As we all learn at some point in our lives, perfection is futile. It's unattainable. It simply doesn't exist -- that is until we're talking about fried eggs.
You see, fried eggs are a very personal matter. An egg, like a painting, a sculpture, or even a poem, can be a work of art -- and art, of course, is subjective. There isn't the right kind of fried egg, no correct way to cook it, no guidebook or recipe, or even a textbook. There's just an egg, a bit of fat, some heat. A sprinkle of salt and buttered toast. When it comes to fried eggs, there are many versions of perfection. We're here to help you find yours.
Method #1: Soft, Delicate, Loving
Heat a non-stick or cast-iron pan on high for one minute, then melt a pat of butter. Crack an egg in the pool of butter and turn the heat to medium. Pour in a small amount of water (around a half tablespoon) and cover the pan with a lid for 30 seconds, letting the egg steam. When the white is set, slide the egg onto a plate and season with salt.
Yields: soft, spoon-able white; runny yolk
Method #2: Take No Prisoners
Heat a non-stick or cast iron pan to high, high heat. Pour in a generous amount of olive oil, and heat until it shimmers. Crack in an egg and turn the heat down, then spoon the hot fat over the egg white until it's just set (focusing on the area of white just around the yolk). Or, if you're feeling a little crazy, simply cover the pan after cracking the egg, then slide it out when the white's set and crispy. Season, of course, with salt.
Yields: crispy, browned bottom; cripsy edges; runny yolk
Method #3: Press Down
Heat a half tablespoon of butter in a small non-stick pan over medium high heat. When the butter is sizzling but nowhere near smoking, crack 1 egg into the pan. Season with salt and pepper. As soon as the edges look brown and crackly, gently flip the egg. With your spatula, press on the thicker areas of white near the yolk so that they flood into the pan and cook quickly. Season again with salt and pepper. As soon as your whites are set, slide the egg onto one piece of toast.
Yields: crispy white; runny yolk
Method #4: Animal Style
Heat a non-stick or cast iron pan to medium-high heat with about a tablespoon of sausage or bacon fat. Cook using the take-no-prisoners or press-down method.
Yields: crispy edges and bottom; runny yolk; slightly porky finish
Method #5: Oven
Preheat the oven to 200C. Heat around a tablespoon of olive oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium heat. When the oil is warm but not hot, crack the egg gently into the pan and cook without disturbing just until the white starts to set. Transfer to the oven and bake until the white sets completely, around three minutes.
Yields: browned bottom; speckled top; runny yolk
Method #6: The More Oil the Better
Check out this slideshow from the New York Times, which features how Jose Andres fries his egg. Prepare to be amazed.
Yields: brown, crunchy white; runny yolk
How to Make the Perfect Fried Egg [Food52]
Brette Warshaw is the editorial assistant at Food52. She's a reader, eater, culinary thrillseeker and food nerd.