Well, I can’t speak for the country as a whole, these days, but back in the heyday of Classical French cuisine, frying was THE thing to do.
Escoffier’s The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery is not a cookbook for the beginner. It’s less cookbook and more, as the title suggests, a guide. It assumes the cook has quite a bit of preliminary experience with basic and advanced preparation methods. With over 5,000 “recipes” (mostly paragraphs telling you what to do, but not how and with only a few measurements given) it’s a treasure trove of all that haute cuisine was back in the early twentieth century.
Rambling through old school notes I was reminded of a particular dish that was a lot of fun to make, but it required yet another specific skill: How to Fry an Egg.
As most folks can “fry” an egg quite sufficiently, you might wonder why this is considered a special skill that takes practice and a bit of finesse to complete well.
Here’s the word from the man, himself:
1294 Oeufs Frits — French Fried Eggs
In the long list of ways of preparing eggs, that for fried eggs is relatively insignificant when compared with others. Although fried eggs are used to a great extent for breakfast in England and America, correctly speaking they are Oeufs a la Poele or pan-cooked eggs; in both countries the true fried egg is virtually unknown.
So, if our sunny side ups and over-easys aren’t technically fried eggs in the French sense, how do you fry an egg?
Deep fry it, of course.
Even our chef-instructor was a bit puzzled by how to go about it. Early attempts yielded messy results until he hit upon the seeming trick: to get the oil moving before the egg enters the picture. This makes forming a neat, fried egg with the white enveloping the yolk (which is left liquid) a much easier task.
How to (French) Fry an Egg
- Start with a small pan, like an omelet pan, with enough depth to contain an inch of oil without overflowing. Heat the oil until just before it begins to smoke–you’ll notice the oil “walking” along the pan, give it a minute or two more before proceeding. Oil that’s not hot enough will cook the yolk before the whites are sufficiently browned while oil that is too hot will, predictably, burn the bits of egg white that you want to coax around the yolk. Prepare a plate lined with paper towels to drain the eggs on once cooked.
- Break an egg onto a saucer. You’re going to fry these one at a time and cracking it directly into the oil encourages splattering and could cause burns. You can season the egg with salt and pepper now, or wait until it’s cooked to season it; I prefer to do it after frying, Escoffier prefers before.
- With a chopstick or wooden spoon, stir the oil rapidly to get it to spin a bit. This turned out to be the secret to making this task easier as the whirlpool effect helps keep the eggs from spreading too much once added to the hot oil.
- Slide the egg from the saucer into the spinning oil.
- Continue stirring the oil, a bit more gently, and scoot the edges of the white closer to the egg yolk.
- As the egg starts to firm up, fold the white over the yolk and keep turning the egg until it sticks.
- Continue to turn the egg as it starts to brown along the edges. It’ll puff up a bit but should not explode.
- Once the egg seems sufficiently done, gently lift it from the oil and transfer it to the towel-lined plate to drain. Repeat with as many eggs as you need for your dish and serve ASAP!
To those not used to this sort of fried egg, it’s like a cross between a poached egg and one sunny-side up. It’s not greasy, despite being deep fried, and it’s a great option for the next time you’re feeling the Eggs Benedict craving.
Of course, I had a different recipe in mind when I wandered down the fried egg rabbit (chicken?) hole. Come back next week to find out what it was! (Though if you follow me on twitter, you might have already seen it!)