"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Monday, September 7, 2009

Incredible and edible and scrambled

Eggs! Some people love them, some people hate them. Me, I fall into the former camp. (Jeremy sadly falls into the latter camp, but alas! I guess you love the one you love, faults and all, and yes, not loving eggs is a fault in my book, but one that I can learn to overlook.) But it is only in the past couple of years that I have really begun to learn all the ways one can really do well by an egg.

Folks of Spanish descent love eggs. One of the most widespread and beloved dishes in Spain is tortilla. I'm not talking about flat dough rounds made of flour or corn, I'm talking about the one-inch-thick disk of egg/potato (oftentimes onion) goodness that is cut into wedges and eaten hot or cold (more often cold). Think of a really thick omelet. A pillow of luxurious egg goodness. When I was visiting with family in Spain, my aunts would pack tortillas for us to snack on while on outings at the rocky coastal beaches of Asturias. They were thick, packed with protein and carbs, just a touch oily, and true perfection. People who go to the beach without a tortilla are missing out. This is probably the best article I've found on how fabulous a Spanish tortilla is and just how to make one. My mother happens to have the very plate they speak of that is made especially for flipping tortillas. It's a big ceramic platter with a knob in the center. It's fabulous. I need to get a large enough frying pan so that I can start making Spanish tortillas (and French omelets too, now that I think of it).

So thanks to genetics, I've got egg yolks coursing through my veins, but for years I was subjecting eggs to sheer abuse under the guise of cooking them. One of my favorite egg dishes (and one of the simplest and most satisfying, I think) is scrambled eggs. I was full of myself. I thought there was nothing easier than cooking a scrambled eggs. I never bothered to read just how to properly cook a scrambled egg, and as a result, it is only recently that I've begun to really properly cook and appreciate them.

When I first made scrambled eggs, I'd overwhip the egg into a frothy frenzy, dump cheese into the mixture, then I'd turn the burner all the way to high, heat up far too much oil, and dump the egg mixture in. The result was a nearly instantaneous cooking of the eggs into a slightly browned, solid rubbery maw with unmelted chunks of cheese. I didn't know any better, so I ate them. Oh, how much I was missing out on! How little I knew!

Now I know, thanks to Mark Bittman and Julia Child, that you can't rush a good thing---especially a scrambled egg. I just made a pair of scrambled eggs this morning and they were glorious. The key to a good scrambled egg is time. You must cook it over very low heat. For 2 scrambled eggs, I add a small pat of butter to a small frying pan and turn the heat on as low as it goes. As the butter slowly melts, I crack two eggs into a bowl and combine them with a fork until they are just blended---no frenzy of whipping anymore. Then I add a dash of milk and a bit of salt and pepper, and then gently combine it all with the fork. Once the butter is melted, I pour the mix into the pan, which does not radiate nuclear-level heat like my cooking method of days of yore, but which is just hovering between warm and the first whispers of being hot.

At first, nothing happens. The egg mixture just sits there in its liquid glory and you stare back at it like, how will this yellow mess ever become something worth eating? Stir it once or twice with a spoon. Nothing. Liquid. Wait a few ticks. Stir it again. Wait. Stir. And again. And then you will see that tiny curds are starting to form in the midst of the mess. Stir it again. More curds. Continue to stir rather frequently, slowly and gently, keeping the egg mix moving, scraping any egg that sloshes onto the sides of the pan into the center. As the curds start to form, but while there is still some liquidy egg left in the pan, add some shredded or crumbled cheese to the mix if desired. I've found that this is a good time to add the cheese so that it will melt and integrate with the eggs. Then you just keep stirring and stirring, which will keep the eggs moving and cooking evenly so you don't get any areas of burny, rubbery horror. I like my scrambled eggs to be on the very soft, slightly moist side, so once all the egg mixture has become solid and piles up into a soft mound, I'm done. But you keep stirring till they're at just the point you want them to be at.

Yes, this process takes much longer than my original flash in a pan cooking, but it's so much more luxurious. It honors the humble little egg. The wait is worth it. The eggs are creamy and rich and so eggy---a far cry from the sad, dry, rubbery mess from my early bachelorette days. If I had to pick a favorite food, first I'd cry. Then I'd ask if I could pick a few favorite foods. Then I'd make sure eggs were on that list.


b ilenda said...

I still recall the glory of my first taste of your aunt's tortillas. It was that picnic where your father said we looked like gypsies, and your uncle talked about the One True Spain. Anyway, the tortillas were magnificent. I think I ate a whole one myself.

Josh said...

Raqster!!!! I haven't talked to you in months, how are you?

Your blog is fantastic, it's like Tuesday Night Social Club with an eating disorder, I love it =)

Call or email me sometime, it'd be great to catch up..... hope everything's going well!