I had the extreme good fortune to watch Jacques Pépin give a 90-minute demonstration on eggs the other day. He prepared close to ten dishes, ranging from mayonnaise (with olive oil!) to omelets. It’s always amazing to watch someone who knows how to do everything in the kitchen, and who can make every dish beautiful. When he finished the mayonnaise and put it in a bowl, he used an offset spatula to smooth the sides and push them down, and he took the bit of mayo left on the spatula to decorate the middle. He makes it all look so easy.
Every word from the man’s mouth is useful to an aspiring cook such as myself, and he breaks with tradition frequently. For example, whereas most people learn to separate eggs by passing them from one half of the shell to the other (after breaking them on a flat surface), Jacques says you lose about a third of the white that way, and that he’s seen people fail at recipes calling for a certain number of egg whites simply because they had one third fewer than they should have. Jacques separates an egg by fishing out the yolk with his fingers.
The mayonnaise was fascinatingly easy. In my mayonnaise post two weeks ago, I insisted that every ingredient must be at room temperature. Jacques said this is true only of the oil, which is likely to be at room temperature anyway. He used cold yolks and mustard, and his sauce came together fast. Also, he was much less dainty than I thought necessary with the pouring of the oil. A tablespoon here, a half cup there—it didn’t give him trouble. He broke the mayonnaise intentionally at one point by pouring in a ton of oil, and he showed us how to fix it by whisking in a tiny bit of vinegar at the edge of the surface, slowly working the whisk deeper and deeper into the bowl. The graininess and oiliness disappeared, and the sauce came back together.
I could blabber on about his omelets, oeufs au gratin, and oeufs miroir, but I’ll get to the point of this post, which is deep-fried eggs.
Deep-fried eggs are just like poached eggs, but with 350ºF oil instead of simmering water. You heat corn, vegetable, peanut, or a similar oil in a shallow skillet (the oil should approach the edge—it won’t overflow, because an egg is tiny). You then break one cold egg (cold eggs have stiffer whites) gently into the oil, and use two wooden spoons to pull the white around the yolk, as you would while poaching. If you’re Jacques Pépin, you’ll end up with an ovoid beauty, evenly browned all around, with a cooked white and a soft yolk. I didn’t get the shape exactly right, but otherwise it was easy. Once the white starts to brown, you can remove it with a slotted spoon or a skimmer to a paper towel–lined plate to drain. Serve it as soon as possible, because the eggs deflate rather quickly. I served mine, sprinkled with sea salt and pepper, over grilled cheese.
I still prefer a poached egg to a deep-fried egg, but this is guaranteed to impress, if not shock, your guests. Don’t be afraid to try over and over, throwing away the ugly ones. Eggs are cheap, and once you’ve gone to the trouble of heating up the oil, you might as well get it right.