Eggs are one of the least expensive and most versatile sources of animal protein, with a dozen sometimes priced as low as $1 on sale. A few things to keep in mind when cooking eggs: Cast-iron cookware can react chemically with egg whites, turning eggs a harmless -- but unappetizing -- green. If possible, use nonstick cookware instead. To test an egg for freshness, put it in the bottom of a bowl of water. Fresh eggs rest on their sides, while questionable eggs float. Eggs are featured in a wide variety of sophisticated fare, but even an inexperienced cook can master these 10 simple dishes with ease.
Hard-boiled eggs are portable and convenient for eating on their own and serve as the chief ingredient in other tasty recipes, too. For easy-to-peel shells, boil eggs that have been sitting in the refrigerator for a few days. Place the raw eggs at the bottom of a pot just big enough to accommodate them (with too much room to move around, the shells may crack before the whites have solidified). Add cool water to a level 1 or 2 inches above the eggs. Put the pot on a cold burner, then turn on the stove and bring the water to a full, rolling boil. Turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the water for 15 minutes. Remove the eggs from the water and submerge in a bowl of ice water. Hard-boiled eggs can keep in the refrigerator for several days.
Soft-boiled eggs are easy to make, but need to be served in eggcups. If eggcups are unavailable, make do with a ramekin or teacup filled with dry rice or other small grains. To soft-boil eggs, follow the directions for hard-boiled eggs but let the eggs sit in the water for only 2 to 3 minutes. Although soft-boiled eggs can be eaten on their own, they're more popular as a sort of dipping sauce for toast. To eat, place the egg with the smaller end facing upward. Gently crack the shell near the top, and either scoop out the insides with a spoon or dip toast directly into the egg.
The simplest use for poached eggs is to serve them on toast, although they're also an ingredient in recipes such as eggs Benedict. Start by filling a saucepan with water 2 inches deep. Add one-half teaspoon vinegar and bring to a simmer -- not a full boil. Meanwhile, break an egg (be sure it's fresh) into a small cup or bowl. When the water is simmering, gently stir it to create a slow whirlpool in the center of the pan. Slide the egg into the water (don't let it touch the bottom). The egg should cook for about 2 minutes for a runny yolk, 4 minutes for a firm one. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel to absorb excess water. Serve immediately, over toast.
"Deviled" eggs, sometimes called "stuffed" eggs, are simply hard-boiled eggs with the yolks removed, flavored, and returned to the white. Start by cutting the eggs in half lengthwise and scooping out the yolks. In a bowl, combine the yolks and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar, one-half teaspoon table salt, one-half teaspoon freshly ground pepper, and 1 and a half teaspoons yellow or spicy brown mustard. Mash together until smooth. Spoon the mixture back into the yolk-less egg whites and sprinkle with paprika. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to three days. This standard recipe can be modified in an almost endless number of ways to cater to different tastes.
For novice cooks, the hardest part of frying an egg is probably flipping it without breaking the yolk. Start by melting 1 tablespoon of butter or cooking oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. If using cooking spray instead, heat the pan until a drop of water sizzles instantly and evaporates on contact, then spray. Break the egg, pour it into the pan, and immediately turn the heat to medium-low. Once the white has set completely, flip it over carefully. Cook for another 1 to 3 minutes, until the yolk reaches the desired firmness. Serve immediately with toast to mop up any leftover yolk. Fried eggs are also popular as a sandwich ingredient or a topping for other breakfast items, such as corned beef hash.
Sunny-side-up eggs are essentially fried eggs not flipped during cooking. To fry an egg sunny-side up, add 1 tablespoon of butter or cooking oil to a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted and sizzling, break the egg, pour it into the pan, and turn the heat immediately to medium-low. The transparent white of the raw egg will solidify and whiten as the egg cooks. One school of thought says to leave the egg alone until the white has set completely, then remove from the pan and eat. If preferred, spoon some of the oil or melted butter in the pan over the egg white (but not the yolk) while the egg is cooking to add flavor.
Scrambled eggs must be cooked slowly, over medium-low heat, to give them a fluffy texture. To scramble two eggs, crack them into a bowl with 2 tablespoons of milk or cream and use a whisk to beat together. (The dairy makes the eggs creamier and less bland, but it is optional.) Pour the mixture into a hot, buttered pan. Let the eggs sit for half a minute to a minute, until the bottom starts to set. Add pepper and salt to taste, along with any additional flavoring such as herbs or shredded sharp cheese. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to gently move the eggs around the pan. After a minute or two, the eggs should start forming "curds" in the pan. When the eggs still look wet but there's no more liquid in the pan, turn off the heat.
Many novice cooks are intimidated by omelets, but a failed omelet can always be served as scrambled eggs. In a mixing bowl, whisk together two eggs, 2 tablespoons of milk or cream, and one-quarter teaspoon each of salt and pepper until blended. Beat well for a fluffier omelet. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat until sizzling. Pour in the egg mixture and let sit for a minute or two, until the bottom starts to set. Use a spatula to spread the eggs gently and evenly around the pan. When the top starts to set, pour one-third cup of fillings such as shredded cheese, diced ham or bacon, and chopped vegetables over half of the omelet. Flip the empty half over the fillings and serve immediately.
The easiest and most elegant way to serve baked eggs is in small ramekins, although a muffin tin works too. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. For each serving, break two eggs and empty them into a greased ramekin or muffin tin. Carefully spoon 1 tablespoon milk or cream over the eggs, making sure to cover them evenly, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the eggs are set.
Don't let the fancy French name fool you; a quiche is simply an egg and cheese pie, easy to make with a store-bought pie crust. While preheating the oven to 425 degrees, beat together four eggs and 1 cup milk or cream in a mixing bowl. Be sure to beat them well, or else the quiche will have a dense texture. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon onion powder, and one-half teaspoon cayenne pepper and beat again. Although any type of shredded cheese can be used in a quiche, a sharp cheese is preferable; mild cheeses are more likely to be overwhelmed by the other ingredients. Sprinkle 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese over the bottom of a 9-inch pie crust and carefully pour the egg mixture over it. Put the pie on the oven's center rack and bake for 15 minutes. Then, turn the oven down to 300 degrees and bake for another 35 minutes. After baking, let the quiche sit an additional 10 minutes before eating.