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11 Tips from Chefs for Cooking Perfect Eggs

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Eggs are readily available, relatively cheap, and full of healthy protein and amino acids. Although it may seem easy and straightforward to cook eggs, trying out a few techniques from these chefs will turn your scrambled, hard-boiled, or fried eggs from just fine to flawless. Here are 11 tips from chefs for cooking perfect eggs.

1. CHECK THE CARTON’S JULIAN DATE.

No matter what type of egg dish you cook, fresh eggs taste better and are easier to work with than older ones. J. Kenji López-Alt, the Managing Culinary Director of Serious Eats, suggests checking the Julian date—the three digit number that appears on every carton of eggs packed in the U.S. Numbers range from 001 for January 1 to 365 for December 31, so you want to buy a carton with a number that’s as close to the current day as possible.

2. CRACK YOUR EGGS INTO A SEPARATE BOWL.

When you crack eggs directly into the pan, you risk getting shell fragments in your eggs. But two more reasons to always crack eggs into a ramekin or cup first, according to Alton Brown, are so your eggs cook evenly, and so that you can more precisely control exactly where in the pan you want your eggs to land.

3. ALTERNATE THE PAN BETWEEN HEAT AND NO HEAT.

Gordon Ramsay recommends cooking scrambled eggs on medium-low heat and moving the pan back and forth between the stove and off the stove. Alternating the eggs between heat and no heat, which Ramsay does three or four times during the course of cooking, makes for scrambled eggs that are creamy and rich.

4. SCRAMBLE THEM IN BUTTER FOR A LIGHT, AIRY TEXTURE.

According to Chef Evan Hanczor, scrambling eggs in butter instead of oil will make your eggs more light, fluffy, and tender. Because the heat releases moisture in the butter as steam, the steam increases the airiness of the eggs.

5. HEAT YOUR METAL SPATULA IN THE OIL.

If you’re using a metal spatula to flip your fried eggs, heat olive oil in the pan and then, before you add any eggs, heat your spatula in the oil. This tip, from Spanish-American chef José Andrés, ensures that your egg won’t stick to the spatula, potentially breaking the yolk and messing up your fried eggs.

6. DON’T STOP STIRRING.

When Bobby Flay makes scrambled eggs, he doesn’t take a moment to rest. Similar to risotto, scrambled eggs should be stirred continuously, as soon as the eggs go into the pan. Doing so will help to break down the egg curds, giving your eggs a softer and creamier consistency. Just don’t stir so vigorously that the eggs begin to foam.

7. HEAT YOUR SERVING PLATE WHILE YOU COOK.

Although you might overlook the serving plate as a trifling detail, Brown argues that even the plate you serve your eggs on is important. Because a cold plate will lower the temperature of your eggs too fast, he recommends heating the serving plate in hot water (or in an oven on low heat) while you cook. Doing so ensures that your eggs stay hot while you eat them.

8. BOIL FOR 10 SECONDS BEFORE POACHING.

Poached eggs are notoriously difficult to pull off, but Julia Child has a tip to make you a master of poached eggs. After you boil water, poke a small hole in the egg with a pin to release air inside the egg. Then drop the egg in the hot water for 10 seconds, which will greatly help it keep its shape and deter cloudy strands of egg white from forming when you poach it.

9. USE WATER BATHS TO QUICKLY COOL SOFT BOILED EGGS.

To make soft-boiled eggs, Wayt Gibbs, the editor of Modernist Cuisine, suggests using a bowl of ice water and a water bath. After boiling your eggs for 3 minutes and 30 seconds, put the eggs into ice water so they quickly cool down. Then, put the eggs in a water bath for 35 minutes at 147 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature might seem extremely precise, but the yolks will come out perfectly gooey.

10. PUT THE PROPER AMOUNT OF DAIRY IN YOUR FRITTATA.

According to Dawn Perry, the digital food editor for Bon Appétit, full-fat dairy greatly improves the taste and texture of frittatas. But proportions matter: For every six eggs that go into the frittata, you should use a half-cup of dairy, whether it’s milk, yogurt, or crème fraîche.

11. SLIGHTLY UNDERCOOK YOUR EGGS.

Because eggs continue to cook a bit after they’re no longer on the stove, Jamie Oliver suggests that you turn off the stove (or move the pan away from the burner) just before your scrambled eggs look fully finished. By the time you sit down to eat, your eggs will be perfectly cooked.

All images via iStock.

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Big Questions
Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?
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Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Food
25 Brilliant Uses For Thanksgiving Leftovers
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Thanksgiving is one of the most anticipated meals of the year. But the day after? Leftover central. Instead of pushing untouched stuffing and turkey into the depths of the fridge, try out these Thanksgiving leftover ideas to spread Turkey Day cheer a little bit longer.

