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16 April 2007

an ineffably good egg

the perfect fried egg

There’s something about food that brings me back, immediately, to the necessary sensualities of life. The smell of fresh fennel as I slice it for a salad? It releases me from thinking about those bills I should pay or the emails I want to answer. The crunch of the crust of the brownies I just baked? If I stop to listen, that sound (crunch, then a soft thud) becomes the entire world for a moment. Food helps me to be alive.

Still, even I need a break. After all, I write about food, think about food, talk about food with the Chef, and most of all — I eat food. He feeds me, well. If you added up all the words I spoke or wrote all day, I’m sure that at least 50% of them would have to do with food.

The spring sunlight was flying through the windowpane. And even though I always have more work to do, I decided to do something I haven’t been able to do in months.

I read a book, on the couch, in the afternoon.

When I was a kid, I could sit on the couch, my legs tucked under me, and read one book after another, like a bowl of Tootsie rolls slowly disappearing. One night, after I was supposed to go to bed, I waited until my parents had checked on me on their way to bed, and then I pulled out my book. In order to read the biography of Helen Keller I wanted to devour, I had to lean out of my bed and twist my neck toward the little lamp in the hallway. With the book suspended above my head, I read the entire book in one night. Always, always, I had a stack of books next to my bed.

But these days, I don’t read nearly as prodigiously as I did when I was a kid. I love words and stories just as much as I always did. It’s just that I don’t have the time for indolent afternoons, my feet dangling over the arm of the couch, my arm stretched out toward the coffee cup. This — the best year of my life — hasn’t brought much nothing-doing time.

Still, I am inspired by my fellow writers. We need to read. The copy-edited version of my manuscript is coming back to me soon, and then I’ll be buried in my own words again. I wanted to sink into the warm waters of someone else’s vision of the world.

Too bad I couldn’t swim in it for long. Sprawled on the couch, I reached for the book I had found at the library the day before: Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine. (I can’t seem to stray too far away from food.) This biography follows the life of Bernard Loiseau, the three-star chef in France who killed himself in 2003. Sad, complex story and sentences that drew me in.

But about ten pages in, I read this description:

"Place a lump of fresh butter in a pan or egg dish and let it melt — that is, just enough for it to spread, and never, of course, to crackle or spit; open a very fresh egg onto a small plate or saucer and slide it carefully into the pan; cook it on heat so low that the white barely turns creamy, and the yolk becomes hot but remains liquid; in a separate saucepan, melt another lump of fresh butter; remove the egg onto a lightly heated serving plate; salt it and pepper it, then very gently pour this fresh, warm butter over it."
— Fernand Point, as quoted in The Perfectionist

Forget the book. I had to cook.

Goodness knows we love our eggs around here. But I’ve never been a big fan of fried eggs. Fast and crispy, greasy at the edges, and always faintly tanging of the grill they recently left, fried eggs in restaurants never made me grab my fork. A bad flu when I was sixteen made me swear off fried eggs for decades. (You don’t want to know why.) And since I never ate them, I never grew good at cooking them.

This description enticed me. It seemed fussy and perfectionistic, and I’m neither of those. But the afternoon was beautiful, I had nowhere to be, and I wanted to try it. The Chef has been teaching me through doing — knowing the right techniques makes an enormous difference in the food. Why not?

Fifteen minutes later, I still had not eaten my egg. But I had been standing by the stove, all that time, watching, fascinated. The clear of the egg had seeped into creamy whiteness. The jiggly yolk had stayed in place and grown more sunny. There were no burnt edges or greasy bits. Before me lay the archetypal image of the fried egg.

After I drizzled warm butter over the egg, I had to take a photograph. Flecked with pepper and studded with salt, this egg seemed as glamorous as any egg I have ever seen. And with one forkful in my mouth, I was convinced.

This fried egg really tasted like an egg. It was rich and full, bereft of anything else other than egg. It was, simply, the best egg I have ever eaten in my life.

The Chef sent me a message after I told him: “The best egg you’ve ever eaten? And I didn’t make it? Cry.”

Oh, he will learn to make it better than I can, I’m sure. But for right now, I am the egg woman.


