By Terry Thompson-Anderson
As a new bride, many, many years ago, I did not know how to scramble an egg—even imperfectly. Nor did I know how to make coffee in the shiny, new electric percolator that we’d received as a wedding gift. It wasn’t until my fine Southern cook of a mother-in-law took me under her well-floured wing that I learned these and many other culinary skills.
It was a gift that eventually made cooking a consuming passion and led me back to school—not to the hallowed halls of academia though, but to culinary school. However, even culinary school didn’t teach me how to perfectly scramble an egg. I didn’t learn that skill until I met the inimitable Julia Child.
In St. Louis in 1978, the Association of Cooking Schools (now named the International Association of Culinary Professionals to better reflect the diversity of its membership) had just been founded by 18 of America’s culinary luminaries. They saw the need for an organization through which they could connect with others in the various and expanding genres of the food business for their mutual benefit. I joined as a charter member, attending my first annual conference in San Francisco at the elegant, old St. Francis Hotel. It was still a small group at the time; we all fit in one smallish banquet room where you could most likely have hollered at someone across the room, although I don’t recall anyone doing so.
It was the era when omelet stations had become de rigueur at hotel banquet breakfasts, so at our breakfasts there were omelet stations. One morning, Julia entered the room with her husband, Paul, and proceeded to an omelet station where she asked the young man behind the butane burner, “Might I get just a perfectly scrambled egg instead of an omelet?”
Now, although Julia could have had anything she wished, it was when she asked him, “So, young man, do you know how to perfectly scramble an egg?” that he began to stammer, eventually admitting that he probably did not. Julia said she would teach him, and strode behind the table to his station, commandeered his sauté pan, three fresh eggs and an inordinate amount of butter and asked for some tepid water and a whisk.
Seizing an opportunity that we’d most likely never have again, several of us fledgling chefs oozed into a space close enough to see and hear her mini-seminar. She broke the eggs into a mixing bowl and added some of the water and a little salt—emphasizing that the salt should be added while whisking the eggs, never after they were cooked! Then, in her vigorous, exaggerated style, she whisked the eggs into a frenzy, with bits of yolk and white flying out of the bowl at every angle. When she was satisfied that the eggs had a full head of froth, she added some of the butter to the nonstick sauté pan, then added just a bit more. When the buttery foam subsided, she poured in the beaten eggs and began to stir them over medium-low heat.
Patiently, she stirred—bending her six-foot-plus frame over the low table and telling the cook the eggs could not be rushed. As she stirred—making sure that she scraped the sides of the pan with every pass of the spoon, then the center, ever so slowly, ever so diligently—the eggs began to coagulate and form little yellow, puffy mounds. She stirred for almost 10 minutes and admonished all of us watching to notice how the eggs began to change. Then she announced that they were done. We all craned our necks to look at Julia’s perfectly scrambled eggs as she lifted the pan from the burner. They were, in fact, the most beautiful, perfectly scrambled eggs I had ever seen. They had reached the point of just being completely coagulated, but you could see that they were soft, almost cloud-like. I was salivating for a bite and I just had to ask about all that butter. Julia explained that in the process of the slow cooking, the eggs actually form an emulsion with the butter—like eggs and butter do when you make hollandaise sauce. The butter, in all its delicious golden goodness, was now an integral part of the puff of scrambled eggs that she slid effortlessly onto the plate that Paul held out for her.
I’ve never forgotten that chance lesson in scrambling eggs, and I’ve never scrambled one since without thinking of Julia.
Of course, the perfect pairing for perfectly scrambled eggs is perfectly cooked bacon. I did not learn this skill from Julia, but rather from culinary school and many years of cooking bacon in restaurant kitchens—where it’s always baked, a process which does, indeed, result in perfectly cooked bacon.
So, for your next breakfast of scrambled eggs with a side of bacon, make it perfect.
PERFECTLY SCRAMBLED EGGS FOR TWO
4 T. (half a stick) unsalted butter
6 eggs, preferably pastured or yard eggs
¹/³ c. tepid water
½ t. salt
Melt the butter in a 10-inch, nontoxic, nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Meanwhile, break the eggs into a fairly large mixing bowl and whisk them until the whites and yolks are well blended. Add the water and salt, and vigorously whisk them until frothy.
When the butter foam subsides, pour the eggs into the pan, lower the heat to medium-low and begin to stir—making sure to stir all parts of the pan to keep the eggs from sticking. Be patient and stir just until the point when the eggs have coagulated and no liquid egg is visible—about 10 minutes. Stir for another few seconds, just to be sure, then slide the eggs onto 2 serving plates and feast, courtesy of Julia Child.
PERFECTLY COOKED BACON FOR TWO
6 slices bacon, such as flavorful applewood smoked
Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with foil—tucking it under the outside rim of the pan. Arrange the bacon slices in a single layer on the foil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on how crisp you like your bacon. (25 minutes will give you perfectly crisp bacon.)
Meanwhile, arrange 2 layers of paper towels on a second baking sheet. Using tongs, remove the cooked bacon to the paper towels to drain. Turn the slices to blot both sides. Perfectly cooked straight slices of bacon with no humps and curlicues, and no splattered stovetop! Simply remove the foil from the baking sheet and toss it away. (But do keep the bacon drippings for cooking perfect mustard greens.) To take the whole experience way over the top, add a couple handmade buttermilk biscuits and homemade jam.