How would you like your eggs? What a question. The eternal struggle between what I want – a creamy pile of golden deliciousness – and what I suspect I'll get – a pallid, quivering mess – sucks me in every single time I treat myself to breakfast out. Wimpishly, I generally end up ordering fried instead or, if I'm feeling particularly brave, poached, because nothing brings on a hangover quicker than bad scrambled eggs. Equally, not much beats the lazy, luxurious pleasure of well-cooked ones and, unless you breakfast regularly in smart hotels, they're something best left to slow weekend mornings at home.
Delia, the queen of eggs, having taught the nation once and for all how to boil them, seems a good place to start. In her Complete Cookery Course, she admits to being a "disciple of Escoffier" on the subject of scrambling, which sounds an uncharacteristically Francophile admission from our homely domestic goddess, but I'm willing to give the good monsieur's method a try on her recommendation.
I heat a "walnut of butter" in a "small solid saucepan over a gentle heat" and whisk two large eggs together with a pinch of salt and pepper. Once the butter is foaming ("whatever you do, don't let it brown" cautions Delia) I pour in the eggs and "stir like mad" with a wooden spoon. When the eggs are almost, but not completely set I take the pan off the heat and add another knob of butter, "which will melt into it as it finishes cooking in the heat of the pan". The results are pleasing: a deep yellow colour, with a rich, buttery flavour, although I like my eggs slightly creamier in texture. Textbook eggs, but not quite velvety enough for my tastes.
If anyone knows about poshing up scrambled eggs, it's a Michelin-starred chef, so I turn to Gordon Ramsay for advice. His method is quite different from Delia's – I break the eggs into a cold pan over a very low heat, and add the butter, stirring the eggs frequently until they begin to set; a good six or seven minutes. In goes another knob of butter, there's more stirring (Gordon likens the process to making a risotto), and then, just before they're completely set, I take the pan off the heat and stir in a teaspoon of crème fraîche and season. The whole process has taken over 10 minutes, but the eggs are wonderfully rich and creamy; in fact, they're a little too smooth. Egg sauce doesn't have quite the right texture, however wonderful the flavour.
The best scrambled eggs in the world are popularly supposed to be served by sunny-faced Australian chef Bill Granger, dubbed by no lesser authority than the New York Times, "the egg master of Sydney". They are, apparently, "divinely creamy" but also "as light as the breath of an angel". This, I have to try.
I heat the "merest sliver" of butter in a non-stick pan over a high heat, and whisk together two eggs, a pinch of salt, and 6 tbsp single cream. After about a minute, I pour in the eggs, and leave them for 20 seconds, my hands twitching on the wooden spoon, then stir them very slowly, gently pushing the sides in to the centre of the pan: Bill tells me to think of them as "folded rather than scrambled eggs".
They're allowed to cook unmolested for another 10 seconds, before I then dive in again with the spoon, and so on, until they're just set, with big, soft curds. Thanks to all that cream, the eggs are pale, and I regret to admit I'm disappointed by them; they're heinously rich, without tasting of much but cream, and I find their famous lightness of texture more akin to an egg mousse than anything I'd trust myself with when I was feeling a bit delicate. Maybe things just taste better in the sunshine.
I forget where, but I once read that the scrambled eggs should be cooked so slowly and gently that, for optimum results, a candle would be the ideal heat source. I haven't got the strength of will or arm to stir a pan over a tealight for an hour, but the idea intrigues me, and I decide to try scrambling my eggs in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (as apparently favoured by "the French" according to one online sage). This takes bloody ages – don't bother putting the toast on for at least quarter of an hour – and the results resemble something you might step over outside Wetherspoons after a heavy Friday night. The taste is good, but no better than Gordon Ramsay's, and soured slightly for me by the extra washing up.
San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson popped up in the New York Times a few years ago excitedly proclaiming he'd discovered a new way of scrambling eggs, after his environmental-lawyer fiancée banished Teflon-coated pans from the kitchen, and he got sick of scraping egg from the new cast-iron set. He decided to whisk them together, and then poach them as one would a whole egg: "I expected that they would act much as the intact eggs did and bind quickly, but I did not expect them to set into the lightest, most delicate scrambled eggs imaginable," he exclaims breathlessly in the article.
I'm suspicious – how can eggs cooked without fat of any kind redeem themselves into a decent breakfast? – but I give it a try nevertheless, sieving my eggs, as recommended by Daniel's friend Harold McGee, in order to get rid of the wateriest bit of the whites, given they're not fresh from the farm, beating them together, and then pouring them into a whirlpool in a pan of simmering water. I then cover the pan, count to 20, take a deep breath, and drain them into a sieve. The stuff is distressing to the eye; a weird, scrunched up mass of egg which, even when patted dry with kitchen paper and seasoned with copious amounts of melted butter and sea salt, is barely recognisable as the same foodstuff as I've been cooking all week. One for health fiends only.
I find a video of Gordon scrambling eggs online, in which he claims that whisking them beforehand is bad (something I'm happy to take on trust, given stirring them together in the pan saves on washing up), and adding salt before cooking "breaks down the eggs, turning them into something very watery". As I don't find retrospective seasoning entirely satisfactory (the salt doesn't seem to blend as well somehow, and I end up adding far more to compensate), I test this, and can detect no difference between the eggs salted during cooking, and those salted afterwards, except the first ones taste slightly better. Perhaps I'm imagining it, but I decide to ignore Mr Ramsay on this one.
I also experiment with different fats: just butter, a la Delia, isn't creamy enough, but both milk and cream leave the eggs slightly loose and watery. Reluctantly, I concede that Gordon's fancy crème fraîche gives the best results; thick, rich, and ever-so-slightly tangy. In a rare concession to health, I deem the second lot of butter unnecessary. I'm still not happy with the final texture of Ramsay's recipe though, so, taking a leaf from Bill Granger's book, I turn up the heat and, after mixing the eggs together in the pan, leave them for a few seconds, then begin to stir, then leave them, and so on. This gives larger curds, which work perfectly with the creamy richness of the eggs.
Great scrambled eggs require a generous hand with the fat, and single-minded devotion to stirring and watching – leave them alone for a second, and they'll overcook. Get someone else to make the toast.
Perfect scrambled eggs
2 large free-range eggs
Knob of butter
Pinch of salt
1 tsp crème fraîche
1. Break the eggs into a small, heavy-based frying pan or saucepan and add the butter and salt. Place over a medium-high heat, and stir the eggs together with a wooden spoon.
2. Once well-combined, leave the eggs for 10 seconds, and then stir again. If they're setting too quickly, take them off the heat to stir and then replace. Repeat until they begin to set, and then stir continuously until they're nearly as cooked as you like them; always take them off the heat before they're done.
3. Whip the pan off the heat, stir in the crème fraîche, and serve immediately.
Are scrambled eggs the king of the breakfast table, and if so, is this the best way to cook them? When bacon and black pudding just doesn't appeal, Huevos a la Mexicana, with tomatoes, chillies and coriander is my favourite variation – what's yours?
Fuente: guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2010