Musings

Too Much Time with Runny Yolk Folks

Is it possible to remember a time before eggs with varying degrees of runny yolks were put on top of everything?

Okay. It’s not that bad, but you catch my drift, yeah?

The first time I remember seeing an egg added to a dish in the matter-of-fact way tinsel gets added to Christmas trees was in December 2006, on an episode of “Top Chef: Season 2.” Elia Aboumrad, who ended up tying for third place that season and now is a co-owner of Gorge in Los Angeles, won a breakfast challenge after preparing a waffle topped with ham, cheese, and a fried egg.

Sounds delicious, right? I mean, I’m down for that. It’s not like fried eggs are a novelty, though. They’re eaten for breakfast all over the world, and society has coined at least four descriptive phrases for this particular cooking method, making the precision and consistency required a source of anxiety and “reasons we don’t go there for brunch.”

(Informal Survey: Do you take your fried eggs sunny side up? Over easy? Over medium? Over hard? Let me know. If you’re vegan, how do the important people in your life who consume eggs like them to be prepared?)

I’m not trying to morph anyone into a makeshift short-order cook. Believe me, I’ve seen how tough those humans have it, and I know you parents and others with younger nuggets to care for are not up for opening a restaurant kitchen in your home when it’s time for dinner. It’s clear that this trend is going to be around for awhile, and I’d like to advocate bringing it into home kitchens to save you $3-5. Maybe this is just because I’m the loon who buys two-dozen eggs, then stands in my kitchen with a few frying pans and a large pot of boiling water.

Egg Cookery Hacks I’ve Learned from Various Food Sources That Actually Work:

A. If you’re making an omelette, once the eggs look like “curds” in your frying pan (like the fluffy soft scrambled eggs dreams are made of), let the eggs sit for 10 seconds. Seriously. Do nothing. This is what will make your omelet stick together. And FYI, your omelette should be soft in the middle. Don’t burn it, please. For the sake of humanity and the children. (For a complete omelette hack, check out this post.)

B. When poaching eggs, make a “whirlpool” in the pot of simmering water, and slide the egg into the center of the whirlpool. This will prevent the egg white from spreading out in the water, i.e. the difference between failure and success.  (Thanks, Alton Brown.)

C. Heat the plate you are serving eggs on. Eggs get cold obscenely quickly. Pop them in the oven on the lowest temperature. If your plates aren’t oven-safe, keep them ready in hot water. Cold eggs suck almost as much as flimsy bacon. If you serve me cold eggs, I will stare at you until laser beams come out of my eyes and damage your soul.

D. Use a rubber spatula for all endeavors in which you are cooking eggs in a frying pan. Respect the eggs. You’re not Christian Grey in his BDSM playroom.

E. If you’re looking for a runny yolk or soft scrambled eggs, your eggs are done the instant there is no excess liquid running around the pan. Stare at it and you’ll see what I mean. Thank me later, enjoy your eggs first.

My latest experiments are with half-boiled eggs. I (like most home cooks) do not have the ability to sous vide my eggs at 63, 62, or 61-degrees, (although I’m thinking about asking for the appropriate equipment from Santa in eleven months), so my eggs are less-than-aesthetically-stunning, but still taste delicious.

When I up my consistency level, you’ll be the first to know. In the meantime, what are you waiting for? Get your oeuf on. (It sounds so much sexier in French.)

Soft-Boiled

“You’re A Decadent Girl” – Starting Exploration of The Dom Perignon and Birkin of Spices

“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”          –Mae West

We’ve all felt like this on occasion. And it’s freakin’ great.

There is nothing wrong with embracing excess. In the midst of truffle-mania, things wrapped in bacon, and “topped with a runny egg” taking over the universe, I’m more interested in the subtle indicators of decadence that drive up food cost.

This is not to knock any iteration of “truffle” on the market. (With the exception of truffle oil. Seriously, y’all. Don’t buy that stuff. There’s a ridiculously high likelihood that it hasn’t been made from real truffles. A chemist has made a pungent scent, bottled it, and called it flavor. Buy salt or the expensive shrooms in their natural state.) At an average of $5 per gram and $2,000 per pound, shaving these bad boys over pasta, steak, eggs, or rice is still one of the easiest ways to throw down the “foodie” gauntlet.

