I’ve always heard the real test of a cook’s skill is making eggs. It’s a test of timing and patience to create a perfectly cooked egg. You almost need a sixth sense. The egg has defeated many cooks in the kitchen, but when executed perfectly, the egg can transcend the idea of humble protein. It can mask itself as savory or sweet while parading as the main attraction or acting simply highlight to a dish. From the North American perspective, eggs perform some of their best roles at breakfast. One morning, a few years ago in Costa Rica, the egg really showed me who rules the breakfast plate.
I was in a small town on the Caribbean coast called Puerto Viejo. The area was full of great restaurants, and I frequented a small café in town, Bread and Chocolate, for breakfast almost every morning. It was an open air café swarming with tourists and local ex-pats. The café was a great place to relax and start my day. Fresh juice, Costa Rican coffee served in my own personal French press, and scrambled eggs that defied logic. They were light and fluffy while still having a custard-like richness. They weren’t embellished with anything other than salt, pepper, and butter. They held their shape on the fork and melted in my mouth. I had to find out how to make these eggs at home.
I spent the better part of a year trying to find out how to make that dish. I knew what I was looking for, but every time I tried making scrambled eggs they turned out soggy and underdone, or overcooked and tough. It wasn't until I came across another technique for cooking eggs that I put the pieces together. It wasn’t the timing or ingredients, it was using a totally different way to cook eggs. A bain Marie, or double boiler, was the trick. It’s used to slowly cook the eggs and bring them together into perfectly rich curds. They are so rich and satisfying that you don't need to add much to them. You don't even need a fancy bain Marie. Just use a sauce pan with an inch and a half of water and nest a metal bowl inside of it, trapping the steam inside the sauce pan. The gentle heat created by the steam cooks the eggs slowly at a lower temperature, creating smaller curds and a creamier texture. It takes a few more minutes than using a frying pan, but the end product is leaps and bounds better. Now, I don’t know if this is exactly how the café prepared their eggs, but it got me close enough to the dish I remember.
All too often, people add too many ingredients to eggs, hiding the fact that they weren't cooked that well. If you follow this technique, you won't have to hide behind any enrichment. That being said, it wouldn't hurt them if fresh chopped herbs or a mild cheese was folded in at the end. Try them unadulterated first, then add ingredients as you see fit. Oh, and if you ever find yourself in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, get the eggs at Bread and Chocolate.
5-6 large eggs
1 tablespoon of butter
Salt & pepper
The first step is to make sure your eggs are at room temperature. An easy way to do this is to put the eggs in a dish and fill it with warm water. Let that sit on the counter while you fill a sauce pan with about an inch or two of water. Bring the water to a boil, then back down to a simmer. Place a metal bowl over the sauce pan and add the butter. While the butter is melting, remove the eggs from the water and crack them into a mixing bowl. Whisk thoroughly. When the butter has melted, add the eggs. Not much is going to happen for a first few minutes, but keep an eye on it, stirring ever so often. After one or two minutes the eggs will slowly start to cook. Using a whisk, stir and scrape the sides of the bowl slowly letting the mixture heat through evenly. Small curds will begin to form. Remove from the heat when it is at the desired texture. Remember, if it looks done in the pan the eggs will be overcooked. There will always be some carry over cooking time with proteins, so remove the eggs 30-40 seconds before you think they are done. Season with salt and pepper. At this point you can fold in any additions you have on hand. Transfer to a warm plate and eat.