Small, tender curds bound in velvety ''sauce''
Extravagantly creamy eggs with no added fat
Eggs that aren’t gluey
American-style scrambled eggs are the speediest of home-cooked breakfasts: Heat butter or oil in a skillet; add eggs beaten with water or milk; stir, stir, stir; and you're done. The process takes less than 3 minutes and can produce eggs sturdy enough to be tucked inside an English muffin and eaten on the go.
But French cooks, and often British ones, too, employ a more leisurely approach. They cook their eggs slowly over low heat with plenty of butter, stirring constantly until the mixture forms small, delicate curds bound in a velvety sauce. This technique can take five times as long as the American version, but the reward is eggs that are so extravagantly creamy and rich that they linger on the palate, allowing you time to thoroughly appreciate the fullness of their flavor. They're so satisfying that the French often opt to serve them for lunch or dinner.
The American version is undeniably convenient, but a recipe for deluxe slow-cooked scrambled eggs would be ideal for those occasions when I can luxuriate in a laid-back breakfast.
Haste Makes Waste
Starting with Julia Child's recipe, I smeared a skillet with 2 tablespoons of soft butter; added 6 eggs beaten with salt, pepper, and milk; and placed the skillet over low heat. Then I stirred. And stirred. For a while nothing seemed to be happening, but after 18 minutes, the eggs coalesced into a soft mass of small, tender curds that stopped just short of flowing across the skillet. Following Child's guidance, I took the pan off the heat and stirred in another 2 tablespoons of butter before spooning the eggs onto slices of toast.
These eggs were delectable enough to justify the indulgence of time and calories, but I wondered if both were strictly necessary. In the past we've noted that fat coats egg proteins, which prevents them from bonding tightly. Confident that 4 tablespoons of butter would be sufficient to tenderize 8 eggs (I decided to increase the recipe to serve 4) even if they were cooked a bit more quickly, I turned up the heat.
But I found that eggs cooked in less than 10 minutes, though tender, lacked the lush viscosity of the slow-cooked version, no matter how much fat I added. The higher heat transformed every bit of the liquid egg into curds, leaving no sauce. And pulling the skillet off the heat earlier was no solution either. That left me with curds swimming in an unappetizing mixture of thin, raw egg and melted butter.
Suspecting that I'd overestimated the importance of fat and underestimated the importance of taking it slow, I ran a series of tests in which I incrementally lowered the cooking temperature (which increased the cooking time) while also decreasing the amount of butter. Success: At the 12-minute mark, the eggs were creamy even when cooked in a single tablespoon of butter. The curds were small and tender, and the lush egg “sauce” that united them registered 160 degrees, an indication that the eggs were fully cooked.
Slow cooking was clearly the key, so did I need any added fat? After all, my nonstick skillet would eliminate any risk of sticking. But that tablespoon of butter was handy because its melting signaled that the pan was hot enough to jump-start the heating of the eggs. With no butter, how would I know when the skillet was the right temperature?
Well, I thought, how about using water as my temperature indicator? I put 2 tablespoons of water in the skillet, and when the water started to steam, I knew the pan was hot enough. I added the eggs and immediately started stirring to help them heat evenly. The water served a second purpose: It diluted the egg proteins so that they didn't begin to coagulate too soon. After about 8 minutes, tiny curds began to form. I began to stir more energetically at that point, eager to keep the curds small and the eggs loose. After 4 more minutes, the eggs mounded gently but were still soft and saucy, all without a bit of added fat.
In fact, the sauce was so thick that it was verging on gluey. Would I need to finish them with a bit of butter or cream after all? No. It turned out that just one more tablespoon of water smoothed them out nicely. Finally, a sprinkle of fresh minced herbs complemented their richness. Now I can save the butter for my toast and the cream for my coffee.