At 4:56 PM, Blogger Michelle Ann said...

It sounds like the "basted" eggs I make at home.... To me, eggs are one of my favorite comfort foods.

At 9:25 PM, Blogger Mystic Indigo said...

I love your blog. You have managed to merge food and love...into a delightful look into your life. Lovely. And well done.

At 11:54 PM, Blogger Kimberly said...

That is an utterly gorgeous egg! You are the egg woman. Coo coo ka choo to you, my dear.

At 4:51 AM, Blogger Mrs. G.F. said...

I love eggs. I love fried eggs, they rock..any time of day.

Glad you re-discovered them! :)

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Amy Jo said...

That's awesome, thank you for sharing. I can't stand eggs personally but my husband loves them and I have been trying to make the perfect fried egg for him. I will have to try this.

At 12:15 PM, Blogger s'kat said...

I've never been so good at balancing the edge between creamy goodness and overdone, rubbery crap until I read that same book.

My husband still talks about 'That One Egg'.

Bask in your relaxation!

At 12:56 PM, Blogger Jean Layton-GF Dr. Mom said...

As always after reading your blog, I WANT TO COOK! But I am at work and so will just pine away till I reach my stove.
Jean GF Momma

At 1:27 PM, Blogger Christan = ) said...

You have me practically leaping out of my chair for an egg, but alas, none left in the house!!
I hated eggs for some reason until my second pregnancy. Then I couldn't get enough, that and potatoes.
I can't wait to try this!! It looks heavenly!!
Thanks for sharing.

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Jeanne said...

Greetings! I just watched your Food Network episode on the net. They played what must be a randomly generated commercial beforehand and I could not believe it was for Wheat Thins! Sheesh! :)

At 5:41 PM, Blogger I Am Gluten Free said...

egg woman, walrus....Kookkookachoo!

That is the most beautiful picture of a fried egg I've ever seen.

At 5:58 PM, Blogger Nat said...

oh yeah.
Now I am craving this egg.
I think it's an ineffably contagious egg.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger madeleine said...

I must say, I stumbled across your blog when I googled "gluten free." Imagine my surprise and delight at your wonderful, engaging writing, complemented with fantastic-sounding recipes. Keep writing, I've got you bookmarked!

At 9:09 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Michelle Ann,

Basted eggs sound great too. Yes, to comfort food.


Thank you. Writing this blog is one of the joys of my life.


Thank you. And that walrus is out there, somewhere!

Slacker Mom,

I’ve been a poached egg girl for years. The Chef has turned me into an eggs-over-easy girl. But now, I’m fried eggs all the way.

Amy Jo,

Let me know how it goes. I’m sure your husband will love it.


I’m so glad that you read the same book. I may not even finish it. That is enough.

Oh, and the relaxation time is done. The manuscript arrived back in my lap yesterday. AY!!


I’m sure by now you have been home with your stove. I wish I could have been there to enjoy the fruits of your labor.


Oh, run and get some eggs! You have to try it.


Wheat Thins?! Did the box have Rachael Ray on it? Ack!


Yay for Beatles fans!

I have to admit — when I took it, I was astounded by the beauty of that yolk.


I hope that you make one now!

At 9:48 PM, Blogger Sean said...

I tried this egg all on its lonesome and then also tried one over some fresh grilled asparagus. Both amazing, I think it was the extra butter that did the trick. But then again, extra butter has worked out so many times for me in many recipes. Thanks so much again Shauna!

At 3:22 AM, Blogger Kelly said...

oh, yum. I love those kinds of books that make you jump up and do what is written. Food reading is my favorite. Well...along with garden reading. The two together is the best. I'll have to try this way of preparing eggs with our fresh, orange yolked eggs from our chooks.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger shauna said...

Sean m,

Oh, I'm so glad it worked for you! And this egg draped over asparagus sounds divine!


Yes, I love most (now) the reading that gives me a direct experience. Much different than when I was a kid!

At 10:44 PM, Blogger michelle f said...

oh yum. i made this egg this morning and i don't think i've ever made a better egg.

thanks for all the yummy food insights and sneak peaks into your life.


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