I Have Been Frying Eggs Wrong My Entire Life
A life lesson I learned on a river trip
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One of my greatest sources of wonder in life: At every breakfast joint I’ve ever patronized, there is a person working in the kitchen who can cook eggs to order. This person sometimes works completely by themselves, responsible for eggs, hash browns, toast, sometimes french toast, pancakes, and all sorts of other food items that must be served together, somewhat hot, timed correctly with other plates containing multiple food items. No matter the restaurant, even if the rest of the food isn’t anything to write home about, every time I’ve ordered eggs over easy, or sunny side up, or over hard, they’re generally put on the plate in exactly that state.
This, to me, is a little secular miracle, because for my entire life, I have generally been terrible at cooking eggs in any other form than scrambled. If my entire family were kidnapped by movie villains and strapped to a bomb, and the only way to save them was for me to cook three eggs perfectly sunny side up, I would basically have to look at my family and tell them that I’m so sorry, and I hope your affairs are in order. In the movie scene in my head, the villain would also watch me mangle the first three eggs, cringing the entire time, and then, in a quite un-movie-villain-like gesture, suggest that Hey, you know what, we bought a dozen eggs for this hostage situation, so why don’t you try the next nine, and if you get three out of those nine, we’ll spare your family? And still, everyone would die.
Whenever I mention that I can’t fry an egg over easy to save my ass (or in a fictional situation that involves the explosive, messy deaths of my loved ones), many people will suggest a solution or a tip, which I’m grateful for, and many of which I’ve tried (lots of oil, hot pan, fish spatula), but if I’m really honest with myself, I have never really tried that hard. If I took one month and concentrated on cooking a couple eggs every day, I could probably get a lot better at it, but I just haven’t felt it to be a need pressing enough to take priority over all the other things going on in my life. Basically every few weeks, I decide I’d like some fried eggs on a breakfast sandwich or over some rice and kimchi, and I try, and I fuck it up, and I wish I was better at it, but I just shrug and move on.
There are few things in my life I’m OK with being this bad at. A few weeks ago, I got inspired, and pulled out our new-ish nonstick pan, some olive oil, a plastic fish spatula, two eggs, and turned on the stove burner, brimming with hope and possibility. A few minutes later, I was gazing upon two eggs cooking in the pan, and it seemed as if today might *finally* be the day. Then it came time for the flip, and I wrecked everything, in slow motion, over the span of about 60 seconds: I got half of the first one flipped, but onto itself, attempted four times to unfold it so it was completely flipped, each time mangling it worse. Surely the second one would be easier? Nope. Same thing. The whole scenario was about as graceful and fulfilling as, say, a bison trying to have sex with a Honda Civic.
Here’s the thing I forgot, that I sometimes remember when I start to cook eggs: In 2019, I went on a rafting trip on the Green River through the Gates of Lodore, with a group of 24 other people and six guides. On the final morning of the trip, I stood near the kitchen drinking a cup of coffee and chatting with Sean, one of the guides, as he cooked breakfast sandwiches on a six-burner stove, a dozen or so at a time.
Between sips of coffee, I sort of wondered how Sean was going to manage to fry all of those eggs. He seemed very relaxed, flipping English muffins onto one side of the griddle, a box of eggs at the ready. And then he started into it: He cracked eggs with one hand, dropped them onto the griddle, and once he had a bunch of them lined up, he aimed the corner of his metal spatula at the yolk of each egg, and then he poked it, breaking the yolk.
This may not have been a revelation to everyone, but it was to me. There are probably many reasons Sean did it the way he did it—preventing foodborne illnesses, efficiency, less mess, et cetera. But what clicked in my mind was: If you don’t need the eggs to be perfect, as in, aesthetically pleasing, because, for example, they’re going inside a sandwich, or for another example, you just don’t care if they’re aesthetically pleasing, why not just break the yolks at the beginning?
Sean went on cooking as we talked, folding together sandwiches as if he’d made thousands of them on a riverbank just like this, because he had done just that, and I stood there probably wondering if the egg thing was metaphorically applicable to other things in life—like done is better than perfect sometimes, or that you have to pick your battles. Or maybe it’s just about cooking eggs and that’s enough.