This is a tale of a simple egg, scrambled over low heat, with just enough patience to make it perfect.
It is not the scrambled egg of my childhood.
That memory is packed away with the almost forgotten flavors of overcooked green beans and spinach from a can, and maybe a few too many Jell-O salads.
Not all food memories from the good ol' days are good.
This is a story, in fact, of how we cook and how we learn to cook. And when to change our methods.
I never had a lesson in making scrambled eggs, but as a child I had them often, less breakfast dish than midday sandwich — two slices of white bakery bread, eggs topped with spears of homemade dill pickles — a dish both crunchy and comfy.
The scrambled egg in question was made with the haste that might be expected of a cook in charge of feeding and corralling three hungry youngsters. The goal was to put lunch on the table fast.
To speed up the process, the cook (who shall remain nameless since there was no expectation of being criticized decades later) cracked the eggs into a heated pan with melted butter.
And then the cook beat the dickens out of those eggs, until they were dry and hard, streaked with the whites. Or in the words of M.F.K. Fisher, one of the early food writers, massacred.
Others might call those eggs normal. That cook would have raised an eyebrow at the suggestion that there was any other method of preparation. I knew nothing different because the only table where I ate scrambled eggs was the one in the Svitak kitchen.
By the time I was tall enough to reach the stove's electric burner, I was enlisted to help with the prep. And I did, using the technique I had carefully observed for years: scrambling the eggs with the force of a fork until there was no hint of life left.
Much later, my own three youngsters would find out that their head cook (that would be me) could scramble eggs as fast as anyone.
Then our restaurants focused attention on eggs beyond breakfast — and scrambled would never be the same for me. (How could they be, once I had tasted scrambled eggs with lobster or with pickled pig's feet? Thank you, chefs Isaac Becker and Doug Flicker.) I needed to mend my scrambling ways, so I reached out to experts to find out how to make light and fluffy eggs.
Janice Cole is one such expert. She has raised chickens for 10 years in her backyard in White Bear Township, and written about it in "Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading With 125 Recipes." For more than 25 years, she's worked in the food world in recipe development and as a food editor and teacher.
She knows how to cook an egg.
Her advice is simple: Whisk the eggs sufficiently before they are added to the pan, and cook the eggs slowly.
But let's break this down even further. Success is in the details.
Use a bowl big enough to seriously whisk those eggs, along with the salt and pepper.
"A whisk helps incorporate the egg whites and yolks better than a fork. Beat them until frothy and there's no separation of the yolk and white," said Cole.
This is where many scramblers go wrong. "They use a fork and a small bowl and don't want to slosh the eggs over the side," she said.
Some cooks add a small amount of liquid to the eggs. Cole's preference generally is to skip that unless she's using whole milk or cream. "Eggs can only absorb so much moisture. That's when you get puddling on the plate," she said.
When she does add a liquid, it's no more than 1 tablespoon per egg.
As for the pan, choose one that's on the small side for the amount of eggs you're preparing. If the pan's too big, the eggs spread out too thin and cook too fast. Nonstick pans make the cooking and cleanup easier.
Heat the pan with a little butter or oil over low to low-medium heat. Once the butter is frothy or the oil is hot, swirl the fat around the bottom of the pan and add the whisked eggs.
Let the eggs sit for a moment as they start to solidify. Then, depending on how you like your eggs — in either small or large curds — stir the eggs slowly in the pan, pushing the cooked part aside with a spatula and letting the uncooked eggs move to the bottom. Faster stirring will result in smaller, broken up curds. Cole recommends using a heatproof silicone spatula or wooden spoon.
As for any additions to the eggs — because something good can always be better — it's all in the timing. Sour cream or cream cheese should be added halfway or three-quarters of the way through the egg cooking process. Blend in shredded cheese almost at the end and take the eggs off the heat immediately to let the cheese melt (because the eggs continue to cook even while on your plate).
If you're adding vegetables, cook them in advance and mix in toward the end. Keep in mind this whole scrambling process takes only minutes.
Then serve those eggs immediately. Don't wait to call everyone to the table when the eggs are done, said Cole with a laugh.
Now, let's scramble.