But, with olive oil-fried eggs being a near-perfect, near-instant food, had you ever thought to tinker? I hadn't, but Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton at Canal House had. They toss a half teaspoon of smoked paprika into the oil as it sizzles. That's it.
But this teeny, micro-upgrade accomplishes a number of things: The heat of the oil toasts the ground spice, deepening its flavor. The smokiness infuses and unleashes into the oil to season the eggs as you splash over them. And the oil itself, now richly flavored and the color of brick, is justifiably a sauce—you're encouraged to dunk bread in it (and in the yolk, too, of course).
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And when you're out of smoked paprika or not in the mood, there are as many variations as your spice drawer and your imagination will allow. I tried a series of colorful and delicious renditions on our shoot day—turmeric, then za'atar, then chile flakes—and we couldn't decide our favorite. I could also see this being a lovely way to use up fresh herbs like sage or thyme, or alliums like garlic or shallots or ramps.
You don't have to worry much about any spices or herbs burning in the sizzling oil, because before you know it, the egg is done, and so is your breakfast. Food52er mikeficus, who sent this tip to me, likes to serve it with, as he says, "a mound of Virginia ham." I love the idea of stirring in a little wine vinegar or lemon juice at the end to brighten the sauce.
I did have one last question: the mess. I tested a lower, slower variation on the technique on Facebook Live, to see if I could minimize the (colorful) spattering on the stovetop. In case you don't feel like watching the 34-minute comedy of errors, I'll spoil the ending: The lower the temperature, the less spattering, but also the harder it was (for me) to get the whites to cook through without also overcooking the yolk.
So I recommend committing to the spatter and just cooking the things medium-high, as Canal House intended. The best way to cook the bundle of contradictions in a whole egg (runny yolks=food porn, runny whites=anathema), much like its forebears: as hot as possible.
Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to Food52er mikeficus for this one!
Photos by James Ransom
This article was originally published in May 2016, but we're sharing it again in case you missed it.
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."