Yolk oh no: why are my fried eggs like Haribo?

I’ve never got the hang of fried eggs. Mine either end up raw, burned or with a texture akin to Haribo.
Stephen, Stockport

We shouldn’t be afraid to go back to basics, Stephen. Take comfort in the words of Spanish chef and restaurateur José Pizarro: “Eggs can be the easiest thing in the world to make, but also the most difficult.” So consider this eggs 2.0.

“It sounds like your pan is way too hot,” says Miles Kirby, chef director of London’s Caravan group and master of all things brunch. Starting with a good, nonstick pan, he says, will relieve some of the need to have the temperature just right. Size also matters: “Make sure you’re not overcrowding the pan: fried eggs only take a few minutes to cook, so it doesn’t matter if you’re cooking them one at a time.” Few weekends are ruined by waiting an extra few minutes for brekkie.

Kirby follows in his mother’s footsteps and fries in oil, usually vegetable – sometimes rapeseed, but never olive – as favoured by the likes of Jamie Oliver. “Olive oil has a flavour I don’t particularly care for with my fried eggs.” However, it’s this flavour (and lower acidity) that makes olive oil a winner in Pizarro’s book: “I always, always use it: just a little, heated until smoking” (note: cold whites hitting a not-hot-enough pan are going to stick).

Whichever way you go, oil, Kirby advises, is the key to getting that crisp, brown base, whereas butter “tends to steam the eggs a little because of the water content”. Unsurprisingly, Michel Roux Jr, chef patron at Le Gavroche and a Frenchman, hangs his hat on butter, heating “until frothy” before cracking in the egg. Feast’s perfectionist Felicity Cloake is also Team Butter, instead adding the egg once it has melted “but not begun to foam”. Cloake and Pizarro adopt a similar approach by basting the whites with the fat after a couple of minutes, avoiding even a mere splash on the yolk. Secret fat option number three comes from Delia Smith: bacon. However, as you’re unlikely to be putting away enough rashers to have sufficient supplies of fat, we’ll park this one here.

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As ever, if you keep your eggs in the fridge, let them come up to room temperature before cracking – starting with a cold egg, Cloake says, means you’re more likely to overcook the yolk trying to get the white to set. Fresh eggs are best for frying as they’re less likely to spread in the pan (the stronger the proteins in the white, the neater the shape) – but, Cloake suggests, if you’re struggling to perfect those whites, a slightly older egg that spreads and therefore gives a thinner white could work to your frying advantage. Pizarro breaks his eggs into a bowl or cup first, before sliding into a hot pan where, on landing, it should sizzle and spit a little.

A lid, just smaller than the pan, is also a trusted ally: “When the bottom of the egg is cooked to your liking, put a lid on top, take it off the heat and the residual heat will cook the egg,” says Kirby. Roux waits for the white to “frizzle” before covering and turning off the heat and leaving for a minute, while Cloake covers and leaves on a low heat for three and a half minutes. Seasoning should then be done at the last minute.

Some suggest crispy whites and soak-up-with-toast yolk success can be found in separating the eggs: frying the whites and adding the yolk in the last few minutes of cooking. This seems like a lot of faff, especially when there are much simpler ways to crack (sorry) this.

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