Trivia: Truffles (specifically white truffles), Beluga Caviar, and Saffron are the only food items to grace the planet’s top-25 “most valuable substances by weight” list.
Other substances on this list include diamonds, heroin, meth, cocaine, LSD, plutonium, and Californium 252 (the isotope used to find layers of oil and water in wells clocks in at $27 million per gram).

So what’s up with saffron? Why do these red-orange flower filaments cost up to $2,000 a pound? Why do we pay between $7 and $14 for a few threads?
Saffron threads are picked by hand, and it can take around 75,000 individual threads to produce one pound. An additional complication is that saffron needs to be harvested between DAWN and 10:00 AM, otherwise aroma and color decreases.

Trivia: Saffron has been traded for more than four million years. Iran currently has the main market on saffron, being responsible for 90% of its production.

I’m planning on making a saffron risotto at some point during the next few weeks. I want the natural buttery texture of risotto with the honey-and-hay scent of saffron. Maybe with an egg yolk on top. Shit. That’s another cliche. Does it matter? Probably not.

Personal Trivia: Saffron is supposed to be the signature scent for the Sagittarius sign of the zodiac. I’m not entirely certain how down with that I am.

Vanilla is directly after saffron on the “most expensive per unit volume” list.

Why vanilla?
First, I’m not talking about the extract used in most forms of Betty Crocker baking. Nothing wrong with it, but that’s not what’s being discussed. Think vanilla beans. Vanilla flowers are persnickety little buggers. They have to be hand-fertilied, or they’ll die. They have to be picked at very specific times, or they’ll die. PURE vanilla extract clocks in at $8.50 for 4-ounces, with individual beans costing $1.89 EACH.

Trivia: We can thank our fascination with vanilla flavor to its expert cultivation by pre-Columbian mesoamerican Aztecs, leading Cortés to become fascinated with both vanilla and chocolate during his expeditions in the 1500s.

I have to admit, I’m not very innovative or kinky with my use of vanilla beans. I’ve only used them for flavoring custards……and enjoyed it in ice cream.

Stay tuned for updates on my anxiety at using two of the most pricey ingredients in the world. I’m sure there will be plenty of sarcasm and memes utilized as coping mechanisms.

A Meditation on Deep Fried Things

While at dinner with a friend, my eyes popped. It was just a piece of shrimp tempura. Breaded, fried, served with a sauce. Why all the fanfare? It was the first time I can remember taking genuine pleasure in something deep-fried in far too long.

Deep frying has popularized with large assistance from fair culture. If you can eat it, someone somewhere has has attempted to submerge it in batter and hot oil. Why the allure, though? It’s not the most original cooking method. For me, it’s the trashy indulgent nature of it. I’m a rebel. I like being bad.

I mean, sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me. Just ask Rihanna what I’m taking about.

Not only that, but eating fried food creates automatic bragging rights. By eating something deep fried in the wake of Type 2 Diabetes, heartburn, and various other medical media surrounding the correlation between saturated fat and disease, you become the Andrew Zimmern of calorie exploration or the Anthony Bourdain of grease.

Wait. GREASE.

That’s it! Well, one of several “its.” A large factor in enjoying fried food comes with how much excess oily or fatty matter is left in the final texture and taste. Deep-fried food should be hot when served, seasoned – and I mean it has to taste like something besides batter, and battered an appropriate amount – otherwise all you’ll taste is flour. And don’t get me started on the condition of the oil something is fried in. If the oil has been sitting for too long (i.e. old oil), is at too high of a temperature/burning, or the food is left in the oil for too long, that rancid taste runs through what you’re consuming.

The phrase “Deep Frying” wasn’t documented until the 1930s, with the popularization of potato chips, but European and Arabic cultures in particular have been deep-frying for much longer than that – think Middle Ages and the BCE region. I lack this length of experience with deep fried mania, but I still feel comfortable sharing my opinion on what is and isn’t worth pursuing.

