RCP / FoodLetter: The perfect fried egg

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RCP / FoodLetter: The perfect fried egg

Postby Robin Garr » Thu May 04, 2006 11:35 am

<table border="0" align="right" width="140"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/loiseau.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>The perfect fried egg

I've just polished off what may have been the best fried egg I ever enjoyed in my life, and I ate it with a tip of the virtual toque to Bernard Loiseau, the great, troubled French chef who took his own life in 2003, depressed by declining ratings and the fear that he might lose his lofty third <I>Guide Michelin</I> star.

Rudolph Chelminski's thoughtful and well-told story, "<I>The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine</I>," sketches the life of Loiseau, who rose from provincial obscurity to celebrity-chef status in Paris, then spent the rest of his too-short life restoring the once fabled inn and restaurant La Côte d'Or in Burgundy to its three-star luster only to end it all in the prime of his life under bipolar depression and changing fortunes. Not just a biography, Chelminsky's book weaves the thread of Loiseau's life with the fascinating stories of the postwar rise of modern French cuisine and culinary journalism and the fierce pressure that drives chefs to compete for ratings stars.

It's not a cookbook at all, but anyone who loves food and cooking will find plenty of kitchen inspirations lurking between the lines. And so it was with this fried egg, a simple little piece of perfection worthy of the chef who, as Cherminski's title suggests, earned the title "Perfectionist" the old-fashioned way.

The egg story came in the book's opening pages, amid a discussion of Chef Fernand Point, the near-mythical chef whose restaurant La Pyramide in the Rhone Valley village of Vienne in the 1950s was arguably the starting point of the entire French postwar culinary revolution.

Point, it is said, was fond of putting visiting chefs on the spot with a simple test: He would invite them to fry an egg. Says Chelminski, "Faced with the inevitable failure, Point would cry, 'Stop, unhappy man - you are making a dog's bed of it!' And then he would proceed to demonstrate the one and only civilized manner of treating an egg."

I won't quote the extended passage, but to make this long story short, the Point approach involved gently, slowly cooking the egg to retain its delicate purity, a careful technique that floats somewhere on the margin between frying and poaching it in warm butter. I tried it this morning, cooking one fresh free-range egg using Point's exact technique, and a second, even more ethereal egg using a variation that Loiseau developed to go a step beyond the master.

The procedure may seem finicky at first, but it doesn't take long; and it's worth a try, not only because it makes one spectacular egg but also because it offers us yet another demonstration of the lesson that simplicity and purity often yield the best dishes of all. That's a sermon worth repeating.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

2 fresh large eggs
3 tablespoons (45g) butter
Salt
Pepper

PROCEDURE:

1. This recipe deserves the freshest, best eggs you can find. It's well worth the quest, and the expense, of using free-range eggs from a local producer, with extra credit if the producer has the class to mark the box with a "pull date" so you can find the freshest of all.

2. For Point's technique, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small, nonstick sautée pan or skillet over very low heat, so it spreads out into a pool of hot liquid butter but does not bubble or sizzle.

3. For Loiseau's version, fill a small saucepan about half-full with water, bring it to a slow boil, and rest a saucer on top of the pan. Put 1 tablespoon of butter into the saucer and let it melt.

4. Break each egg onto a separate saucer, taking care not to break the yolk and to remove any shell fragments.

5. When the butter is melted but not sizzling, gently slip each egg into the hot butter. Cook both until the egg is just done: The white will gradually solidify from transparency into snow-white cream; the yolk will thicken slightly as it heats. This may take five minutes or more, depending on how solid you like your yolk, but please leave the egg sunnyside up and natural.

6. While the eggs are cooking, gently melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over low heat in another small skillet.

7. Slide each egg onto a small serving plate. Salt and pepper to taste (Loiseau, "The Perfectionist," advises salting only the white, not the yolk, so as to avoid unsightly salt speckles). Then drizzle a little of the remaining hot melted butter over the top of each egg and serve immediately, with crispy bacon and toast ... or just enjoy nature's most perfect egg <I>au naturel</i>.

<B>WINE MATCH:</B> Wine? With breakfast? Well, maybe. If you're having an indulgent brunch (or for that matter, serving this memorable egg as a light, meatless dinner), you couldn't go wrong with an excellent bottle of bubbly.

