My Mother’s Scrambled Eggs
My mother was an excellent cook and cookery teacher. So naturally I resisted any attempt to learn from her myself. I managed to get through my twenties thanks mostly to restaurants and toast. When I hit my thirties I began to sense that my mother was becoming concerned about more than just my lack of culinary skills. She found a suitable man, and although I resisted that (him?) too, I slowly and reluctantly discovered that, in fact, her judgement might have been spot on. One attraction of my new beau was that he, too, was an excellent cook. All was going swimmingly until the day when he declared, “it’s your turn to cook”.
At such pivotal moments, all thought of independence flies through the window, and a girl turns to her mother. My mother’s calm and practical voice directed operations over the telephone, and the recipe below summarises what she told me to do.
Of course, on that occasion I was cooking the scrambled eggs for dinner, however James Bond preferred them in the morning:
“Room service? I’d like to order breakfast. Half a pint of orange juice, three eggs, lightly scrambled, with bacon, a double portion of café espresso, with cream. Toast. Marmalade. Got it?”
-Ian Fleming, Live and Let Die
Couldn’t have put it better myself, hope they also remembered to bring the newspapers.
To add cream, or not to add cream
I know that some people add a tablespoon of cream, or crème fraiche, per three eggs after taking the dish off the heat. This makes the scrambled eggs lighter, and helps to prevent them overcooking…but they don’t have quite the same richness – it’s also a bit of a waste if you are using Burford Browns which have such a good taste of their own. Neither my mother, nor Ian Fleming* (who had a lot more in common than you might think…) do this. The best way to make scrambled eggs is just with butter – and the technically correct term for them is ‘buttered eggs’, or, delightfully, ‘rumbled eggs’.
“Mary Frances [MFK Fisher], having reconciled me to olive oil, did something greater still: she won me over to butter. It was her skirling that did it. Now, when I make eggs, I cut my measure of butter (Mary Frances would probably still think me very stingy) and skirl it in the base of the pan, making it figure-skate over the surface. And I think of her skirling in the kitchen at Marseilles in bare feet on the red-tiled floor, with pots of geraniums on the window ledges and the mistral blowing outside.”
-Laura Freeman, The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite
Microwave? Not recommended
In my quest to find lazy ways of doing things I have experimented with trying to microwave scrambled eggs. Take it from me, by the time you have scraped the exploded egg off everywhere it is NOT quicker. And anyway, it is somehow soulless – the traditional way does not take long, and you are in total control.
NB: It is very easy to overcook scrambled eggs. TAKE THEM OFF THE HEAT WELL BEFORE THEY LOOK COOKED.
Recipe for the best ever scrambled eggs
- 2 knobs (about 20g/2 tbsp/one-fifth of a pack of butter – about the size of a walnut for each egg). Have more available in case it’s needed for the eggs, and you’ll also need it for the toast
- 5 eggs – Burford Browns for choice. They have a rich flavour and the yolks are a deep orangey-sunset colour
- salt and pepper (Indonesian long pepper is wonderful)
- wholemeal toast, or super fresh granary bread with lots of seeds and nuts
- some good streaky bacon if you aren’t vegetarian
- Put two plates in to warm, fry the bacon, get the toast going.
- Begin melting about three-quarters of the butter in the bottom of a non-stick saucepan over a lowish heat. The non-stick pan enables you to better lift and fold the eggs.
- Break in the eggs. Or beat the eggs, and add in.** DO NOT SEASON. If you add salt the eggs will go runny and grey.
- Stir like crazy using a silicon spoon or spatula – this helps to incorporate in the whole mixture and ensure the eggs cook through evenly. Do not allow the eggs to start sticking to the bottom of the saucepan. As soon as the eggs have got really hot take them off the heat for a few seconds, and then put them back on the heat. Repeat as necessary. This helps you to prevent the eggs from overcooking.
- Butter the toast and keep it warm (I put mine on the warming plate of the Aga).
- Add the salt and pepper. TASTE.
- When the eggs start to form into large flakes (the whole process should not take longer than four minutes, maximum), remove from the heat, add a knob more butter, keep stirring like mad.
- Serve on buttered toast, with the bacon.
Scrambled eggs also goes wonderfully with Irish wholemeal soda bread.
Janine Gibson, in a flight of fancy, suggests shaved truffle:
“Rupert Murdoch has been dropped by helicopter in Alba to source some truffle which Yotam has demanded. (Not me, you understand, my tastes are very simple, but if Chef insists that tomorrow’s scrambled eggs should be just on the cusp of being overwhelmed by shaved fungus, who am I to demur?) The PT Barnum of news must accompany a specially trained boar while it snuffles out the precious delicacy, and then snatch it away for profit and personal glory.”
-Janine Gibson, describing her fantasy dinner party in The Financial Times
Other adaptations are to add:
- truffle oil – or, if you can run to truffles, some truffle shavings
- Gordon Ramsay serves his with sea urchins AND white truffle shavings
- chopped chives
- you can spread the toast with anchovy paste (aka Patum Peperium or Gentleman’s Relish) in which case go easy on adding salt to the eggs and use unsalted butter on the toast. This is known as Scotch Woodcock.
- some smoked haddock
- some smoked eel
- Mimi Sheraton, in her Seducers’ Cookbook, serves hers with caraway seeds
- some Boursin, or ordinary cream cheese, both mixed with a little cream
- at Le Pain Quotidian they serve their scrambled eggs with crispy pancetta
*Ian Fleming, Thrilling Cities
**according to Dorothy Hartley, in her Food in England written in the early ’50s, there are two schools of thought on whether to beat the eggs first. Some people break the eggs directly into the saucepan so that particles of clear white and clear yellow remain in the creamy mass. Others do not. Breaking the eggs directly in with the butter results in a creamier mixture, beating them first results in a runnier mix.
It’s not easy to produce perfect scrambled eggs
“For instance, if you ask an experienced cook what dish is foolproof, scrambled eggs is often the answer. But the way toward perfect scrambled eggs is full of lumps. It is no easy thing to make perfect scrambled eggs, although almost anyone can turn out fairly decent ones, and with a little work, really disgusting ones can be provided.”
-Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking
Music to cook to
Si tu vois ma mère by The Avalon Jazz Band