The Pent-up Demand for Egg-Frying Advice

Not very long ago, 200 visitors to this blog in a single day was an event worthy of my turning to my sweetie and saying, “hey, I got 200 visitors yesterday”. Now here it is before noon on a Sunday and the magic number has already been surpassed. What gives? Ladies and Gentlemen and others of the blogging community, I call your attention to exhibit A (click to see a bit bigger):

egg-frying demand curve

surging demand for egg-frying advice

This is the number of loads of a single episode on my blog: my tutorial on cooking eggs over-easy. That episode has been around a long time, but you don’t need an advanced degree in statistics to see that lately its popularity has been gong through the roof.

The blogger’s lament: “If only I could figure out how to turn those visitors into regular readers!” Still, I can console myself that perhaps out there a few more people are experiencing delicious egg breakfasts.

I suspect Google’s +1 has something to do with the precipitous rise in popularity; if a few people have endorsed the page, Google’s going to move it closer to the top of its rankings. It is a pretty damn good tutorial, I have to say, even if the promised video is currently AWOL.

I’m a little surprised, because I suspect the +1 thingie at the bottom of each page doesn’t work for everyone. The code tries to load a script in a way that violates the security policies of my browser (and should violate that policy on all of them, though obviously it doesn’t). I’ve found another, no-script button set that I could use instead, but in my na├»vety about how that all stuff works, I don’t know if I’ll lose my current mojo if I switch. Will Google see the next + the same way? I’m probably fretting over nothing.

The astute among you will see a period last year when no visits were logged at all. I address that issue in an episode about getting my cloud and my protective systems working together.

Eggs Over Easy: The Definitive Step-By-Step Guide – now with video!

NOTE: If you don’t want the lowdown on the full meal you can go straight to the section The Eggs.

Before we begin


The Holy Grail

Let’s take a minute to look at where we are going. Picture it with me: a plate, two fine slices of bacon on one side, toast on the other, still warm, the butter melted into it. In between is a pair of fried eggs, steaming, the whites of the eggs firm. Your mouth watering in anticipation, you tear off a chunk from the top slice of toast and poke the corner into the yolk of one of the eggs. The lightly-cooked top of the yolk yields easily and out flows the deep yellow treasure within. Ohhhh, heaven.

Creating that perfect culinary moment is a dance with heat and time, a graceful ballet that is every bit as pleasurable as the final product. There are decisions along the way, opportunities to add the subtle nuances that make those eggs uniquely yours. This guide, then, is a framework in which your improvisation can succeed.


Just look at these babies!

Beautiful czech eggs

The theory is discussed more in-depth in the original article, but before we go rushing off to the kitchen, let us pause for the tiniest of moments to look at just what an over-easy egg is. It is an egg that has been fried so that the white is cooked but the yolk is still runny. It is the challenge of cooking one part of the egg without cooking the other that makes the over-easy egg the greatest egg-cooking accomplishment. It will take all our skill and timing to defy the laws of thermodynamics so.

Sunny-side up eggs also have the runny yolk, but the top layer of the white is not firm, either. Our goal is to flip the egg just long enough to firm up that top layer of white and then get it off the heat before the yolk cooks. It’s not really that difficult, it’s just that no one does it right, especially in restaurants. (Please feel free to refer the cook at your favorite diner to this page. While the equipment and procedures are different, this is really all about the flip. He’ll thank you later as the humble restaurant becomes internationally famous for the excellence of their over-easy eggs.)


Sun Tsu, in The Art of War, says (something like) “A good general wins the battle before it begins.” This applies to cooking as well. Your success depends on what you do before you light the stove.

This morning we will be cooking three items, the three instruments in our little culinary composition. Once the music starts there will be no time scrounge up important tools or ingredients without casting a sour note; anything you can do now, before heat is applied to food and the march of thermodynamics cannot be turned back, will make things easier later. You will need: eggs, bacon, bread, butter, a toaster, a frying pan, a spatula (preferably metal – the thinner the better), paper towels, a plate, a fork, and a table knife. Get them out ahead of time and place them all within easy reach. Make sure you have room to work next to the stove as well.

Lay out your work space. Put the pan on the stove, the spatula and the fork nearby, and put a paper towel on the plate. Put the bread by the toaster. Check the butter to make sure it’s not too firm to spread on the toast easily. Touch each thing once with your hand so your body will remember its place. You will find yourself automatically putting things back in their places later, so you don’t have to expend unnecessary mental energy with the details. You’re an artist, baby! No time to be groping for brushes when the passion strikes!

Note: Years later I’ve learned from watching Worst Cooks in America that the above ritual is called mise en place – everything in its place. Taking sixty thin seconds now to lay everything out makes things so much easier later that you will suddenly feel like a good cook. Because you will be.

Take a deep breath. Relax. This is going to be great!

