If you know nothing about being in a kitchen, this is the place to start, because when we’re done here, you’ll know how to make one perfect thing. This one thing is the easiest to get perfectly right, and it introduces you to some key elements of real cooking. It’s simple, versatile, and of course delicious.
We’re talking about a fried egg.
What? Yes, just a fried egg. If you think you already know how to do this, carry on then - there are other articles for you. But do you really know? A perfectly fried egg is a beautiful thing. It’s delicious on its own, and a great topping for lots of meals.
It’s so, so simple, and an absolute joy to do right:
Let’s start with the pan - now, just about any pan will work fine, but this is about building a base to bigger and better things. You want a 12-inch Lodge cast-iron frying pan.
Cast-iron because it conducts heat evenly, it lasts forever, and it takes a little bit of care to maintain, but not so much that it’s a pain. That's important: you want something that you have to take care of right, but not something that's too demanding. Get a Lodge skillet because it’s the only cast-iron kitchenware maker left in the U.S., and they still make 'em like they did a hundred years ago. And the 12-inch size is perfect for a steak or two, which you’ll also want to make later.
So lay your pan down over medium-high heat, and pour in a solid layer of olive oil, enough to easily cover the bottom of the pan. Don't be shy.
In a couple minutes, it will be hot enough for the egg - if the oil starts to smoke it’s almost too late, don’t let it smoke for more than a couple of seconds. Preferably drop the egg a bit before the oil starts to smoke. You’ll learn soon enough what that looks like just by looking at the oil shimmering.
About that oil: use extra-virgin olive oil, but not the super-expensive fancy stuff. This is frying man, the fancy stuff is for salads, dressings, great sauces. For frying, you use the basic Star or Bertolli you should be able to find at any market. But buy good eggs. At least the stuff that claims to be free-range.
When you crack the egg into the pan, don’t smack it against the edge of the counter, or worse, the edge of the pan. That is just going to make more of a mess, and it’s likelier to result in shell fragments in your egg. Instead, tap the egg on a flat surface so that the shell cracks but doesn’t break totally open. Then you use your fingers to gently open the shell so the egg comes out cleanly into the pan.
And then it’s just about the timing. The egg white should brown at the edges so it's cripsy, and can brown a good bit if you like it that way - and you should! The whites will bubble up, especially if you use a spoon to baste the egg as it cooks.
You can start to get creative here, put things in the pan like a bit of arugula, a slice of cheese. If you're Mr Fancypants, toss in a bit of caramelized onion or roasted red pepper. If you are throwing greens or cheese on the egg, you should do that right away and you should baste so the greens are wilted a bit and the cheese is melted.
All told the cooking time is going to be maybe 90 seconds or so. Then use a slotted spatula to lift the egg out in one piece, without breaking the yolk, which should still be sunny side up. (If you are some kind of freak who refuses to eat runny yolks, you can lower the heat a bit and let it cook longer so that the yolk firms up. But it would be better if you would just learn to appreciate the creamy goodness of sunny side up.)
A toasted English muffin or any kind of bread makes a nice bed for your tasty egg. Gently slide the egg onto your plate, and top it with whatever you like. A little hot sauce is great. Anything with a bit of acidity is good, something with vinegar in it to cut the richness of the yolk and oil.
Oh, after you put the egg on the plate, you can take 30 seconds to let it cool. That’s all the time you’ll need to clean your pan, and you should do it now, because cleaning a cast iron pan is easiest while it’s still hot. Just run the pan under hot water, wipe it down with a scrub pad WITHOUT SOAP, and that’s as clean as you need to be.
What the hell, does this all matter? Is this the longest description of frying an egg you’ve ever read, for crying out loud?
YES. It matters. It matters that you use exactly the right instruments, and take care of them the right way. It matters that you pick the right ingredients, the highest quality that you can appreciate, but not higher than that. It matters that you can see the details, the edges of the egg browning, the whites bubbling, the greens wilting. This isn’t just making an egg, it’s making you into someone who actually loves to cook. It will happen, and it starts here. The egg comes first.