Cooking Tips

The Best Fried Eggs Are Steamed

What’s the secret to barely thickened yolks and whites that are tender in the center and frizzled at the edges? A hybrid fry-steam approach.
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Published Sept. 12, 2023.

I want to talk about fried eggs. And how the perfect one features a liquid velvet yolk surrounded by whites that are tender in the middle with a lacy-crisp fringe.

But before I go any further, I also want to talk about potstickers. That might sound like an odd leap, but stick with me. The two preparations have more in common than you might think. 

When you fry potstickers, the idea is to deeply brown the outside while heating the center until it’s just cooked through. Done well, there’s a sublime contrast that develops between the bronzed wrapper and the tender, juicy filling. But that doesn’t happen if you just straight-up pan-fry them. What you need to do is steam them after frying so that the humid heat surrounds the dumplings and cooks them through from top to bottom. 

Frying the perfect egg presents similar goals and challenges. For one thing, you want the top of the egg to cook to set the white and maybe to thicken the yolk a little, but flipping it risks breaking the yolk and solidifying its glorious flow. 

In addition, the goal of frying is that the white develops two different textures: tender and bright white toward the middle and frizzled at the edges.

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How to Make Perfect Fried Eggs

Enter the ingenious hybrid fry-steam approach to fried eggs developed by my former colleague Andrew Janjigian that also includes a couple other smart moves: 

  1. First, preheat the pan on low for 5 full minutes. This lengthy preheating guarantees that there will be no hot spots in the skillet that could lead to unevenly cooked eggs.
  2. Use two fats for frying. Vegetable oil, with its high smoke point, is added to the pan for preheating. Then we add butter just before the eggs, which imparts a diner-style richness.
  3. Fry eggs in the hot fat for a full minute with the pan covered. That way, the pan traps steam and the eggs cook from above as well as from below, firming up the whites before the yolks overcook—no flipping required. 
  4. Move the pan off heat for a few minutes. The residual heat can finish setting the whites—including that stubborn portion around the yolk that is so often undercooked and gelatinous—while the yolks remain liquid. 

Try our method, and you’ll find the contrast between lacy white and fluid yolk is just as sublime as a potsticker’s.

Put a Fried Egg on It

Perfect fried eggs are incredibly versatile. Their structural integrity means they are just as easily slid over migas, Kimchi Bokkeumbap, garlicky spaghetti, or Pad Gra Prow as they are sandwiched between English muffins or burger buns. (By the way: The best tool for shuttling fried eggs from skillet to plate? A fish spatula.)

If you really want to have some fun, switch up the cooking fat. Chili crisp. Chimichurri. Pesto, green or red. When you’ve got the method down, anything is possible.

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