Without prejudice

“The Great Equalizer.” It has been said of many things, including education, death, and the three-point line. But what holds this title in my kitchen is none other than the humble egg, cracked into a hot, oil-slicked skillet, and fried. Unless you’re a sucker for cold pizza or day-old Chinese takeout, “leftovers” is a word not typically associated with breakfast. But consider the following meals:

Bok choy and tofu over brown rice
French green lentils and caramelized onions
Roasted chickpeas with cumin and sautéed kale
Cabbage slaw with green onion dressing

These dishes have one very important thing in common: Spooned from Tupperware in the early-morning hours, each of these suppers makes a stellar second appearance under the sunny canopy of a fried, runny-yolked egg.

The fried egg works its magic without prejudice. I’d be hard pressed to finger a best of these egg-capped dinners reborn. The fried egg doesn’t play favorites, and neither do I. The sorriest heaps of leftover sautéed vegetables have made the fiercest comebacks; the merest of kitchen scraps have found their second winds, all thanks to the power of this equalizing ovum.

This week’s pairings came courtesy of our Saturday lunch of spicy pulled-beef tacos, topped with pickled onions and the cabbage slaw that I mentioned earlier. On Sunday, after a run along the frozen Charles, I slid a fried egg over the leftover slaw and onions for a breakfast that was at once hot and cold, crunchy and smooth.

The next day, I reached for the canned tomatoes and chipotle chilies that didn’t make it into the meat’s sauce, grabbed a handful of baby spinach, and tossed everything into the pan. When the tomato juices bubbled, I dug a hole in the vegetables in the center of the pan, and dropped an egg inside to half-poach, half-fry. Two and a half minutes later, I turned out the entire contents of the pan onto a plate lined with two slices of whole wheat toast. Delicious.

When you crack your eggs, where do they land? Atop a plate of pasta? Upon a bed of rice and beans? In a bowl of soup? Do tell. I’m always looking to expand my repertoire.

Speaking of fried eggs, have you heard Matthew and Molly’s new podcast, Spilled Milk? Their inaugural episode is on this very subject. If you enjoy their sparkling voices on the page, you’re going to love this. Think Julia and Jacques for the twenty-first century. Minus the high, warbling voice and dreamy French accent. (Do listen, however, for Matthew’s charming impersonation of a Swedish egg yolk.) Fair warning: these two are funny. If you’re one to laugh out loud, I’d suggest sitting down to your egg only after the podcast is through. You wouldn’t want to choke on your yolk.

Eggs over (almost) Anything

Instead of a recipe, here are some tips and tricks for a few different leftovers scenarios.

First, the basics: My ideal egg sits on the skillet just long enough for the white to set, the edge to brown a little, and the yolk to heat through, while still remaining loose. Achieving that elusive combination of firm white plus saucy yolk can be tricky. Here’s a tip: Heat a glug of oil or a thin shaving of butter over medium-high heat in a non-stick skillet. Make sure that your fat is very hot before you drop in the egg. Then, turn down the heat slightly, and cover the skillet with a lid or baking sheet. This way, while the egg fries, it also steams, which gets rid of any white jiggle on top. It also reduces cooking time, and keeps you from having to attempt a flip that might jeopardize your intact yolk. I find that, once covered, the egg takes between 2 and 2.5 minutes to reach its perfect consistency. Season with salt and pepper, and serve. If farm-fresh eggs are available in your area, I highly recommend going for them, even if it means spending a couple of extra dollars per dozen. They’re worth every last penny.

Fried eggs over leftover salads, slaws, and soups: Prepare the egg as described, above, and slide it over –or into – your dish.

Fried eggs over leftover rice dishes: Eggs aside for a moment, rice reheated in an oiled skilled (as opposed to a microwave) is one of my favorite things to eat. It’s all about the crunchy bits that fry up along the bottom. So good. Here is my approach to fried eggs plus rice-based leftovers, like the egg-crowned lentils, caramelized onions, and rice, pictured up at the top of this post. Follow the instructions, above, for heating the oil, and then scoop your lentils, onions, and rice into the skillet. Once your leftovers are heated through, push aside the vegetables in the center of the pan, to form a small hole. You’ll want your egg to fry directly on the hot surface of the skillet. (The edges of the egg will ooze a little into the surrounding rice, lentils, and onions. That’s a good thing.) Drop the egg into the hole, cover the skillet, and cook according to the above instructions. Tilt the pan to slide the entire contents onto a plate, and serve.