Ready? The conductor is stepping to the podium. A hush descends over the concert hall. It’s time to fire up the stove.


Fine czech bacon

Some fine czech bacon

There are many reasons not to eat bacon: Political, religious, economic, environmental, and health issues abound. On the other hand, there’s only one reason to eat it: It’s yummy. Bacon has the side effect of providing grease to lubricate the pan while you cook your eggs as well. When cooking for myself (as is usually the case), two slices of bacon is plenty. Cooking bacon is simple, really; plop a couple strips into the pan and as it heats you will hear the sizzling begin. Keep a close ear on that sound; that’s your thermometer. If things start to sizzle and pop with too much abandon, turn the heat down a bit.


Mmmm…. Bacon

I’m a “busy” cook, so I harass the bacon with my fork as it cooks, pushing it around to make sure it doesn’t get stuck, flipping it more than is strictly necessary, and generally robbing the bacon of any chance to relax as the meat cooks and some of the fat is turned to liquid. How long you cook the bacon is entirely up to you. While I want my bacon to be cooked through I don’t like it to snap when I bend it. If you’re cooking for strangers, always make it crispy. When your bacon is done turn the heat way down on the stove and hoist those puppies out. Put them on the paper towel to absorb some of the grease still bubbling in the strips.

There’s your pan, waiting for the main event…


But hold on, there, Sparky! That intriguing, inviting frying pan calling your name is trying to lead you astray! What started as a gentle waltz is speeding up now — it is a fugue, and the goal is to have all the lines of the music end at the same time. Once you’ve been around the block a couple of times you’ll know: the toast takes longer to cook than the eggs. There’s nothing worse than scooping the eggs out of the pan and onto the plate, steaming, gleaming, calling to you, and having to wait for the toast. Oh, I’ve been there many times, my friends, and it hurts. Send two slices down into the fiery maw of the toaster and turn your attention back to the frying pan.

The Eggs

You’re moving gracefully now from plate to toaster to pan, and utensils are jumping into your hand before you even think of them. The eggs are there, waiting, but first let’s take a look at that pan. You’ve got some big decisions to make. The bacon has left behind two things; grease and crispy critters. The first decision is an easy one based entirely on taste: Do you scrape out the crispy critters? Personally, I leave them in. They can become a sticking point during the flip, but I like what they add to the egg. The second question is tougher: Do you have too much grease in the pan? If you only cooked a couple of slices of bacon you’re probably OK. If you cooked more it’s time to take some of the grease out of the pan. I generally just soak some of it up with a paper towel. Pouring it down the sink is a bad idea, unless you’re looking for an excuse to have that cute plumber come over.

Remember, that’s hot hot grease there! Be careful!

Naturally, if you are not a bacon-eater, you will have to add butter or oil to the pan and you’re completely out of luck on the crispy critters. Also, without lovely bacon goodness, you’ll probably want to add a sprinkle of salt and maybe a touch of black pepper.

The pan is ready. It’s time to turn the heat back up for a few moments and put in the eggs. Eggs – check. Spatula – check. All right. Crack open that first egg and drop her in!


Adjusting the sprawl

Not so fast there, buckaroo! I saw you reaching for that next egg! This is the first half of the secret to perfect over-easy eggs. Don’t put in the second egg yet! The reason will be obvious when we get to the flip. Instead, it’s time to use your spatula to adjust the sprawl of the first egg. As you look at the egg sitting in the pan, you will see three distinct parts. There is the yolk, the inner white part, and the outer white part. While the first two parts are relatively self-contained, the outer white will run all over the place. The farther it runs, the thinner it gets and the faster it cooks. If you like little crispy-crinkly bits around the edges, then some sprawl is desirable. If your stove is not level (mine isn’t) some of the outer white will make a break for it. Just push it back where it belongs and everything will be all right.

That other egg is calling to you. Your hand is starting to twitch. You can no longer resist the need to start the next egg cooking. Crack it open and drop it in, adjusting sprawl as above.

Pop! goes the toaster. Never taking your eyes off the eggs, pull the toast out and butter it. Dump the bacon off the towel onto the plate, and put the toast next to it.

The Flip


4MB Video: The Eggs

The moment has come to flip the eggs. How do you know when that moment has arrived? It is when the inner white portion is almost completely cooked. Only practice, practice, and more practice will allow you to recognize this moment every time, but here’s the second part of the arcane secret for cooking eggs over easy: Don’t flip the eggs too soon! While the egg is sunny-side up, the yolk is floating on top and the white acts as an insulating layer, protecting the yolk from the heat of the pan. Alas, some of the white is also insulated, and to get that part firmed up we must risk everything and flip the egg over for a few agonizing seconds.

