peeves and how to fix them:

Fried eggs. A lot of cooks fry those delicate whites until they’re lacy and stiff around the edges. This spoils the texture, which is lovely when all of the white is cooked done but still soft. My ideal fried egg is one with the yolk hot but runny and the white fully cooked yet moist. This is easy to accomplish with a non-stick skillet and low heat. Spray or butter the skillet, crack the egg and let it cook until the white is opaque. Then move it around the skillet by swirling the skillet, or nudging it over with a spatula, to keep it from sticking. Cook until the white is no longer runny and serve it sunny side up. Or, just before the white is fully done, flip it over and cook it for a few more seconds. That is over light – my choice of simple breakfast eggs.

Scrambled eggs. These should be fluffy, wet and yellow, not dry and brown. I like to beat mine up with a touch of milk or cream, salt and pepper. This can be done with a whisk or fork. Melt a pat of butter in the skillet and pour beaten eggs in when the skillet is warm, not hot. Let this cook over low heat until eggs begin to turn opaque. Then, take a fork and gently pull the sides to the center, allowing the liquid to run out to the edges. Continue until you have a little mountain of soft-scrambled eggs.

Poached eggs. The key to these is vinegar. If you’re poaching six eggs, fill a medium pan (about 8 inches wide) with 3 inches of water. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of white vinegar. Bring it to a simmer. Break each egg into a small coffee cup and gently ease it into the water. Poach two at a time. Let the eggs simmer until they float to the top, then turn them over with a slotted spoon. Cook until done, another 1 to 2 minutes. Yolks should be runny, and whites should be cooked through. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to absorb excess water. Pat water from the top.

Easter eggs. Wipe eggs with a damp paper towel to remove any grease or dirt. Make sure there are no cracks or holes in the shells. Bring eggs to room temperature. Heat water to a gentle boil in a pot large enough to hold the eggs without crowding. Add eggs to water using a long-handled slotted spoon. When all eggs are in, let water return to a gentle boil. Cover the pot, let the steam build up for 1 minute and turn off heat. Let eggs sit in water for 10 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to remove from pot. Place eggs on paper towels to dry and dye according to dye kit or food coloring directions.

Omelet. There is no reason to brown an omelet, although most of the world does. Ingredients such as onions, broccoli and mushrooms should be cooked before adding to an omelet. For the perfect omelet, use a non-stick skillet, buttered lightly. Beat 2 or 3 eggs with a dash of milk or cream, salt and pepper, until light and foamy. Pour into a warm skillet and swirl. When eggs begin to thicken, add filling ingredients in the center from one end to the other. When edges begin to solidify, flip them over the center like closing an envelope. Using two spatulas, flip the entire omelet over to seal the bottom. Cook only until eggs are done but still soft and yellow.

The versatility of eggs lets you whip up breakfast, lunch or dinner in minutes. The Italian frittata and Spanish tortilla are international favorites that need only a salad to provide a tasty meal. Easter eggs morph easily into stuffed or deviled eggs, which disappear quickly at parties. The Creoles put their spin on omelets using tomatoes, onions, garlic and cayenne pepper. And, of course, New Orleans restaurants are known for many gourmet versions of poached eggs. For some easy kitchen duty and delicious results, try these versions:

STUFFED EGGS
1 dozen eggs
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed olives
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste


Let eggs come to room temperature. Gently place them in a pot of water and bring the water to a full boil. Cover pot and allow steam to build up for several seconds. Turn heat off and let eggs sit for 10 minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon, drain and cool on paper towels.

When eggs are cool, using a sharp knife, slice them length-wise into halves. Carefully remove the yolks to a flat surface such as a plate, and mash them with a fork until creamy. Set whites aside on a serving plate. On the plate or a chopping board, mash olives with a fork until minced. Mix yolks, olives, mustard, mayonnaise and seasonings together until fluffy. Stuff into the egg whites and refrigerate until time to serve.
Makes 24 stuffed eggs.

TORTILLA A LA ESPANOLA
(Spanish Potato Omelet)
2 large potatoes
1 large onion
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 large eggs

Peel potatoes and slice into 1/8-inch slices. Peel onion and cut into thin slices.

Heat oil in a 6- to 8-inch skillet and add potato slices one at a time so they don’t stick together. Layer potatoes with onions, sprinkling each layer with a little salt and pepper. Cook slowly over medium heat and move potatoes and onions around so that they don’t stick to the bottom. Keep the potatoes as separated as possible until they are tender but not brown. Drain the potatoes and onions over a bowl, keeping the oil.

Clean skillet so that there are no rough spots on the surface. Return 2 tablespoons of the oil to the skillet and heat until very hot. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a large bowl until fluffy. Add potato-onion mixture and press down into the eggs. Pour into the hot skillet, spreading it out rapidly with a spatula. Lower the heat to medium-high and shake the pan frequently to keep the tortilla from sticking. When the eggs begin to set, cover with a plate approximately the same size of the skillet and flip the omelet out into the plate. Then, add a little oil to the pan and slide the omelet back into the skillet on its other side. Lower the heat and flip the omelet again until it’s set throughout but still juicy. It should handle easily and can be flipped several times. Transfer to a platter. For best results in slicing, let the tortilla come to room temperature and then slice into wedges with a sharp knife. If preferred hot, individual slices can be heated briefly in the microwave. Remaining oil is flavored well and can be saved and used in other dishes.
Serves 4 to 5.

CREOLE OMELET
3 large or 5 small tomatoes
1 tablespoon vegetables oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt, cayenne pepper and
  black pepper to taste
6 eggs
1 tablespoon milk or cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped ham
2 tablespoons chopped parsley


Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and drop tomatoes in one at a time for 10 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and peel tomatoes. Peeling should slide off easily. Dice tomatoes.

Empty the pot and use it to heat the oil. Sauté the onion and garlic until soft and add tomatoes, salt and cayenne pepper. Cover and simmer for about a 1/2-hour.

Whisk eggs until fluffy, add milk or cream, salt and black pepper and whisk again.

Heat half the butter in a medium or large non-stick skillet or omelet pan until hot. Pour in 1/2 the eggs and swirl. Reduce heat to medium and cook eggs until they begin to set. Then, fill the center of the omelet from one side to the other with 1/3 cup of the tomato mixture and half of the ham. Flip sides over and cook for 1-2 minutes. Then, using two spatulas, flip omelet over. Cook for 1-2 minutes to seal. To cook the second omelet, add the rest of the butter and repeat the process. Serve with extra sauce drizzled over the top of each omelet. Sprinkle with parsley.

Makes 2 omelets.

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