Something magical happened a few weeks ago. While trying to figure out what to do with the first fresh eggs I’d found at the farmers market this season, I discovered the greatest egg ingredient in the history of mankind.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little (truffles are pretty darn good on eggs), but not much.
Generally I am a big fan of adding some kind of ground red pepper (usually chipotle or ancho) to fried or scrambled eggs. But this day I tried something a bit different.
Digging through my pantry I remembered that I had a ton of smoked paprika left over from the hummus I made. I decided to do an experiment and sprinkle the smoked paprika onto my eggs.
I can’t believe I went all my life without knowing about this.
But before I explain why exactly the smoked paprika made my eggs so amazing, I want to address what I’m sure many of you are wondering:
How healthy are fried eggs?
Answer: Eggs are perfectly healthy, and frying doesn’t make them any less so.
Personally I cook my eggs in olive oil (it’s just easier), but even if you use butter it isn’t a problem since the amount you need to cook is so small.
What scares people about frying eggs is an irrational fear of dietary fat. But theoretically the amount of oil you use to fry an egg should be about the same as you need to scramble eggs, so it isn’t clear why fried eggs would pose any more of a problem. I use olive oil to scramble eggs as well.
The other issue people have with eggs is the yolk. It amazes me how often people proudly inform me that they eat eggs but “only the whites,” as if this were some unique virtue.
I understand that the public health message we’ve heard about eggs for the past few decades has been extremely negative, but eggs have since been completely exonerated from heart disease accusations. There was a time when it was assumed that dietary cholesterol (which is definitely higher than normal in eggs compared to other foods) would raise blood cholesterol, but it doesn’t for most people. In fact, the healthy fats in egg yolks are likely to positively impact your good HDL cholesterol.
Moreover, dietary fats in general have been shown to be excellent at satiating hunger, and are thus a terrific replacement for calories from refined carbohydrates. That makes egg yolks your ally in fighting heart disease and burning fat, not your enemy.
Then there’s the fact that egg yolks are incredibly rich in vitamins and minerals, since they are meant to be nourishment for a developing life.
And finally there’s the most important part, that farm fresh egg yolks are out-of-this-world delicious.
Which brings me back to how to make the best eggs in the universe.
First you must start with high-quality eggs. Two factors have the biggest impact on egg flavor. The first is the diet of the hen who laid the egg, and the second is the egg’s freshness. Thus for best results you want to find the freshest pastured eggs you can get your hands on. Pastured means the hens that lay the eggs are allowed to peck around on grass eating bugs and whatever else they find.
Your best shot at finding pastured fresh eggs is at a farmers market or direct from a farm, since if they are already on a grocery shelf they probably aren’t very fresh. Try to find eggs less than 1 week old. Their day of boxing should be clearly marked on the carton. It requires a little math, but I’m not the one who made up these rules.
Chances are good that if your eggs are very fresh then they are from pastured hens, but this is not guaranteed. Ask the farmer and try to hold out for hens that are allowed to roam free in grass during the day. If you cannot get fresh pastured eggs, “cage-free” is your next best bet for flavor (though these may still be fed a limited diet).
Without asking the farmer it is hard to tell the difference between real pastured eggs and industrial eggs labeled “cage-free” that are still fed standard or organic chicken feed. One good indication will be the price, since pastured eggs tend to run $6-10/dozen here in SF. Trust me, it’s worth it.
I do not endorse the taste or healthfulness of industrially produced eggs (even the fancy kinds), and if you do eat them you should be careful to cook them completely.
(Aside: I never worry about the safety of eggs from farms I trust, so I always eat them runny. If you think runny eggs are gross, I don’t blame you. Runny industrial eggs are gross, and before I had fresh eggs I would have completely agreed with you. But fresh egg yolk is incredible, and it is something you have to taste to really appreciate. I definitely recommend stepping out of your comfort zone on this one.)
Once you have great eggs, fry them one at a time in 1 tbsp olive oil or butter on medium low heat and sprinkle with sea salt, course ground black pepper and a pinch of smoked paprika. The paprika adds a depth and complexity above what even chipotle peppers can offer, and the smokiness is reminiscent of—I kid you not—bacon. Needless to say, it is the perfect compliment to eggs.
Fry your eggs for just two minutes or so on each side, being careful to keep the yolk intact while turning. You really don’t want to overcook eggs, which will turn them rubbery and ruin the effect.
I haven’t actually tried these eggs with bacon yet, though I certainly plan to. But bacon is no longer a requirement for making a show stopping breakfast of champions. Here I served them with some ruby chard sautéed with pistachios and garlic.
Did you guys know about smoked paprika on eggs and if so, why was I not informed?
Originally published March 3, 2010.