Fried eggs over saucier scraps: When I have leftover canned tomatoes lurking in my refrigerator, I often finish them off with the help of an egg. When you cook an egg in liquid, it’s more of a poach than a fry, but it’s so tasty, that I've decided to include it here. Follow the above instructions, but instead of digging a hole to the bottom of the pan, just make a dent in the sauce or soupy vegetables. The dent should be just large enough to cradle your egg. Cook, and serve the egg and its sauce over toast or rice.

A word about frozen vegetables: I always keep a bag of frozen, organic spinach in the freezer, for those times when I’d like a little green with my fried egg, but I don’t have anything fresh on hand. I plink some frozen spinach leaves into the pan with the rice, and add the egg only when the spinach has completely thawed. Then, I dig my little hole, crack, cover, season, and serve, as usual.


Tracy (Amuse-bouche for Two) said...

Usually when we need a little something more after a bowl of pasta, we reach for eggs. Fried in some olive oil, over easy. A dusting of salt and pepper. Dipping our toasted baguette slices into that rich golden yolk. We love eggs.

Lady Gouda said...

GORGEOUS pictures. I love the dreamy, soft look to the photos today-goes well with the topic of eggs. My favorite "I'm on my own for dinner tonight" dish usually involves a fried or poached egg over grits. I usually stir in some cheese, greens, and chicken sausage or little bits of bacon into the grits and then top with the egg. Ah, bliss. If I had a dining companion (or if I wanted to make things more fancy) I might poach an egg and make a bit of mushroom ragout, and set the whole business atop creamy polenta. Thanks for posting about my favorite humble ingredient.

bferry said...

ha! i just fried an egg and ate it over grilled bread. i eat a LOT of them, too. my favorite is on top of polenta (even leftover polenta) with parmesan.

EEJ said...

I just can't warm to eggs, which is funny since I ate them almost every day of my early childhood. I can handle them scrambled on a bagel with some delicious cheese, or (and only sometimes) in a really delicious, extremely well done omelet. All of these things sound delicious, but I'm afraid I'd have to skip the egg. Mph.

tara said...

Yes, yum. So nice with cabbage or, my favourite, Brussels sprouts. And I'm with Molly, I like my bottoms lightly toasted.

Rosiecat said...

Ah, what timing, Jess! I made a fabulous batch of scones on Friday and have since been contemplating how to pair them with something savory for a wonderful breakfast. I thought about scrambled eggs, but my mind kept wandering to something more vegetal and earthy. An egg fried amidst a handful of vegetables is perfect! I'm bookmarking this page to remind me.

megan said...

My current fave is an egg sandwich...over easy, on sourdough toast with a little butter and salt and pepper. A recipe even I can do! Watch out for the spurting yolk, though, esp. when breakfasting with blogs.


Char said...

i've never thought much about eggs like this except as a toad in the hole or some such. intriguing though i will admit i'm hard fried girl. i do love a fried egg sandwich with a bit of cheese.

Jess said...

Tracy - Eggs for dessert. I love it.

Lady Gouda - Thank you. That's the film talking in the first, second, and bottom shots. It's a different look from digital. I think you're right to call it softer. And what's this about mushroom ragout and polenta? I'll be right over.

Brian - Another vote for polenta. I'll have to try it. I make a vegetable soup that I like to serve over a small mound of polenta. A fried or poached egg on top would be ridiculous. Almost too good, I suspect. Dare I?

Emily - But... but... I don't know what to say. I suppose we can still be friends, seeing as how your judgement as an arbiter of taste in every other non-egg-related arena is spot-on. You say you ate them all the time as a kid. Maybe you OD'ed? There must be some kind of rehab facility for this. I'll look into it and get back to you.

Tara - Brussels sprouts, yes, that's a good one. And seeing your name pop up here, I'm reminded that I still need to try your eggs baked in cream.