<B>HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR EGGS?</B>
Just for fun, I've started another of those casual, non-scientific polls on our Netscape WineLovers Community, inviting you to check in and cast a ballot for your favorite egg prep, whether it be scrambled, fried, poached, boiled or other. Please stop in and add your pick. There's no need to register unless you wish to add a comment or question. For the ballot, click to the forum home page, where you'll find "Today's Poll" at the lower right.

<B>BUY THE BOOK ONLINE:</B>
Rudolph Chelminski's "The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine" is available from Amazon.com in hardcover for $17.33, a 36 percent discount. Purchases made using this exact link will return a small commission to us at WineLoversPage.com.
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Re: RCP / FoodLetter: The perfect fried egg

Postby Bob Ross » Thu May 04, 2006 12:59 pm

Thanks for posting this approach to cooking eggs, Robin. I've used similar cooking techniques for all forms of eggs for many years. People are sometimes concerned about safety when eggs are cooked at low temperatures, but if the egg whites coagulate, the eggs will be pasteurized and therefore safe.

According to the FDA, egg white coagulates between 144 and 149°F, egg yolk coagulates between 149 and 158°F and whole eggs between 144 and 158°F. Plain whole eggs without added ingredients are pasteurized but not cooked by bringing them to 140°F and maintaining that temperature for 3 and 1/2 minutes.

In any event, right on: cooking eggs at low temps makes them delicious and safe.

Regards, Bob
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Re: RCP / FoodLetter: The perfect fried egg

Postby Robin Garr » Thu May 04, 2006 1:17 pm

Bob Ross wrote:In any event, right on: cooking eggs at low temps makes them delicious and safe.


Interesting that the safety issue didn't even cross my mind, Bob. Since we've gone over entirely to local free-range eggs from known sources, I just don't sweat the raw-egg/salmonella thing at all. Never did very much, really.
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Re: RCP / FoodLetter: The perfect fried egg

Postby Bob Ross » Thu May 04, 2006 1:41 pm

Never bothered me much either, Robin -- except when I cooked for large numbers of people in my college/law school years. But I've been asked from time to time when I've cooked for guests -- they've almost invariably love the eggs cooked slowly -- but worried about the dangers of the technique.

It's been useful to have some reassuring data just to make guests more comfortable. (I use the same general approach for cooking all eggs. Incidentally, Julia Child has a wonderful description of how she learned to scramble eggs in Paris in her new book "My Life in France". I'll post a book review in due course, unless someone beats me to it; the scrambled eggs recipe is superb writing and technique.)

The salmonella risk exists for all kinds of eggs, Robin, even those from free range chickens. The most common infection comes from the poop which comes in contact with the shells. You can wash off the poop, but that may not get rid of the salmonella organisms.

The CDC indicates the risk is awfully low -- they estimate one in 30,000 eggs may be infected.

The CDC website is excellent: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseasei ... osis_g.htm

Regards, Bob
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Re: RCP / FoodLetter: The perfect fried egg

Postby Robin Garr » Thu May 04, 2006 2:24 pm

Bob Ross wrote:The salmonella risk exists for all kinds of eggs, Robin, even those from free range chickens. The most common infection comes from the poop which comes in contact with the shells. You can wash off the poop, but that may not get rid of the salmonella organisms.


I've long been under the impression, Bob, that the risk of egg-feces contact is much greater in industrial eggs because of the crowded conditions - basically everything that comes out of the hens ends up in the same constrained space. Which is just one of several good reasons not to buy industrial eggs.

Thanks for the CDC link - it's useful - doesn't seem to address this specific issue, though. I'll Google later and see if I can come up with anything else.
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Sorry, Robin, but ...

Postby Bill Spencer » Thu May 04, 2006 2:40 pm

%^)

... the one day a week Kathleen and I set aside for our "splurge" meal day, I LOVE my sunny side up eggs cooked in the leftover bacon grease from frying up the bacon first ... I'll admit your eggs sound delicious but my Southern roots make me long for those eggs fresh from the "hen-house" my Grandmother used to make nearly every morning "fried" up in all that wonderful bacon grease ... um-UMMMM ... and, damn, if she didn't live until 93 !

