Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Scrambled eggs

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 Scrambled eggs This simple classic can be light and fluffy, or greasy, leathery and tough. Procedure makes the difference.
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Scrambled eggs

Pity the poor embattled egg. The target of occasional criticism for its high cholesterol content and occasional reports of salmonella contamination, a lesser product might have disappeared entirely from our larders.

Indeed, not so many years ago, some health experts warned against enjoying more than one egg monthly because of its purported impact on cholesterol. (This concern seems to have been muted in light of more thorough research finding little relationship between eating eggs - despite high cholesterol in the yolk - and blood cholesterol levels).

And at one point in the 1990s, salmonella concerns prompted the great state of New Jersey to ban entirely the sale of eggs cooked sunny-side-up or over-easy in Garden State diners, an authoritarian excess that was promptly laughed off the books. (Again, there's a bit of truth in the concern, but only a bit: 1 egg in 100,000 is contaminated, and cooking kills the bacteria. If you're not a risk-taker, don't eat raw eggs. Avoiding mass-market, industrial eggs in favor of quality locally produced henfruit may also improve the odds ... and gets you better flavored eggs as a happy added benefit.)

I'll admit that the publicity scared me away from eggs for a while there, but I couldn't stay away, and nowadays I consider them an important part of a healthy diet. More so because eggs aren't just for breakfast any more: Enjoy an omelet or a frittata or a Spanish tortilla as a vegetarian lunch entree or even the main course for a light, meatless dinner, and you'll enjoy good flavor and a useful base upon which to build flavors, and you'll be better off nutritionally than if you had chosen a steak or a Big Mac.

Mastering the egg-cooking basics is a useful pursuit for the home chef, as a few simple techniques can make the difference between passable eggs and some of the best you ever ate. We've discussed a variety of basic egg preps before, including the omelet (Feb. 6. 2003), the perfect fried egg (May 4, 2006) and the Spanish tortilla, a frittata-like goodie that has nothing to do with Mexican flatbread (June 24, 2004).

Today, let's walk through the process for making a perfect scrambled egg, a diner favorite that's too often turned into something greasy, leathery and tough through careless handling. What a waste! A scrambled egg can be a thing of simple beauty, a billowy cloud of airy egg just cooked through and served steaming from the skillet, a natural partner with bacon and a ready host for cheese, truffles, smoked salmon or ... well, you name it.

The secret lies in cooking it quickly but not too hot, stirring it sufficiently but not too much, and - as is so often the way - using high-quality, natural ingredients and keeping things simple.


(Serves two)

4 fresh eggs
Freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce (optional)
2 ounces (60g) butter
Large clove garlic


1. Break the eggs into a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste and, if you wish, a dash of a good hot sauce, just enough to contribute a haunting piquant note. Stir briskly with a fork or small whisk until the yolk and the white are well blended and the egg slightly frothy, but you don't really need to overdo it. Beating the egg up into a foam won't really accomplish anything.

NOTE: You may notice that I did not add any liquid. Most recipes suggest whisking in a tablespoon (15ml) water, milk or cream for each egg, and there's certainly no harm in this. The water may make the eggs slightly lighter, and the dairy products may add a touch of creaminess. After having tried 'em all, repeatedly, I've come down on the side of simple purity: Just-plain egg with a little butter and light seasoning works best for me.

3. Put a skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter and the peeled, smashed garlic clove. Cook, stirring occasionally until the butter melts and stops bubbling (indicating that the water it contains has boiled off) and the garlic is aromatic.

4. Discard the garlic, reduce the heat to medium-low and pour in the eggs.

5. Now, here is the secret to tender, creamy scrambled eggs: Unlike omelets, which want high heat and quick cooking, scrambled eggs are best cooked gently and fairly slowly, so they don't scorch and harden. Let the eggs sit in the melted butter for a moment without stirring - if you can hear them sizzling, lift the skillet off heat for a few seconds until the sizzling stops. When you see the edges of the egg starting to cook, use a wooden spoon to gently stir them, from the edges toward the center. Try to allow the forming curds of egg to stay in large pieces; there's no need to stir vigorously and break them up. Keep stirring, gently, folding the curds over and allowing any remaining egg liquid to flow onto the hot pan. As soon as it's all solidified, stop immediately and scrape the eggs onto a warm plate; they'll continue to cook a little more from retained heat, so you want to stop a moment before they're done, to avoid hard, overcooked egg. The entire procedure shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes.

MATCHING WINE: I've never understood the conventional wisdom that eggs are a "difficult" wine match. Bubbly makes a great brunch pairing, and either a fruity red or a crisp white also works very well, even more so if you've stirred a little grated cheese into the scrambles just as they finish cooking.

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