The thing that Gael Greene remembers most vividly about the night she had sex with Elvis Presley is the sandwich he asked her to order from room service afterwards. The fabled New York food writer does not remember some of the more salacious details of the evening, but Greene’s memoir, Insatiable, records with absolute clarity Presley’s demand for a post-coital fried egg sandwich.
How to Eat – this series exploring how best to enjoy Britain’s favourite foods – can only respect such prioritisation. For what is one night of passion with the most desirable man on earth compared with the knowledge of the timeless sensual pleasures of the fried egg sandwich? Beautiful people are often selfish, whereas our subject this month, the fried egg sandwich, will cater to your animal instincts in an entirely selfless, generous, non-judgmental way. No shame. No awkwardness. You don’t even have to put your best knickers on.
True, there are killjoys who would make you feel guilty about your fried egg sandwich habit. Google it and you will find: “People also ask – is a fried egg sandwich good for you?” This is less a question and more an ontological error message. Meanwhile, the NHS tries to warn (although HTE prefers to see it as a promise) that: “Frying eggs can increase their fat content by around 50%.” Sounds good, right? Life is short. Enjoy it.
Writing in the NME, Paul Morley once described Coronation Street’s loafer-in-chief, Stan Ogden, as “a man who could see the whole world in a fried egg sandwich”. HTE chooses to read this Blakeian riff as a compliment. In his Zen-like way, Stan could absorb himself in this simple act as the totality of human experience. In the ultimate democratic treat – inexpensive, accessible, easy to cook – Stan discovered his meaning.
We have all been there, eating a fried egg butty, the pleasure familiar but always fresh, thinking: “This is the pinnacle of existence; life will not get better.” But this is only true if that fried egg sandwich has been made correctly, which is where HTE must intervene.
There are lot of very bad things happening to the fried egg sandwich, mostly in the US. Using a circular container such as an English muffin (think of the potential overhang) or worse a bagel (gaping hole + runny yolk = tragicomic disaster) is baffling. Americans also seem to find it impossible to make a sandwich without toasting the bread or pan-frying the whole thing like a grilled cheese sandwich. Why?
Inflexible and/or dry toasted bread is nonsensical here. There is no need to create a textural contrast between crisp toast and soft egg. On the contrary, the comfort-food essence of a fried egg sandwich – nursery food for the never-nannied classes – lies in how it yields so easily as you bite into it. It should offer a lack of resistance in subtly differentiated layers so easy to penetrate you could gum your way through it without your teeth in. Generic white sliced bread – floppy, plasticised, woolly and unreal – is the way to go. And “none of that brown stuff”, as Peter Stringfellow rightly insists.
Opting for white sliced bread is not solely about texture and flavour (the bread acting as a bland delivery vehicle for its rich dairy partner*), but also feel and practicality. With a little pressure from the palm of your hand, thin slices of squishy bread will mould around the hot, slippery egg to form a malleable, manageable, partially sealed pocket, in which everything is securely contained. Such bread allows you to relax. Everything in that sandwich is under control.
*On the rich dairy front, a fried egg sandwich should be buttered as surely as bears enjoy secluded, woodland toilet spots. If you cannot see teeth marks in the butter, if melted butter is not spotting your plate in the style of Jackson Pollock, you are doing it wrong.
Flip v drip
The greatest schism in the fried egg community is between the chosen few who flip the egg and fry the yolk until it is verging on solid (over-medium approaching over-hard in US diner lingo) and those heretics and heathens who leave the yolk runny.
The soft yolk serve is mystifying. Even if (correctly) you do not cut your sandwich, eventually you will bite into that runny yolk and it will leak, nay spurt and gush forth, if not down your chin and over your fingers then to coagulate on cold porcelain, where it will set like an ugly stain on your psyche – a hideous reminder of your casual waste. The only people who want golden yolk seeping on to plates are food stylists on fried egg sandwich shoots. Unless you are going to suck hideously at your sandwich like a teat, a full, tremulous yolk poised to explode is pointless jeopardy.