Rosiecat - I love your use of the word "vegetal." And your idea for a sweet and savory pairing.

Megan - That sounds perfect. I've been enjoying the same recently, open faced, on crusty bread (you know the one) that I slip under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Have you tried broiling instead of conventional toasting? You will love it. You end up with some variation in color and texture. I like the little charred bits.

Char - Everyone seems to have a different name for that old classic. I grew up calling it "birdie in the nest." I love all of the various combinations listed here, but you're right that all a fried egg really needs is a piece of toast or two, and maybe some cheese.

Katherine said...

Eggs over curried sweet potato chunks or over caramized onions and polenta are bomb diggety.

jacqui | happyjackeats said...

i don't know if you're aware of this or not, but i'm addicted to eggs. runny egg yolk, to be more specific. and a fried egg over leftover rice is my favorite breakfast. i'll have to try your nesting method sometime!

Ann Underfunded Humanity said...

These suggestions are making me hungry for a midnight snack! I love love love the lentil and onion and egg idea.

I also think I might need some challah bread french toast in the morning.

My eggs tend to be scrambled with sea salt, pepper and hot sauce added, or they end up in a sweet potato, black bean and sharp cheddar cheese burrito with arugula.

Amanda said...

I love this post! I'll eat absolutely any leftovers for breakfast if, and only if, there is a runny-yolked fried egg sitting on top. Rice and beans are a favourite: rice mixed with leftover chickpea salad with red onions and bell peppers, warmed up in a skillet with a farm fresh egg sitting on top, is my idea of heaven!

Kate said...

I'm all about those bits of leftovers mixed with a nice cooked egg. In fact, I could eat eggs often, and for dinner as well but I am linked to a man (for life) that hates eggs. It seriously jeopardizes my meal repertoire but I soldier on in the name of the ovum. My favorite items to mix with eggs are spinach and tomato, and in the summer, fresh corn and smoked salmon. But for this girl, they need to be hard-cooked. No runny yolks, although I am trying to branch out in that regard.

momMe said...

Cheesecake Fectory does a wonderful Huevos Rancheros --- soft tacos layered with black beans and avocado with sunny side up eggs on the top. I love sunny side up eggs --- fried in butter --- I put a few drops of water in before I cover the pan --- eggs come out perfectly cooked through but still runny. Let's here it for the fabulous complete protein --- because of them breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. so glad it isn't skipping a generation.

Andrea [bella eats] said...

Jess - you are darling. I love when Sweet Amandine pops up in my reader!

I recently had a fried egg on top of a salad of shredded brussels sprouts sauteed with pancetta...positively delicious. Thank you for sharing some of your favorite egg-topped concoctions!

my spatula said...

i LOVED molly and michael's podcast. i still giggle at 'snowy white bottom'. a perfectly fried egg, with a runny yolk...can't be beat.

Jess said...

Katherine - That sounds like a serious endorsement. And another polenta mention, still! Clearly I've been missing out.

Jacqui - I knew I liked you. And I love that you call it my "nesting method." I may have to steal that!

Ann - Ah, the breakfast burrito. Your version sounds like a thing of beauty. I should reach for the hot sauce a little more often. Also, your blog is terrific. I'm so glad that you left a note here so that I could find it.

Thanks, Amanda. I love your enthusiasm. You sound like my kind of girl.

Kate - You poor, long-suffering woman! I hope that this man of yours understands the enormity of your sacrifice. Your summertime egg dish sounds divine. Now let's talk yolks: You should, of course, enjoy them any which way you please. But if you're intent on exploring the possibility of a saucier egg, might I suggest that you try the farm-fresh variety? Their yolks are so golden and rich, they're impossible to resist in any state. A warm and soupy yolk from one of these babies might even be able to win over a hard-boiled (ha!) girl like you.

Mom - The Cheesecake Factory?! Who would've thought? Breakfast really is tops. And that includes breakfast for lunch, breakfast for dinner, and breakfast for midnight snack, too.

Thank you, dear Andrea. I'm always so happy to "hear" your voice here. You're the second vote for Brussels sprouts, so I'll have to move that to the top of my list.

my spatula - Such good stuff. It's not surprising, of course, coming from those two.

