As breakfast foods go, it doesn't get much simpler than scrambled eggs.
Trouble is, everyone has their own idea of what makes great scrambled eggs. And what is heavenly to some can gross out others (consider the runny vs. dry and milk vs. water debates). Never mind issues of color and fluffiness.
While scrambled eggs don't require any great culinary aptitude, reliably whipping up batches of the eggs you love - whatever your personal style is - can take a bit of finesse and an understanding of why eggs behave the way they do under heat.
Here's what you need to know to make the scrambled eggs you love:
Freshness matters. The older an egg is, the more its taste and appearance suffer.
To ensure fresh eggs, start with the obvious - check the date on the carton. In the absence of that, try the float test, says egg expert Michael Roux, chef and author of the aptly named cookbook, "Eggs."
To do this, drop an egg in cold salted water ( 1/2 cup salt added to 4 cups water). If the egg sinks it is very fresh. If it stays suspended in the water, the egg is about 2 weeks old. If the egg floats, throw it away.
Once the egg is out of the shell, there are visual clues to its age, says Linda Braun, consumer services director for the American Egg Board. As an egg ages, the white becomes thinner, the yolk becomes pale and flat, and the yolk membrane becomes weaker.
As for the type of egg, Roux suggests buying brown or white (the color is determined by the breed of chicken) organic and free-range eggs. Proponents of organic and free-range eggs say they have more flavor, brighter yolks and an overall better taste.
Temperature does not matter.
Some people prefer to beat their eggs in a bowl. Others opt to do it right in the skillet as it cooks. Each technique produces different results.
With a bowl, you aren't racing against the heat of the skillet. Therefore, you have more time to beat additional air into the egg. As a result, eggs beaten in a bowl will tend to be fluffier than those scrambled in the pan.
For fluffy eggs and a uniform color, beat the eggs in a bowl with a whisk or fork until they are frothy, then add them to the pan. It also is important to whip eggs in vertical circular motion, which injects air.
Chris Kimball, publisher of Cook's Illustrated magazine, recommends using a fork to beat the eggs until they are uniformly yellow, but the bubbles are still large.
If you prefer dense eggs with streaks of yellow and white, the beating should be kept to a minimum; in the pan works fine.
For particularly moist, fluffy eggs, try separating the whites and yolks. Beat the whites with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Then briefly whisk the yolks and any liquid to be added to the eggs. The yolks are then folded into the whites.
Liquid additives can make a tremendous difference in scrambled eggs. Whenever liquid is added to eggs, the coagulation point - the point at which eggs begin to firm up during cooking - changes. Type of liquid also matters.
Adding 1 tablespoon of water for every egg results in a lighter texture. Adding the same amount of milk or heavy cream will have the same effect, except that the fat level of the milk or cream also influences the creaminess of the eggs.
Too much liquid produces bland, watery eggs.
Testing indicated that heavy cream produces the best creamy, moist eggs (far better than milk, even whole milk).
The point at which liquid is added also affects texture. The most common method is to add it while whisking the raw eggs in the bowl. This produces a uniform texture.
But for extra-creamy, custard-like eggs, Roux recommends stirring in heavy cream after the eggs are in the pan and have cooked a bit.
When adding solids, such as meat or vegetables, be sure to fully cook them first. Meats and vegetables also should be chopped into small pieces so they distribute evenly through the eggs. Add them while beating the eggs in the bowl. Salt and pepper can be added during beating, cooking or at the table.
For an especially decadent touch, many cooks like to mix in a tablespoon of butter (in addition to any used in cooking) just as the eggs finish cooking. This produces intensely buttery eggs with a moist texture.
Skillet and heat
Most cooks recommend an 8-inch nonstick skillet for up to three eggs, and a 10-inch skillet for more. Nonstick coatings make it easier to move the egg around in the pan and allow you to use fats (such as butter or oil) solely for flavor enhancement.
If you don't have a nonstick skillet, coat your pan with cooking spray before adding butter.
As for temperature, it again depends on the desired result.
For creamy eggs, Roux suggests cooking at a very low heat. This low and slow method, which comes from the French tradition, requires patience but produces rich and creamy curds.
Braun recommends cooking the eggs at medium heat, which results in eggs that cook quickly but can be creamy or fluffy depending on how long they are cooked.
Kimball, meanwhile, recommends cranking the heat up to high or medium-high and cooking the eggs in about 30 seconds. This method produces light, fluffy eggs, but isn't good for those easily distracted. This method can take eggs quickly from done to overdone.
And it's best to avoid overcooked eggs. When overheated, naturally occurring iron and sulfur in the eggs come together in a chemical reaction. This isn't pretty. Not only does it produce dry, rubbery eggs. They also can turn green.
And step away from the microwave. Unless you want a spongy, rubbery breakfast, the microwave is no friend of scrambled eggs.
Once the eggs hit the pan, keep them moving.
"All you are really trying to do is move any cooked portion so that uncooked egg can get down to the hot surface," says Braun, who also urges people to ensure their eggs are cooked through. Uncooked eggs can harbor harmful bacteria, such as salmonella, which can cause diarrhea, fever and vomiting.
Kimball says the key is pushing the eggs back and forth from one side of the pan to the other, which produces light, fluffy curds. For creamy results, Roux stirs gently and constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula.
For large curds, let the eggs sit in the hot pan for a short time before you begin stirring.
Whatever your technique, it's best to remove the pan from the heat just before the eggs reach the desired consistency. Residual heat will continue cooking them for a short time.
Scrambled Eggs Your Way
Servings: 2 to 3
6 tablespoons water, milk or heavy cream (optional)
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Start to finish: 7 minutes
Into a medium bowl, crack the eggs, then beat with a whisk or large fork. For eggs with white and yellow streaks, beat lightly for 5 seconds. For eggs that are uniformly yellow, beat well until eggs are frothy, about 15 seconds.
For fluffy eggs, beat in up to 6 tablespoons water. Or for creamy eggs, beat in up to 6 tablespoons milk or heavy cream.
In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat. When the butter just begins to bubble, add the eggs.
For creamy, custard-like eggs, immediately begin slowly scraping the bottom of the pan with a silicone spatula. Continue scraping for 2-3 minutes (more or less time depending on desired creaminess).
For firmer, fluffier eggs, increase heat to medium before adding the eggs. Let the eggs sit for 15 seconds, then use a silicone spatula to scrape the pan for about 1 minute, or until large curds form and all the liquid is cooked. Do not overcook.
Season with salt and pepper.