Instead, you need that yolk barely set, still fudgy, residually runny at its very centre, but only to the extent that any leakage can be quickly gobbled down or absorbed by the surrounding bread. That state is a matter of seconds cooking on the flip.
Some of the biggest names in the egg game favour a third way. Halfway through, they deliberately split and spread out the yolk before flipping the egg, to ensure you get some cooked yolk in each bite. “It results in its own unique flavour, different from both scrambled eggs and a fried egg,” reckons Michael Ruhlman, the author of Egg. But HTE is unconvinced. It prefers to retain the thick yolk in its intact state. It should be waiting for you at the centre of the sandwich, anticipation building as you eat towards the pronounced alteration in the nature of the sandwich that it delivers.
That is not to say the yolk is the best part of the sandwich. HTE does not buy the yolk > white hierarchy. Given that more than 60% of an egg’s calories are found in the yolk, HTE assumes we are genetically programmed to crave it. But its assumed superiority is a fallacy, a subjective trick of the obedient mind rather than an objective fact.
Food writing is full of nauseatingly twee or pompous hymns to the velvety richness of egg yolks. By dint of its relative scarcity, the yolk is considered luxurious while the white is disregarded as workaday. HTE loves both, but, if forced to choose, the creamy white definitely edges it. On days when the yolk can seem cloying, there is still something irresistible about that sweet albumen, its tensile resistance between the teeth and the way its subtle flavour forms a holy trinity with bread and butter.
Perhaps it is down to how your palate was formed. If from an early age your life was filled with gilt-edged gastronomic adventure, you may feel a pampered fealty to the yolk. If you are used to a plainer, cheaper diet, the white already tastes like a heaven-sent treat. HTE is not saying that a preference for yolk or white is the ultimate class divide. But nor is it saying that it isn’t.
As the soft, curvaceous smoothness of that white is precious, please do not ruin it by radically overcooking your egg. Fried eggs with crispy, browned frills, their edges like hardened melted plastic, are terrible. Better an undercooked white than burnt edges.
There is a self-serving narrative implicit in food journalism (there are pages to fill, magazines to sell … or at least there used to be), that food is in a constant process of refinement and improvement, in pursuit of a forever-delayed perfection. We can never accept what we have, much less suggest subtracting ingredients from dishes. Simplicity does not sell. Every food must, by endless add-ons and ever-greater complexity, be elevated to its “next-level”, “deluxe” or “ultimate” manifestation.
Consequently, people are always adding ingredients to the fried egg sandwich (blue cheese, avocado, bacon jam, kimchi, bechamel, anchovy paste, rocket, ham, possibly all at the same time), which ruins the whole concept. What if, and HTE is just throwing this out there, the “best ever” fried egg sandwich was … a fried egg sandwich? One made with the best egg you can buy, enjoyed without distraction?
Add some cheap, crispy bacon if you must (as a textural fillip, as seasoning), but why waste great bacon here? Savour it on its own. Similarly, a fried egg sandwich does not require additional sliced cheddar, which, as those slices soften but fail to melt, will morph into a gummy unsatisfying paste. Note: the inclusion of any salad items, such as sliced tomato, is symptomatic of a self-loathing that requires psychiatric intervention.
A condiment is acceptable. If judiciously applied, tomato sauce is the most obvious contender, its sharp vinegary twang a counterpoint to the dairy. HTE considers brown sauce a terrible creation, but, in this case, it is less egregious than mayonnaise (appalling flavour profile on hot sandwiches), mustard (only acceptable if you smoke 40 a day) or hot sauce, the use of which on all foods, no matter how unsuitable, is now a kind of mass hysteria.
From drunken, ravenous 4am feasts (remember them?) to moments of 4pm ennui, the fried egg sandwich fits. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or tea, it works. Ready in seconds and requiring only a pan and a plate (c’mon, keep it civilised), it is entry-level heaven.
Tea or coffee: don’t even think about anything else.
So, fried egg sandwiches, how do you eat yours?
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Source: Thanks https://www.theguardian.com/food/2020/may/02/how-to-eat-a-fried-egg-sandwich