The Classic Approach: Incorporate Leftovers Into New Meals

1. SALADS

A fall salad.
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After a day or two of gut-busting meals, salads can help clear out your system. Leftover greens need to be used up before they wilt, and when topped with shredded turkey, nuts, and veggies like roasted carrots, this post-Thanksgiving salad just needs a stellar dressing to top it off. Luckily, using up leftover cranberries to make a vinaigrette takes about 10 minutes and clears the fridge at the same time.

2. SHEPHERD'S PIE

Shepherd's Pie.
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Stuffing, mashed potatoes, veggies, and turkey can come together for a quick shepherd's pie that clears out multiple side dishes all at once. And unlike pot pies, there's no need to roll out a crust—just top with extra gravy for a complete meal.

3. STIR-FRY

Wok of stir-fry.
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Stir-fry can easily be tailored to whatever leftovers you have in the fridge. Turkey and Brussels sprouts work well together, but any vegetables will do. Leftover wine can be used as a turkey marinade, making use of half-empty bottles that could otherwise go bad. The key to making a great leftover stir-fry is having a hot pan, and using meat that has warmed at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

4. PIZZA

Slice of cheese and cranberry pizza.
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Thanksgiving pizza quickly clears out leftovers—that’s because many recipes call for mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and turkey. Substitute gravy for marinara, and don’t stress about making a crust from scratch; refrigerated dough (perhaps from any unmade crescent rolls) makes this leftover innovation a much faster meal.

5. CASSEROLES

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The classic casserole is one of the easiest ways to get rid of leftovers, and that’s because it can be thrown together quickly and baked with little oversight (a much-needed cooking style after a big Thanksgiving meal). Even leftover casseroles (like green bean casserole) can be worked into a new dish. The trick for casserole success is creating layers, similar to lasagna, instead of blending all ingredients together.

Make Next-Day Breakfast Even Better

6. MUFFINS

Cranberry muffins.
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Thanksgiving dinner can easily make its way to the next day's breakfast without picky eaters even noticing. Muffins made from sweeter leftovers, like whole or sauced cranberries, offer up a seasonal flavor while clearing out the fridge. And cooks can even sneak in a few veggies, such as carrots, for an added nutritional boost.

7. FRENCH TOAST

Cranberry French toast.
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Turn carb-heavy dinner breads or dessert loaves into breakfast treats with a stovetop or baked version of French toast. This quick-cooking breakfast clears out leftover bread, and can use up cranberry sauce, too, when used as a topping or filling.

8. POTATO AND STUFFING CAKES

Plate of potato cakes.
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Leftover mashed potatoes can be repurposed in many ways, but what about stuffing? Two cups of stuffing, an egg, and butter are all it takes to make stuffing cakes—à la potato cakes—that fry up for a lunchtime snack. If you want to carb-load for a second day in a row, you can mix mashed potatoes and stuffing for a similar pan-fried patty.

9. DOUGHNUTS

Sweet potato doughnuts.
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In the 1940s, spudnut shops popped up throughout the U.S., making tasty doughnut snacks from dried potatoes. While it's hard to find a modern spudnut spot, you can recreate this decades-old snack using leftover mashed potatoes. Sweet potatoes work just as well when paired with leftover cranberries.

10. PANCAKES

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Pumpkin pie can be transformed into pancakes for an easy breakfast following a big day of cooking. Beat two slices of pie into pancake batter for festive fall breakfast, and top with leftover fruit or cranberries.

Whip Up A New Dessert

11. DESSERT CRISPS

Six bowls of fruit crisps.
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Fruit crumbles and crisps became popular during World War II when food rationing made it difficult for home cooks to craft elaborate desserts. Luckily, these recipes are perfect for after Thanksgiving, because they require minimal effort and few ingredients, all while using up leftover cranberry sauce, apples, and other fruit dishes.

12. DAY-AFTER PIES

Cranberry pie.
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Sure, Thanksgiving is known for its standard pies: pecan, pumpkin, and sweet potato. But chances are, those pies don't make it to day two. Clear out your leftovers stash and fulfill a sugar craving with a cranberry pie—a lighter, whipped version with marshmallows is easy to make after a whole day of cooking, or a slab-style pie hits the spot if your oven's still begging for attention.

Sip Your Leftovers

13. PIE SMOOTHIES

Glass of pumpkin smoothie.
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If you somehow have leftover pumpkin and sweet potato pies but no whipped topping, no worries. Pie smoothies are as easy to make as they are to sip—simply toss leftover pie, sans crust, into a blender with milk or yogurt for a smooth way to savor Thanksgiving leftovers.