And off subject, I can still hear her yell, "Mendez - go kill me two chickens !" In would come Mr. Mendez with the freshly killed chickens ... Mrs. Mendez would pluck the feathers and gut and clean the chickens ... then my Grandmother took over ... got out her sharpest knife and cut the chicken up into pieces ... dredged them with flour with a little salt and pepper thrown in ... then in went the pieces into her biggest cast iron frying pan on the big stove filled with bacon grease almost to a boil ... after frying up the chicken, she'd use the same bacon grease to make "hang-on-a-nail" gravy to go on the mashed potatoes ... about then, it was time for her to take the home-made rolls out of the big oven ... she usually had either a big pot of green beans or okra from the garden ... then while Mrs. Mendez was setting everything on the table, my Grandmother popped an apple pie into the oven ... while all of this was going on, Mr. Mendez was outside cranking away on the old ice cream maker ... dinner was served promptly at 5:00 p.m. and anybody who was even a minute late was told they were welcome to the leftovers AFTER dinner IF there were any ... oh, I almost forgot - my Grandmother didn't drink except for an occassional Manhattan but because my Grandfather was in the citrus business there in Orange County, our beverage choice was either a pitcher of freshly made lemonade or sweetened ice tea ... milk was only for breakfast and lunch ...

Now THOSE were the good ol' days !

Clink !

%^)
Last edited by Bill Spencer on Thu May 04, 2006 2:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: RCP / FoodLetter: The perfect fried egg

Postby Bob Ross » Thu May 04, 2006 2:40 pm

Sorry, Robin -- I left out an important section of that post, again from the CDC site:

How eggs become contaminated

Unlike eggborne salmonellosis of past decades, the current epidemic is due to intact and disinfected grade A eggs. Salmonella enteritidis silently infects the ovaries of healthy appearing hens and contaminates the eggs before the shells are formed.

Most types of Salmonella live in the intestinal tracts of animals and birds and are transmitted to humans by contaminated foods of animal origin. Stringent procedures for cleaning and inspecting eggs were implemented in the 1970s and have made salmonellosis caused by external fecal contamination of egg shells extremely rare. However, unlike eggborne salmonellosis of past decades, the current epidemic is due to intact and disinfected grade A eggs. The reason for this is that Salmonella enteritidis silently infects the ovaries of healthy appearing hens and contaminates the eggs before the shells are formed.

Although most infected hens have been found in the northeastern United States, the infection also occurs in hens in other areas of the country. In the Northeast, approximately one in 10,000 eggs may be internally contaminated. In other parts of the United States, contaminated eggs appear less common. Only a small number of hens seem to be infected at any given time, and an infected hen can lay many normal eggs while only occasionally laying an egg contaminated with the Salmonella bacterium.


http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseasei ... ment_g.htm

It is very difficult to determine if particular chickens are infected. From the same site:

Government agencies and the egg industry have taken steps to reduce Salmonella enteritidis outbreaks. These steps include the difficult task of identifying and removing infected flocks from the egg supply and increasing quality assurance and sanitation measures.

The Centers for Disease Control has advised state health departments, hospitals, and nursing homes of specific measures to reduce Salmonella enteritidis infection. Some states now require refrigeration of eggs from the producer to the consumer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is testing the breeder flocks that produce egg-laying chickens to ensure that they are free of Salmonella enteritidis. Eggs from known infected commercial flocks will be pasteurized instead of being sold as grade A shell eggs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued guidelines for handling eggs in retail food establishments and will be monitoring infection in laying hens.

Research by these agencies and the egg industry is addressing the many unanswered questions about Salmonella enteritidis, the infections in hens, and contaminated eggs. Informed consumers, food-service establishments, and public and private organizations are working together to reduce, and eventually eliminate, disease caused by this infectious organism.


There are lots of reasons for supporting free range chicken and egg producers -- which Janet and I invariably do -- but I don't believe that avoiding Salmonella infected eggs is one of them.

