A Comprehensive Guide To Ordering Eggs In US-Style Diners

A Comprehensive Guide To Ordering Eggs In US-Style Diners

“How would you like your eggs?” isn’t a question that should cause you panic. However, it’s possible that you may not be egg-ercising all your options, especially if all you’ve ever known is scrambled.

This is especially true in US diners, which employ a plethora of regional phrases that aren’t used anywhere else in the world. While “Sunny Side Up” is pretty easy to decipher, what about Over Medium? Or Coddled? Or Shirred? This guide has all the answers.

Photo by Katherine Lim.

I grew up with a stepfather who was obsessed with crappy diners and, as a result, I ate many a breakfast at greasy spoons. This man was, for lack of a better word, a complete dick about ordering eggs — I saw him send eggs back at a Denny’s restaurant on more than one occasion — but he did teach me what a poached egg was, so I guess that’s something.

Anyway. My point is that there are a lot of different ways to order an egg. According to kitchen lore, there are as many ways to cook an egg as there are folds in a chef’s hat (that would be 100). Though it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself in a diner that could whip up all 100 preparations, you still have a lot of options when out for breakfast. (Like, this is in no way a list of every way you can cook an egg, but a list of how you can order them. Cooking at home gives you a lot more room for creativity. Case in point: cloud eggs.)

  • Hard Scrambled: The whites and the yolks are broken and mixed together, and everything is cooked through completely. These eggs will be on the drier side, but they should still be fluffy.
  • Soft Scrambled: Like hard eggs, the yolk and whites are beaten together, but these eggs will be more moist than their harder counterparts, and have creamier, softer, smaller curds.
  • Sunny Side Up: This is your iconic, emoji-looking fried egg. The egg is cracked directly into the pan, and fried until the white is just set but the yolk is still runny, and the edges are (usually) browned.
  • Basted: Like our sunny side up friend, this egg isn’t flipped, but it’s bathed with hot butter from the pan until the top white is cooked and the yolk firms up the. This preparation is not as common as some of the other ones, so have a back-up egg just in case your waitress has never heard of it.
  • Over Easy: This egg is also fried, but it’s flipped once you reach the “sunny side up” stage. Once flipped however, it doesn’t spend too much more time in the pan, and is cooked just long enough for the white to form a film over the yolk, while still keeping that golden orb as runny as possible.
  • Over Medium: This egg is prepared the same way as over easy, only it’s cooked longer. The white film will be thicker, and the yolk — while still runny — will be slightly more congealed.
  • Over Hard: Cooked even longer than the above to options, both the white and yolk are completely set in this egg.
  • Poached: Poached eggs are cracked into a pot of simmering water, where they hang out until the whites are cooked through but the yolks are nice and runny. Unlike frying, this method produces softer whites with no crispy edges. (You can also order poached eggs “medium” or “hard,” if you want to, but I don’t know why you would. That warm but runny yolk is pretty perfect.)
  • Baked or Shirred: You probably won’t be able to order baked eggs as part of basic breakfast but, if you see them on the menu, you should give them a whirl. Baked eggs are usually mixed with other ingredients in a ramekin or other flat-bottomed vessel, then popped in the oven until — you guessed it — the whites are set but the yolks are still runny.
  • Omelettes: American omelettes are made by scrambling some eggs, letting them sit in the pan until set, then folding them in half around some sort of filling. A French omelette is usually not filled, but rolled in on itself into a fluffy, tender oval. Omelettes are usually listed as separate menu items, rather than part of a “traditional” American diner breakfast.
  • Frittata: A frittata is an omelette-like preparation where the scrambled eggs are mixed with other ingredients (meat, vegetables, cheese, etc.), partially cooked in a skillet, then transferred to the oven to finish cooking under the broiled. There is no flipping or folding involved. If a diner offers frittatas, they will most likely have their own section on the menu.
  • Hard Boiled: I’ve never seen anyone order a hard boiled egg at a diner, but I guess you could. Whole eggs, shell intact, are dropped — well, set — into pots of boiling water, where they remain until both white and yolk are fully cooked and firm.
  • Soft Boiled: These eggs are prepared like hard boiled, only they’re cooked for less time. Once again, you get a firm white and a runny yolk. Some countries eat theirs out of little cups.
  • Coddled: Coddled eggs are gently steamed in little special cups or jars with cream. The longer you steam them, the firmer they get. I have never seen a coddled egg on a diner menu, so let me know if you do.

One last tip: Do not, under any circumstance, order the abomination known as the “egg white omelette.” You will find no joy within.

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