My Dear Son,
If you learn nothing else from me about cooking, at least learn this: how to properly scramble an egg. It seems a small thing, yes, but a perfectly scrambled egg is useful in so many ways… in a pedestrian breakfast with toast and jelly (and when you get older, perhaps coffee), on toast with a skim of lush avocado underneath, or topped with sharp cheddar and bacon alongside crisp, homemade hashbrowns. (I suppose I really must teach you the secret for those, too, before you escape my kitchen.) Once you know how to scramble an egg, the rest… over-easy, poached, omeletted, that all comes so much easier. But first, we start with this.
Pick your pan. Please, leave the non-stick behind. I know “they” say you can’t cook a perfect egg without it, but they’re so very, very wrong. Let’s practice, either with the thick cast-iron skillet or the steel Revereware. Make sure it’s scoured and there are no bits of food left to hamper your efforts. You might, in your adulthood, become insanely protective of your egg pan – cringing any time someone else uses it. That’s okay, I will understand and smile privately. A good pan is where it all starts.
Turn on the burner, but don’t crank the heat. Each stove is a little different, but the 6 o’clock position is a good place to start. If the temperature is too low, the egg will coagulate into an unattractive curd-like consistency as you wait for it to cook. Too high, and the egg will burn if you blink. Resist the temptation.
Let your pan heat for a minute or two before you add butter. It will take longer if you chose cast-iron. You want the pan to be warmed through and through before melting the butter into it. Add a generous tablespoon and make sure every iota of the bottom is covered. This is not the time to “go easy” on butter. If anything, you want a veritable slick of butter left behind when you slide the finished egg out. A dry pan leads to frustration and eggs glued to the metal. Trust me. Ye, I have walked through the paths of terrible eggs so that you do not have to.
I trust that by this time you have whipped your eggs in a separate bowl. No, leave out the water, leave out the milk. There should be nothing in there but tender yellow-whites. Let’s not sully the grandeur of the humble egg. And don’t try to scramble in the pan – if you’re lucky, the egg won’t stick, but it rarely turns out well.
Catch your breath – can you smell the toasting butter? Wait until the butter is frothy in the pan, wait until it is golden yellow, wait a half-breath more and then pour in the eggs. Browned butter is too hot, frothy butter too cold. You should hear a satisfying crackle as the mixture spreads over the bottom and a skim of cooked egg will appear.
Yes, now add a sprinkle of salt. I know, this is always your favorite part. Dip your fingers into the salt bowl and cast a magic spell. Now you can take the fork and drag the tines from one side to the other, rippling the golden eggy folds along behind. Breathe, breathe… and rake the tines across again. Flip everything over gently with the fork, and wait two, three, six breaths more. Slide your creation out onto a plate, quickly, before it burns, before a brown tinge creeps over the golden one.
Cooking is as much breathing as anything else, have you noticed? Like yoga practice, your skills will stretch and strengthen over time. Center yourself. Bring your practice to the pan.
This is the gift I want to give to you. The gift of an easy meal when studying in the afternoon bleeds ink into the evenings and your fingers shake with hunger. The gift of impressing a lover with steaming, perfectly tender eggs on a plate in early mornings. Master it, for this is the meal you will make every morning for your children before they go to school – twelve bites of protein to power through a morning of math and circle-time and reading. This is an offering you will make to your loved ones, again and again, on weekend mornings, alongside piles of pancakes or french toast smothered in sweet-tasting affection.
Food is love. Food is breath. Food is life, and food is a gift. My gift, your gift. Learn this, and you will never go hungry.