Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fluffy Eggs

No one seems to be able to make them anymore. People seem to be more into omelets and fried eggs, both of which are fine in their own way. But, omelets are really all about the filling, it seems, and the eggs are often crispy, which is, in my opinion, overcooked. And fried eggs are, for me, all about the runny yolks into which I dip buttered toast, leaving the whites to be hastily eaten without much pleasure. When I get scrambled eggs in a restaurant or at a friend's house, they're usually stiff enough to cut with a spatula, or they've been made into a watery "scramble" with all kinds of vegetables, perhaps to cover up an ignorance of proper technique (well, maybe I'm being a tad critical/hypocritical here -- I've had some good veggie scrambles, but once again in each of those cases, the eggs were just there; it was all about the vegetables).
And very often, we forget the techniques we learned from our moms and grammies because, as we watch the cooking shows and read the cookbooks, the proper technique isn't reinforced at all. It's all about new and fast and weird. Just watch an episode of Top Chef or some such show. Everything that wins is weird. Oh, excuse me, haute cuisine. Apparently, there's a difference. The message seems to be that the old styles of cooking are boring, flavorless and were probably bad for you anyway. "What do they know? Your mother hates cooking, and your grandmother never used a clove of garlic in her life. What did they know?" I've never said these words to myself exactly, but it seems to capture a feeling I've had or picked up on in others - a distrust of the past, a disdain for the plain. It's almost as if the trendiness of food has made food worse.
Well, my grandmother did boil chicken and my mother eats out too often to cook, but at least they used to know how to make fluffy, scrambled eggs. The kind that don't need cheese or vegetables to make them taste good. The kind that form soft, buttery curds in random shapes and sizes and not those that can be cut into uniform blocks and have the texture of a cleaning sponge. The kind of eggs that are on their own on the plate as the humble stars of a perfect breakfast.
There are still places to learn the technique of cooking fine oeufs brouill├ęs. Last night, I was reading Julia Child's My Life in France and I was inspired to read about her experience of learning to make truly good, scrambled eggs while studying at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. Of course, this was back in 1949; my mother hadn't even been born yet. Child writes,
Bugnard watched intently as I whipped some eggs and cream into a froth, got the
frying pan very hot, and slipped in a pat of butter, which hissed and browned in
the pan.
"Non!" he said in horror, before I could pour the egg
mixture into the pan. "That is absolutely wrong!"
. . . With a smile, Chef Bugnard cracked two eggs and added a dash of salt and pepper. "Like this," he said, gently blending the yolks and whites together with a fork. "Not too much." He smeared the bottom and sides of a frying pan with butter, then gently poured the eggs in. Nothing happened. After a long three minutes, the eggs began to thicken into a custard. Stirring rapidly with the fork, sliding the pan on and off the burner, Bugnard gently pulled the egg curds together -- "Keep them a little bit loose; this is very important," he instructed. "Now the cream or butter," he said, looking at me with raised eyebrows. "This will stop the cooking, you see?' I nodded, and he turned the scrambled eggs out onto a plate, sprinkled a bit of parsley around, and
said, "Voila!"
While I've always favored low temperature for eggs, I'd forgotten my mother's advice of not whipping the eggs up too much before putting them in the pan. Reading Child's description of Bugnard's instructions brought back that repressed memory and promptly made me feel guilty for ever doubting my own mother's advice. I was also glad to see that the master chef favors rapid stirring once the eggs have started to form, accompanied by moving the pan on and off to keep the eggs loose. On a camping trip several years ago, I was chided by my new boyfriend and his friend for attempting to do this; they had a "system" of leaving the eggs in the pan until they formed a crust, and then flipping them once to finish cooking. I was told that my method was messy and too much work. I came to understand why they cooked this way -- it makes the eggs come clean out of the pan,. And when you're camping, it's favorable to save your water and effort for other purposes.
Cleanliness and efficency might be high priorities when cooking over a gas stove in the woods, but, to me, fluffy eggs are worth learning Bugnard's simple technique.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Good scrambled eggs is a lost art, indeed! Someone recently told me she uses a blender and orange juice to make her eggs. Not sure about that.

No disdain for plain!! Vanilla is good, too! :)