Growing up, I would only eat three foods: frozen peas, Kraft macaroni (spirals), and scrambled eggs. The eggs worked at any time of day, so I ate them most often. I liked them to be cooked until they had no jiggle left. I didn’t want any cheese, pepper, or salt; I wanted rock-solid yellow clumps that I’d chase down with a bowl of frozen peas to help break the eggs up in my stomach. Foods with a thin or watery texture repulsed me; I found them unreliable. I didn’t want anything gushing or leaking from my food. This was in the early Nineties, and freshness hadn’t yet caught on — I wanted my eggs to resemble the congealed, spongy Lunchables meats my parents refused to buy.
The twelve-year-old girl I met by the side of a fjord in Norway, years later when I was twice her age, proved to be a more mature egg-eater. Her name was Vilde, the Norwegian word for wild, and she prepared her eggs “mirror way.” Americans call it “sunny-side up,” but how much more precise, and imaginative, to see the bright circle floating in a wider frame as a face within a mirror. In either case, I had never eaten a fried egg.
I asked Vilde to break the yolk. I didn’t want it to break on me. She obliged and cooked me a reassuringly homogenous, fried-through coin that reminded me of the solid clumps of my youth. When the surfaces had darkened, she lowered the egg onto a slice of buttered bread and covered it with a neat blanket of white Gräddost cheese. She placed a ring of red bell pepper on top and filled in the center with black pepper and sesame seeds.
I felt there could be no better egg.
In homage to this discovery, this new rearrangement of old materials, I purchased a piece of fried-egg jewelry from a market in Madrid. I’d flown down from Oslo to visit a friend on the day the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland entered the second phase of its 2010 eruption, and the ensuing ash cloud had postponed my return trip. With my extra stalled days, I wandered and sought out treasures exactly like this ring: It was a cheap, adjustable band supporting a plastic plate on which lay a perfectly sculpted miniature mirror-way egg. For Vilde, I bought another ring: a plate bearing a cupcake and a tiny metal knife. (Vilde kept it by her bedside in a transparent box because she worried she would lose the knife.)
I wore my fried-egg ring daily and showed it off to my new roommate when I moved back to Brooklyn a few years later. He’d asked what I most liked to cook, as we’d be sharing a kitchen, and I was delighted to have the answer on my finger. He replied that he was severely allergic to egg yolks. We nodded at each other and I bought my own pan. Graduate school began and brought about two years of eating eggs twice a day. Without any dense, grainy Nordic bread or Swedish Gräddost cheese or immaculate Norwegian butter or that strange little bottle of sesame seeds Vilde carried, my eggs lacked sparkle. This is when I began to reconsider the yolk.
What would happen if just a little yolk softened this disappointing slice of whole-wheat Arnold’s bread? Wouldn’t that give it some flavor, some sauce? If I didn’t break the yolk entirely while cooking it, but just flipped the thing gently over, could I make a sealed-in little hot-pocket with just a trace amount of ooze inside? For the first time, I let the face in the mirror sit untouched, flipped it, cooked the underside momentarily, and let it slide off the spatula onto my bread. When I bit in, the yolk spread through the bread and the runniness seemed both contained and luscious.
Now I am a runny-egg addict. I want a runny egg on top of everything I eat. I’m amazed by the way an egg yolk can amplify any other flavor it encounters and how it can add a sticky glaze to any dry surface. My current favorite way to eat eggs at home is to pour a thin layer of cornflakes over a flat plate and set two over-easy eggs on top. When the yolks burst they run into the cornflakes, creating a saucy, crunchy, salty Rice Krispie Treat. I drench the whole mix in Frank’s RedHot sauce. The fiery drops and the spilling yolk make the meal look semi-violent. I don’t mind! I’m no longer afraid of my food surprising me, nor do I need to gulp it down in big, bland chunks. The intensity and slipperiness of these new eggs make me feel like an adult. If you have been eating your eggs the same way since age six, I affectionately encourage you to taste what you’ve been missing. Vilde would approve.
Eggs, the Adult Way
I could eat my cornflakes-hot-sauce-and-eggs concoction for every meal, but if I’m going out, these are some of my favorite egg dishes in the city:
Tekoa: The new Spanish/Moorish daytime café by the Michelin-starred team at La Vara in Cobble Hill serves small bowls of gooey scrambled eggs with green chiles on top. Their variation on the “egg in a hole” places the egg in the center of a spinach pie from Atlantic Avenue’s Damascus Bakery. A field day for texturists.
Egg Shop: A spectacularly innovative egg-dedicated spot serving ambitious bowls all day and night (one is named Spandexxx and features miso quinoa under a poached egg). They even serve a yolk-stuffed wad of burrata as an appetizer.
Smith Canteen: A tender, sunny Carroll Gardens bakery whose breakfast sandwich is a bizarre but satisfying square of flan-textured baked egg smothered in cheddar and hot sauce on an English muffin.
Egg: The classic Williamsburg egg depot offers not only some of the best simple, perfectly cooked omelets but also more adventurous creations like the Amy’s brioche-based Eggs Rothko.
Pizza Moto: The “Eggs in Hell” pie at Pizza Moto drips yolk all over a spicy bacon pizza; it’s a luxurious experience of both color and flavor. They’ll gladly remove the bacon for vegetarians. This is my favorite pizza place in the city, and for this pizza, and their many others, they deserve love and a prize.