Week 4 - To Fry an Egg As Round as a Ball

Old Woman Frying Eggs  , Diego Velázquez, 1618. Image: National Galleries of Scotland

Old Woman Frying Eggs, Diego Velázquez, 1618. Image: National Galleries of Scotland

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a little late posting this week’s recipe. Two reasons. Firstly, I’ve been away for work, helping coordinate the first Coastal Women Symposium in Bonavista - three nights and two days of scholarship, story and song all focused on NL women’s work and culture in the “age of cod”. One of the highlights of the symposium was historian Willeen Keough’s lecture “A good hardworking stump of a girl: Coastal women, work and power in fishing communities of the Southern Avalon in the 18th and 19th centuries”. It was a mind-blowing talk which shattered popular stereotypes regarding women’s roles and place in our corner of Newfoundland (many of Dr. Keogh’s anecdotes were about women from Ferryland and the neighbouring community of Calvert). The lecture was drawn from her book The Slender Thread, which is available for FREE on-line. It’s well worth a read.

The second reason I’m late posting is that until yesterday afternoon, I wasn’t entirely sure it was safe to do so. When Lori first showed me the recipe, my initial reaction was “Well, there’s a fat fire waiting to happen!” But Lori insisted and when Lori insists….

This week’s recipe comes to us courtesy of Robert May’s The Accomplished Cook: Or the art and mystery of cookery (1660) and goes like this:

Take a broad frying posnet, or deep frying pan, and three pints of clarified butter or sweet suet, heat it as hot as you do for fritters; then take a stick and stir it till it run round like to a whirle-pit; then break an egg into the middle of the whirle, and turn it round with your stick till it be as hard as a soft poached egg, and the whirling round of the butter or suet will make round as a ball; then take it up with a slice, and put it in a warm pipkin or dish, set it a leaning against the fire, so you may do as many as you please, they will keep half an hour yet be soft; you may serve them with fried or toasted collops.

Robert May was an accomplished, professional chef who cooked for many members of the British aristocracy, so I gotta think he knew what he was talking about. Nevertheless, the idea of dropping a sloppy, raw egg into near-boiling fat, fills me with dread.

The Accomplisht Cook   - Frontispiece & Title Page

The Accomplisht Cook - Frontispiece & Title Page

Lori and Krista made four attempts yesterday. We all agree that the results leave a LOT to be desired and are best described as “how NOT to fry an egg as round as a ball”. Attempt number one used butter. Unfortunately, they forgot to clarify the butter (I’m not judging. Cooking while simultaneously hosting group after group of tourists is no easy feat!).

A pot of MELTED butter. Rule no. 1, read the instructions. Rule no. 2, follow the instructions!

A pot of MELTED butter. Rule no. 1, read the instructions. Rule no. 2, follow the instructions!

A big, hot mess!

A big, hot mess!

Next, while L & K waited for a re-supply of butter and a delivery of suet, they gave it a second try using vegetable shortening. I’m going to pause here for a brief discussion about the smoking point of fats and oils. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, “smoke point” is the temperature at which a fat or oil begins to smoke and burn. For example, regular ol’ butter has a low smoke point of 200-250F. Vegetable shortening has high smoke point of around 500F, which means if you’re not paying attention, it can reach a near molten temperature without any obvious sign. And when you crack a goppy, raw egg into a hellishly hot pot of shortening…. Well, let’s just say we’re lucky no one was burned.

Attempts number 3 and 4 also used vegetable shortening, but at a much lower temperature (lesson learned!). Still no luck. The egg yolk cooked perfectly, but the whites? Not so much. Less round and more like deep fried dog hair.

Attempt No. 3. Still no joy.

Attempt No. 3. Still no joy.

Attempt No. 4. Getting there …. Me thinks the fat is still too hot.

Attempt No. 4. Getting there …. Me thinks the fat is still too hot.

Considering our results so far, I totally understand if some (perhaps all) of you decide to give eggs fried as round as a ball a pass. That said, clarified butter (May’s first choice for egg frying) is a thing of beauty that will revolutionize your everyday cooking. So, if you only get as far as step 1 of this week’s recipe - clarifying the butter - you’ll be a step ahead of Lori and Krista in their first attempt (Sorry L & K, I couldn’t resist!). And I think that’s worth an entry into this week’s prize draw.

For those of you who have not yet discovered the joys of clarified butter, here’s a bit of background. Regular butter is made up of three things: butterfat, water, and milk solids. When you clarify butter, you remove all the milk solids and water, leaving just the butterfat behind. Why bother you ask? Because milk solids are the reason butter burns at a much lower temperature than other oils. Removing them creates a higher smoke point. It also increases the butter’s shelf life which, in an age before refrigeration, was a real concern.

Because of its ability to withstand high heat, clarified butter is often used for sautés and frying. It is usually made from unsalted butter, but if you only have salted butter, it will still work. Just adjust the amount of salt in your dish to accommodate.

Clarifying butter is super simple.

Update (Friday Morning)

Well, it’s taken a while, but I think we’ve finally “cracked” this recipe. I’d like to say it was thanks to our amazing culinary skills, but I have to admit the solution came by Googling “how to deep fry an egg”. That search produced a short, little video of the brilliant French chef Jacques Pépin frying an egg as round as a ball.

I gave Jacque’s technique a try using clarified butter and the results were AMAZING! I’ll definitely be cooking this recipe again. I have just two tips to add. Firstly, I used a small, high-sided saucepan instead of a frying pan. Less chance of everything bubbling over, plus a small pot means I could fry with less fat. Second, if you’re using clarified butter, don’t throw it away after you’ve finished frying. Instead, simply strain out the stray bits of egg white and store that “liquid gold” in the fridge for future use.

Not quite as round as a ball, but DAMN! that’s one delicious fried egg!

Not quite as round as a ball, but DAMN! that’s one delicious fried egg!

Give it a whirl. Remember, post a photo of your egg fried as round as a ball and/or your clarified butter on the Colony’s Facebook page for a chance to win weekly and grand prizes.

Deadline for this week’s postings is 11:59 PM, Wednesday, August 7, 2019. Good luck!

Jane SeversComment