July 25, 2014 4:24 pm

The egg race

Do not be fooled by scrambled eggs – they are a serious test of the serious cook’s skills

Last weekend there was a photoshoot at my house. A friend was finishing his book on baking and as I occasionally rent my kitchen out for that sort of thing, it seemed the obvious thing to do. As is usual on these occasions, things kicked off appallingly early, so I ended up making breakfast for the assembled team – all experts versed in the visual, gustatory, technical and literary minutiae of food and not one of them remotely shy about expressing an opinion. It was, perhaps, an act of monumental hubris to offer scrambled eggs.

Everyone’s got an opinion on scrambled eggs. My first wife, an American, believed – as many of her compatriots do – that eggs should be scrambled hard in a frying pan. A southerner, she also held that this should be done with bacon grease (a sentiment, when applied to anything but scrambled eggs, for which I still respect and miss her) but she was sadly deluded. Her eggs had the texture of a finely shredded omelette which could, at a pinch, be fed to sickly hunting dogs but never to civilised people.

The New York Times once made it known that the finest scrambled eggs in the world were the work of Bill Granger, the Australian chef who, at that point, was cooking in Sydney – a place where breakfast isn’t just a meal but a ritual of only marginally less national importance than cricket. I made a special pilgrimage to his restaurant to test these famous eggs and was shocked to discover that he actually used a frying pan.

illustration of a man beating eggs©Richard Allen

Granger beats his eggs with double cream and then pours them into a hot, buttered skillet, where they stand for exactly 10 seconds. He then scrapes up the thickened layer of eggs, turning them over, and lets them stand for another 10 seconds. Off the heat, the eggs are stirred once more and then served on sourdough toast.

“Bill’s eggs” were discussed, various methods proselytised and life-changing breakfast experiences recalled – the oeufs brouillés at the George V in Paris (more yolk than white and bolstered with cream and butter); a hippy restaurant that used to sit at the top of Portobello Road in London that seemed to serve eggs that were, by some magical means, more butter than egg. Chefs, I know, challenge each other with the flash legerdemain of “the omelette test” but I hold that true food lovers, when gathered together, will always drift towards the discussion of scrambled eggs – homely, simple, a food of comfort that cannot be improved by cheffy technique, exotic equipment or recherché ingredients, only by love and attention.

As the conversation moved around the table, the spark fed by accelerant coffee, I started to make my own.

I use (thank you for asking) a small non-stick pot, greased with a very small amount of butter, over a medium heat. Beat and season anything up to eight eggs and add to the pan, stirring constantly with a heatproof silicone spatula. Be sure not to pause the stirring for a second and to scrape with the spatula each time so the sides and bottom of the pan are left perfectly clean.

Do not plan to do anything else for probably about seven minutes – in fact, have someone else make the toast so your concentration is never broken. Finally, a couple of seconds short of the point where the eggs look like platonic curds in ambrosial custard, whip the whole thing off the heat and beat in a very large dollop of room-temperature butter. This will combine, enrich, ennoble and, most importantly, stop the eggs from cooking, meaning that they can be served at leisure.

Food lovers always discuss scrambled eggs – homely, simple, a food of comfort

My eggs, I’m proud to say, hit the spot – but something more interesting also entered the conversation. The secret to scrambled eggs, irrespective of cooking method, is great quality, extraordinarily fresh eggs. We realised – photographer, writers, designer and editor – that a decade ago, we’d have been having this conversation and then talking about our special suppliers: the nearby farmer, the friends with their own hens. Yet between us, we couldn’t now recall having had a less-than-terrific supermarket egg for years.

Sometimes, banging on about quality ingredients, artisanal producers and traditional methods feels like yelling in the wilderness. But what we realised, as we sat around the kitchen table, stuffing down excellent eggs, was that all this angry public dialogue may actually be working. Supermarkets have somehow managed to improve their supply chain. It’s almost as if they’re actually listening – and that’s an achievement worth celebrating.

With that many opinions in a room we were never going to agree on the perfect method for scrambling eggs – but not one of us could argue that we aren’t now at least getting easy access to the most important element: better ingredients.

Tim Hayward is an FT Weekend contributing writer; tim.hayward@ft.com; Twitter @TimHayward

Illustration by Richard Allen

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