How To Cook Eggs Any Style Like An Expert
“Pre-fab sprouts” at Egg Shop, NYC. Photograph by Ms Hannah Schneider, courtesy of Egg Shop
When it comes to cooking, eggs are generally among the first ingredients you get to grips with, but they can also be the most difficult to master. The fact that different people like their eggs cooked different ways tends to complicate this matter even further. So, given that we have to face up to the things pretty much every weekend at brunch, we thought it best to seek out the best methods for cooking them. Though there are plenty of chefs out there, all with their own philosophies and methods, it’s hard to imagine that many have spent more time thinking about eggs and their applications than Mr Nick Korbee, executive chef at New York’s Egg Shop. The Nolita hotspot, which opened its doors in late 2014, was originally intended by Mr Korbee and founders Ms Sarah Schneider and Mr Demetri Makoulis to offer the perfect egg sandwich. However, when experimentation started, it was clear that they could do a lot more with the humble ingredient – the result being the restaurant’s current egg-centric menu, featuring everything from classic breakfast sandwiches and scrambles to dinner options such as yolk-stuffed burrata, Korean bibimbap and more.
“Everybody has some emotional connection to an egg, to eating an egg, to cooking an egg” says Mr Korbee. “And that’s why it’s an amazing ingredient. When you say ‘egg’, I immediately think of the perfect soft scrambled egg that my grandmother used to make for me and put over white toast. And it was just so simple but, you know, if I stubbed my toe and started crying, that’s all I wanted to eat.” Below, Mr Korbee – mastermind behind the menu at what he calls “a temple for the egg” – offers his expert guide to cooking them in all our favourite ways: that is, boiled, poached, scrambled and fried. Once you’ve got these techniques sorted, avoid what Mr Korbee calls “the stigma of any style” with his tips to take your eggs that one step further.
“Poaching is easier than you would think. First, you need a saucepan – not a frying pan, skillet, stock pot, or brassier, just a basic saucepan. Fill the pan at least ¾ full with hot water and bring it to a rapid simmer with 4 tablespoons of cider vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of sea salt. By rapid simmer I mean Jacuzzi-level swirl and bubbles (the point just before, in a real Jacuzzi, you turn on the jets and get weird). Next, smoothly release the egg into the poach-cuzzi. You can either risk the nerve endings in your fingertips by cracking the egg and releasing it directly on the surface of the water, or you can crack it into any small vessel and pour it in to the water. The egg will initially sink, but the motion of the bubbles in the water will turn the egg for you, so there is no need to stir. Using a slotted spoon, check the egg after about 2 minutes by gently lifting it to the surface. Go ahead: poke it with your finger. If it’s not fully set, throw it back in and check again in a hot 30 seconds.”
The extra mile
“Poach a dozen quail eggs and stuff them in the round of an avocado. It’s visually stunning, the flavour profile is similar across the ingredients and it builds your timing skills as well.”
“A fried egg can be prepared sunny side up, over easy/medium/hard, or crispy (the new darling of fried-egg preparation). My preferred sunny-side-up style is prepared over medium-low heat in a non-stick or cast-iron pan with a minimal amount of canola/rapeseed oil. When the pan is up to temperature – when you can only hold your hand over it for 15 seconds before it gets too hot – add a tiny bit of oil, swirl to coat the pan, crack the egg into it, and turn the heat to low. The egg should not sputter and bubble out of control and the white should begin to set immediately. Once it has set on the bottom, after about 1 minute, give the unset white near the yolk a little poke with a spatula or wooden spoon. This should cause any raw white to spread out and cook a bit faster.
“To go over easy through hard, do the same thing as described above except flip the egg instead of poking at the unset white. To practice this in a sauté pan, test your skills on a slice of bread or another similarly weighted flat object that you don’t mind throwing on the floor repeatedly.
“To make your eggs crispy, simply add more oil or fat, and keep the heat at medium-low until you have achieved your desired level of Insta-ready golden-brownness (this should take about 4 or 5 minutes). Remember: if you turn the heat up high, you will likely burn the bottom of the egg before it gets crispy.”
The extra mile
“Try basting the eggs until the white on top is set with butter or with whatever oil you’re using. Or, to avoid a flipping disaster, cover the pan to steam the eggs for a similar effect.”
“For boiled eggs, there are just a few rules and timings to remember. First, there should be enough boiling water to cover the eggs by one 1in. Next, you must have an ice bath prepared for the second your eggs are ready to be removed from the water. Don’t half-ass this by running cold tap water over the eggs, popping them in the fridge or some other such nonsense. When you are ready to cook, ie your water is boiling, carefully lower the eggs into the pan, being sure not to crack the shells. I use a slotted spoon for just a few eggs and a spider/pasta strainer when working with large batches. For soft yolks, I remove the eggs to an ice bath after 6 minutes. For my perfect hard-boiled yolk, which is just a little under a true “hard” texture, I remove the eggs after 10 minutes. If you leave them for a full 12 minutes, you’ve sunk your battleship, and the yolk will be as grey as a navy destroyer. Wait until the eggs are fully cool to the touch before peeling under gently running water.”
The extra mile
“Boiled eggs are great because after boiling, you can peel them or even just lightly crack the shell before letting them steep in any sort of bouillon or brine – both to colour the white and to add flavour to the eggs. I put them in with my pickled beetroots, which turns them a rich purple colour. The longer they stay in there the more the tone will sink in, so after long enough you’ll have vibrant purple “white” all the way through to the bright yellow yolk, which is beautiful.”
“Scrambling is stylistic. The French do it one way, Americans do it another, and at Egg Shop we have our own technique of folding and shaping scrambled eggs particularly for perfect sandwiches. Whatever way you roll, it’s important to incorporate some fat, whether it’s heavy cream, sour cream, crème fraiche, yoghurt, or butter. Aim for 1 tablespoon of fat per 2 eggs. In the case of heavy cream, you should incorporate it when you scramble the eggs. With anything else, you fold it in close to the end of the cooking process, when the pan is off the heat. For soft, creamy scrambled eggs, work over a medium-low heat in a non-stick pan, and stir gently and consistently. Only add salt at the end of the cooking process, as adding it at the beginning can draw water from the eggs and result in a weird broken curd situation.”
The extra mile
“Don’t sell yourself short. Try to look up as many methods as you possibly can, and work with them so it’s not just a mush of scrambled eggs on a plate. I like to add a pinch of cayenne pepper with the salt, and the tiniest bit of fresh grated nutmeg in the winter time for that warm and fuzzy brunch-in-a-ski-lodge feeling.”