The means of transmission of the bacteria is in dispute if my information is correct. Clearly hens can eat infected feces from other chickens and perhaps other birds and become infected themselves -- virtually impossilbe in caged chickens, but very easy in free range chickens. However it's possible the infection is airborne, raising the odds for caged chickens. As a former farm boy, I would think that finding and refrigerating free range eggs would be much tougher than eggs from caged hens. Let me know if you find anything definitive -- there is plenty of pretty emotional stuff in the literature, and all egg producers -- caged and free range -- have an economic interest in solving the problem.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Sorry, Robin, but ...

Postby Howie Hart » Thu May 04, 2006 4:05 pm

Same here with cooking in the bacon grease. All the grease from the bacon stays in the pan and it is spooned over the yokes to cook them a bit from the top. Of course there are bits of crumbled bacon that get spooned also. I don't think its just a Southern thing, as I picked this up from my mother, who learned it from her father, a French-Canadian. Of course, I like rye toast with strawberry jam. :D
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Re: Sorry, Robin, but ...

Postby Robin Garr » Thu May 04, 2006 4:56 pm

Bill Spencer wrote:I LOVE my sunny side up eggs cooked in the leftover bacon grease from frying up the bacon first ... I'll admit your eggs sound delicious but my Southern roots make me long for those eggs fresh from the "hen-house"


Nuthin' to be sorry about, Bill. There's NOTHING that can compete with comfort food that brings back old memories like those!

I still say the Point/Loiseau egg is a thing of beauty, though, especially the saucer version.
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Re: Sorry, Robin, but ...

Postby Stuart Yaniger » Thu May 04, 2006 9:55 pm

I remember a thread on the old FLDG asking (roughly) what single dish you would ask someone to make to see if they knew how to cook. I maintained that it should be a simple omelette. I've now changed my mind. This is even simpler and harder.
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Re: Sorry, Robin, but ...

Postby Robin Garr » Thu May 04, 2006 10:38 pm

Stuart Yaniger wrote:This is even simpler and harder.


Exactly! M. Point knew what he was doing.
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Re: Sorry, Robin, but ...

Postby John Tomasso » Sun May 07, 2006 9:16 am

Glad you enjoyed the book, Robin. It's been my favorite so far, this year.

I haven't tried the egg in the saucer thing yet, but I have always advocated cooking eggs gently. It kills me when I see cooks in restaurants with the fire cranked way up under a pan of eggs. It doesn't get them to the finish line that much faster, and the end result isn't nearly as good.

So what do you think is more difficult to pull off, a perfect fried egg, or a perfect poached egg?
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Re: Sorry, Robin, but ...

Postby Robin Garr » Sun May 07, 2006 10:39 am

John Tomasso wrote:So what do you think is more difficult to pull off, a perfect fried egg, or a perfect poached egg?


Good question, John ... actually, it seems to me that the Loiseau version of the Point procedure - using the saucer - makes the job of frying a perfect eag dead easy. Slip the egg into the saucer with melted butter, wait five minutes or so, and slide it onto a plate. Job's done! Keeping a poached egg looking perfect absolutely requires more technique. I like the fried egg better anyway ... in my mind, eggs and butter are one of nature's most happy marriages.
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The opposite end of the refinement spectrum

Postby Charles Weiss » Sun May 07, 2006 10:15 pm

I could like the fried egg you describe, and will certainly try it, but my heretofore preferred method is a polar opposite. I love crispy crackling whites, but not yolks that aren't runny, have found that many are terrified of cholesterol, and came to cook eggs in the following zero cholesterol way:
1. In a preheated pan place roasted garlic olive oil, like Consorzio (I use Trader Joe's, which is the same).
2. Sprinkle in dried red pepper flakes and grind black pepper. Salt now or later.
3. When good and hot crack eggs into the oil. Cook to crispy edges on one side, turn over and do the same.
4. Remove eggs, throw away the yolks (you wouldn't want them cooked this way). Consider this step in deciding how many eggs to make.
5. (optional) Cook bread in the left over seasoned oil.

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Re: The opposite end of the refinement spectrum

Postby Robin Garr » Sun May 07, 2006 11:37 pm

Interesting ... I wouldn't hate it, Charles, but crispy fried eggs aren't really my favorite. Speaking hypothetically, though, it seems you could apply one of Loiseau's OTT tricks to that dish: Separate the yolks, cook them separately to your liking, and reassemble the egg at service.
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