Deep-Fried Do, With The Indicated Provisos:

  • Banana Chips – Only if coated in sugar, honey, chocolate, or spicy goodness. The singular time I will tell you something sweet is an addicting snack food
  • Croquettes/Croquetas – When made well, these cure hangovers in ONE bite. Creamy bechamel sauce with various meat, veg, and spices, AND it’s fried? I’ve been known to inhale these three-at-a-time. For my twenty-second birthday party, the group of friends I went out to dinner with ordered FIFTY of these for the table to share.
  • French Fries – Definitely possible to screw up, but always worth searching for the unicorn.
  • Chicken – See above reference to French Fries.
  • Pommes Dauphine and Crab Puffs – If you can find one, try it. Not everyone makes either of these, which means they’re usually made well.
  • Pickles – Only if the creamy dipping sauce is actually flavorful and not cheap bottled ranch bullhockey.
  • Beignets, Malasadas, Donuts, Cronuts, Bomboloni, Churros, Funnel Cake, Loukoumades, Zeppole And Various Savory and Sweet Fried Dough Concoctions – Exploring this aspect of deep-fried is worth a post by itself. Note: If it’s not coming directly out of the fryer, into a glaze or powdered sugar, and into your possession, it’s not worth getting. When you bite into it, steam should escape. Please don’t let the variety of donuts I know the names of discourage you. You’ll get there.
  • Samosas – Don’t let me get near a bag of one of these. Just make sure there isn’t an audible tinge of grease hanging around. They should be flaky, light, and full of flavor with no taste of oil or sogginess.
  • Arancini – For those of you who don’t speak Italian, these are fried risotto balls. See above reference to samosas for how they should taste.
  • Chicharron aka Pork Rinds – Never by themselves. Always as a top garnish or appetizer vessel. Make sure they’re spicy.
  • Corn Dog – Only if it’s dipped in real pancake batter and the sausage is made in-house. FYI: Chorizo corn dogs are never worth it.
  • Falafel – Only in New York City or from a similar sort of cart
  • Fish and Chips – Only in England, Scotland, or Ireland. Everywhere else is a terrible imitation. The breading will be too thick.
  • Tempura – Make sure the batter isn’t as thick as your pinky and that your dipping sauce doesn’t taste of salt.
  • Tortilla Chips – If I have to tell you what a good tortilla chip should consist of, you haven’t had a good one yet. Keep looking for Prince or Princess Charming and you will get your Disney-esque Happily Ever After.
  • Tonkatsu anything in Japanese Culture – It must come over rice and have some sort of glaze over it. It should glisten with desirable goodness.

Deep-Fried Don’t Question, Just Don’t:

  • Twinkie, Mars Bar, Snickers, Klondike Bar, Oreo, Coca Cola, Butter (Yes, Deep-Fried Butter Exists) – Anything stereotypical of a fair environment that sounds like the best iteration of a childhood sweet isn’t what you think it is. All you taste is batter.
  • Pizza – The base is usually an inexpensive frozen pizza. That should be enough to turn you off.
  • Finger Steak – Steak is meant to be moderately bloody. Deep frying it detracts from the carnal caveman desires eating a skillfully cooked ribeye invokes.
  • Ravioli, Mozzarella Sticks, and Jalapeno Poppers – More often than not, the cheese ends up burned and gives the sensation of gnawing on dry-cleaning bags.
  • Hushpuppies – I don’t care how light these are supposed to be, the sensation is that of swallowing lead.
  • Chimichanga – See above latter reference to hushpuppies. These are worse.
  • Calamari – Really? You like the taste of rubber?
  • Onion Ring – See above reference to calamari.
  • Chicken Fried Steak – Gravy is needed to add flavor for a reason. Just don’t.
  • Egg Roll – A prime example of things that taste like nothing but the wrapper containing the bulk of the dish
  • Oysters or Clams – They’re supposed to taste like the ocean orgasmed on your tongue, not stale bread crumbs.
  • General Tso’s Chicken – There’s actually chicken underneath that nonsense? I would never have been able to tell.
  • Noodles – Really? A wok isn’t enough to bring the flavor out?
  • Scotch Egg – Why would anyone ruin the gorgeousness a well-cooked egg inspires by breading and frying it? Madness.
  • Spam Fritter – I am the largest Spam advocate on the mainland, but these are too much nonsense. Enjoy Spam for what it is. Did I really just advise that?
  • Agedashi Tofu – Another that only tastes like batter and oil.

Jury is still out on buffalo wings.

Let me know if you agree, disagree, or want to add something to either of these lists. I’ll be here.