14. COCKTAILS

Cranberry cocktails.
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After a long day of fielding personal questions from distant relatives, you may need a stiff drink. And yes, you can use Thanksgiving meal remnants to unwind. Candied yams, Cognac, and hazelnut liqueur combine for a "Candied Yam Libation," while a "Turkey Tippler" blends turkey-infused bourbon, bitters, and celery for garnish. Feeling hesitant about meat-infused alcohol? Washington D.C. bartender Justin Hampton recommends the "nice mouthfeel."

15. SIPPING VINEGARS

Jars of apple vinegars.
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Like other home-brewed drinks, sipping or drinking vinegars are beginning to see some popularity. And, they're easily made at home. Combine leftover fruits (cranberries or fruit tray leftovers are a great option) with apple cider vinegar in a jar, leaving the mixture to ferment for a week before straining out fruits and sitting for another seven days. After two weeks, a small amount of drinking vinegar can be mixed with soda water for an effervescent treat that's ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Thanksgiving.

16. INFUSED LIQUORS

Jars of infused liquor.
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If you're up for experimenting (and a bit of a wait), leftover fruit can be put to good use infusing and flavoring alcohol. Fruits like cranberries, apples, and pears work best, and even ingredient scraps like orange peels can be used to flavor vodka for homemade seasonal liqueurs.

Make Soul-Warming Soups

17. SOUPS

Bowl of turkey soup.
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Soups are one of the easiest ways to clear out a refrigerator bursting with leftovers. Turkey is easy to add to almost any soup and can be frozen until you're ready to cook again. And, leftover soup can even be frozen for another cold day, though broth-based soups without pastas or creams store best.

18. STEWS

Bowl of stew.
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Soup purists know that stew is not the same; it generally contains less liquid than a soup, has a thicker mixture of ingredients, and has a longer cook time. And while any combination of leftover vegetables and meat can make a great post-Thanksgiving stew, consider trying out Sobaheg, a dish culinary historians believe could have been served at the first Thanksgiving. Turkey meat, beans, hominy, green beans, and squash make up this historical stew.

19. STOCKS

Glass jar of soup stock.
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Instead of dumping leftover vegetables and meat bones in the trash, toss them into a stockpot with water for a hearty homemade stock. Even better: fresh stock can be frozen for the upcoming wintry days that require a hot bowl of soup.

Prep Snacks For The Rest of the Weekend

20. QUICK DIPS

Sweet potato dip.
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Hosting family or friends for the entire holiday weekend? There's no need to worry about having extra snacks or appetizers on hand. Turn leftover beans or sweet potatoes into spreadable, hummus-style dips by blending with olive oil and seasonings of your choice.

21. DEEP-FRIED APPETIZERS

Fried green beans.
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Uneaten green beans don't have to rot in the fridge. Instead, toss in a cornmeal batter before frying for a crunchy leftover snack. As many Midwestern state fairgoers know, the deep-frying doesn't have to end there. Get creative and toss leftovers into oil for a hodgepodge of Thanksgiving fritters. Don't forget the ranch dip!

22. NACHOS

Nachos.
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Roasted turkey is easy to add to anything, tortilla chips included. While you can opt for traditional nachos with melted cheese and a turkey garnish, there's another option to clear out your fridge even faster: a Thanksgiving-style nacho using leftover gravy, potatoes, and stuffing. Mashed potatoes take the place of refried beans, and gravy is substituted for melted cheese, while stuffing creates a thicker base layer (along with the chips).

When You're Really Tired of Turkey

23. FREEZER MEALS

Thanksgiving leftovers.
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If you've spent all day in a hot kitchen basting a turkey, chances are after the big meal's served, you're already tired of looking at it. But don't let those pounds of extra meat and sides go to waste. Instead, package up plated meals for the freezer, which can be quickly defrosted and reheated on a day you really don't feel like cooking. Many Thanksgiving side dishes freeze and reheat well—such as stuffing or dressing, cranberry sauce, and breads. For best results, avoid freezing dairy-heavy dishes and casseroles with crunchy toppings that have a tendency to get soggy (such as green bean casserole).

24. SWAP LEFTOVERS WITH A FRIEND

Bowls of leftover food.
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Does a friend have a great recipe that you love…but you won't get to gorge on thanks to Thanksgiving meal logistics? Consider sharing it the next day. Swapping a plate or dish with friends or family is one way to share a meal together, while also saving you from a week's worth of grandma's famous potatoes.

25. SEND IT ALL HOME WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY

Leftover turkey.
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If you're dining with a large crowd, consider letting friends and family clear out your fridge space. Etiquette says it's up to the host to determine if leftovers will be dished out and shared, so don't be afraid to prepackage leftovers for guests, or simply let them have at it themselves. After all, Thanksgiving is all about sharing with family and friends—both the love and the food.

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