Oliag said...

It is very timely for me to read this post today as my cousin just dropped off two dozen fresh eggs from her farm...I love eggs any way possible...from souffles to soft boiled on an english muffin with avocado which I just had for breakfast this morning:)

Adrienne said...

Choke on your yolk. Heh heh heh. This very morning I fried an egg to top my leftover collard greens from dinner. Mmm... And I second the hot sauce vote.

Alan Divack said...

A few comments:
I love your blog. Janet Heetner turned me onto it.
I couldn't agree more that a fried egg goes well on top of everything. Best of all, it goes on top of crushed good potato chips sauteed lightly with onions or scallions, garlic, chili and cilantro. Just break the eggs on top and continue cooking till done but not overdone. (This from My Bombay Kitchen, a Parsi cookbook by Niloufer Ichaporia King).
For a completely different take, fry (I mean fry) eggs in 1/2 to 3/4 in very hot olive oil. Splash some oil on the top as you cook. The white will become a crisp mantle for a runny yolk. This only needs coarse salt and bread.
Fried eggs are also great on top of chili or red or black beans , or did you mention that?

Megan Gordon said...

Love the idea of suggestions and tips rather than recipes, especially for something like eggs (reading Laurie Colwin and she does a lot of narrative suggestions). I'm also a little bit obsessed with that final photo. How do you achieve that look? Textures?? Love to know....

Thanks so much for a former Boston girl (went to school there and desperately miss the snow...I know, easier said from afar!)

Post Grad Hair Cut said...

I love eggs. They are so comforting. We almost always have some variation of an omelet on Sunday mornings. I also like a fried egg on a slice of toat with avocado, tomato and cream cheese.

Jess said...

Oliag - Wow. Lucky, lucky you! You know, I had forgotten about that winning egg plus English muffin combination. Thanks for the reminder.

Adrienne - You'll be happy to hear that since I last checked in here, I have taken a bottle of hot sauce to my eggs more than once. I'm sold. Though I have yet to find the perfect balance between egg and sauce. I'm either just a hair too timid, or I add a little too much. I guess I'll just have to fry up some more eggs so that I can keep practicing.

Alan - I'm speechless. You, sir, do not mess around! Eggs over sauteed crushed potato chips? (Did you all read that, people?) Thank you for taking the time to leave such a jaw-dropping recipe in detail. I'm very happy that you found us here, and I hope to see you again soon!

Hi, Megan. I have Colwin's Home Cooking on my nightstand right now and I like to dip into it for a quick fix sometimes before lights out. Perhaps I was channeling her (I wish!) without realizing it? That last photo is a Polaroid, taken on expired Spectra film. I cropped out the white border, but aside from that, I didn't manipulate it in any way. The colors are (lovably) off because of the expired film, and the "texture" is just what you get with Polaroid. (Kind of magical, isn't it?)

Post Grad Hair Cut - Your Sunday mornings sound wonderful, as does your eggs on toast combination. Thanks for stopping by. (I do believe you're new in these parts, no? Welcome.)

Maria said...

I love your photos. I just found your blog and I am enjoying it! Thanks!

Jess said...

Hi, Maria, and welcome. It's nice to meet you. Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind note.

El said...

I love your ideas, our photos and your descriptions. You make me want to eat an egg. Mine are mostly used in baking so I definitely appreciate your creative insight.

molly said...

Ah, my favorite secret! Fried eggs are like the perfect string of pearls, this way. Only I don't own any pearls. And I re-work leftovers this way all the time. I had a little love afair with fried eggs over a warm roasted sweet potato and black bean salad (cilantro, feta, lime, yum) last Fall, the egg making everything new again the next day. Lovely over fried rice, chock-a-block with chinese sausage. Had one yesterday nested into sauteed chard. Maybe not over old car tires, but nearly all else...

Lauren said...

I know this is an old post, but eggs are my absolute favorite - I eat at least one egg a day, and I've been known to put away as many as a half-dozen in a 24 hour period. They cook so fast and can be savory or sweet - plus they make me feel healthy!

Also, hello from a fellow Ohioan. Jeni's Ice Cream in Columbus is heaven on earth.