Before we go doing something crazy that could injure our precious yolk, make sure the egg is free and loose. Everything cool? Well then, flip the first egg, and only the first egg. This is why you waited before putting the second egg in. The egg will be flipped for such a short time that you don’t want to get caught fooling around with egg number two while egg number one overcooks. After just a few seconds scoop the first egg out and flip it yolk-side-up onto your plate. Now repeat the process with egg number two.

Turn off the stove, step back, and take a look at the beauty you have wrought.

Some final comments

emptyplate005.jpg While I have tried to be specific, there are many aspects of timing and temperature that I just cannot be exact about. Everything from how you like your toast to the weight of your frying pan will affect your outcome. Only experimentation will lead to your oval nirvana. If they don’t come out just right the first time, relax. I bet it’s still way better than what you would get at Denny’s. The process is, as I mentioned above, a complex and delicate composition, and like all great works of art, each performance carries with it some risk.

Finally, I did not include the preparation of any beverages in this framework. I know there are those who are as passionate about their coffee as I am about my eggs, and I invite your input.

I hope this little how-to helps you. If we all band together, perhaps one day we can rid the world once and for all of the scourge of too-soon-flipped eggs. And remember as Valentines day hurtles toward us that the best way to start the day is to bring your sweetie breakfast in bed. A beautifully orchestrated, lovingly presented plate full of grub says “I love you” like nothing else. (Don’t forget to clean the kitchen.)


Eggs Over Easy

Note to visitors: I am passionate about my eggs. It’s funny how many people wind up here from searches in Google and Yahoo, looking for the Answer. Read on; the key to the perfect over-easy egg is only paragraphs away. This episode was written to entertain, but clearly there is a pent-up need in the world for advice on getting those eggs just right, and by gum I’m happy to give my opinion about anything. For that reason I have now written another episode: Eggs Over Easy – The Definitive Step-By-Step Guide. I would recommend you read here first, then go over to the step-by-step page. If you find this information helpful or entertaining, please leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Then you can invite me over for breakfast. Mmmmmm… breakfast.

I’m not a gourmet by any stretch of the imagination, nor does Iron Chef have to worry about being unseated by me. But I do like my eggs. Thus it is not an unusual morning when I venture out to find someone to cook some for me. Now that I no longer have a kitchen, this happens with even greater regularity. Alas, my fried chicken ova* are almost never cooked right. Oh, I eat them, and I still enjoy them, but there’s that little part of me that says, “doesn’t anyone know how to cook an egg anymore?”

I’m here to put things right. You don’t have to thank me; it’s what I do.

There are four generally recognized ways to fry an egg:
Sunny-Side Up: The egg is never flipped. The yolk is a bright yellow hemisphere sitting in the middle of the pristine white. The yolk is liquid, and some of the white around the yolk may have a jelly-like consistency.
Over Easy: The egg is flipped briefly. The yolk does not stand out as strikingly, but is still liquid. The white is no longer liquid.
Over Meduim: The white is cooked to a firmer texture, and the yolk is solid around the edges, and oozy in the middle.
Over Hard: The white is firm, the yolk is a lighter color and flakey.

Then there are those who intentionally break the yolk before the flip. We won’t talk about those people here.

Each degree of cooking is associated with a preferred texture for the white and for the yolk. Which brings me to my point. People who order their eggs over easy don’t want runny whites. If they wanted that, they would order sunny-side up. Runny yolk but solid white is why over easy was invented in the first place. It is by far the trickiest egg-frying style – it requires touch and artistry to cook one part of the egg without cooking the other. But it seems most places I go don’t even make the effort to try.

When in egg-cooking school, students must be reminded with great clarity and consistency: Don’t flip the eggs too soon. If one waits until the egg is ready to serve sunny-side, then flips it for just a few moments to sear the last of the white, it comes out perfect every time. Alas, impatient cooks do not wait for that perfect moment. They flip the egg prematurely and there’s no way that much white is going to get cooked post-flip without adversely affecting the yolk. The time to get most of the white firmed up is while the white is acting as an insulating layer between the pan and the yolk.

I have considered explaining to my waiter exactly how I want my eggs. I thought of saying “Sunny-Side Over” to convey my meaning, but I have never tried. Even if the waiter nodded and took notes, by the time it reached the cook I would probably end up with Sunny Side Rubber, so afraid would he be to flip the eggs too soon. That or it would just piss him off. No, we can but hope that future generations will take this to heart, and look with pride at the eggs sitting on the plate, seemingly in defiance of thermodynamics, the yolks jiggling, the whites not.

So mamas, tell your children, when you first hand them the spatula and the carton of eggs, as they stare wide-eyed at the pan in front of them, butter or bacon drippings faintly sizzling in the shimmering heat, that they must be patient. They must wait for the right moment to flip.


* this used to say “fried chicken embryos”, but I got tired of people unfamiliar with the Coneheads explaining Greek to me.