“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.
Posted by Jess