How to Keep Eggs From Sticking to Pan
Humanity has achieved great things over history. Men have landed on the moon, many diseases have been eradicated, but we still grapple with one perennial problem: How to keep eggs from sticking to a frying pan. The glib answer would be to use a non-stick pan but even the deployment of a skillet/pan with a layer of Teflon won’t guarantee success.
Besides, we want a solution that works across all platforms. We want to be able to walk into any kitchen, pick up whatever frying vessel is at hand and crack open an egg content in the knowledge that we won’t be scraping burnt yolk off the surface a few minutes later with our hunger pangs still raging.
So, how do we go about this? Here’s how…
Appliance of Science
Let’s return to our schooldays and remember what we learned about what happens when various items are added to a heated surface. It usually ended badly, right? We then learned that by treating or preparing the surface in readiness for whatever was to be added, the negative effect was, at least, mollified and, preferably, eliminated.
Now, let’s apply those basic principles here. An egg is a small mass of gooey, glutinous liquid that will simply burn when dropped on to a hot surface. We need to treat the surface so that the egg will rest on a very thin membrane which absorbs the heat of the pan without engulfing the egg in something akin to a furnace.
What we want is oil or butter to fill the role of a host welcoming the egg into the warm, comfortable surrounds of a frying pan. We don’t want the egg to be pitched into a hostile environment where it is subject to searing, untreated heat.
That’s the Science lesson over and the solution sounds straightforward. Add oil or butter or cooking spray to the hot frying pan, drop in the egg, and – hey presto – you’re minutes away from an omelet or fried eggs or scrambled eggs or whatever it is you’re cooking.
But it’s not as simple as that. When eggs are an ingredient in a dish, the usual requirement is that they are cooked quickly and during those couple of minutes, all the conditions have to be precise, or we’re back to a burnt disappointment again.
Lessons from History
Cooking eggs in a pan overheat is a practice that goes all the way back and references to what we now know as omelets and scrambled eggs can be found in the writings of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The methods used sound familiar, so we can be assured that oil/butter, heat, flat-bottomed cooking vessel and egg(s) is a combination that has stood the test of time.
What we don’t find, however, are references to the singed contents being scraped away with recriminations ringing in the ears of an embarrassed, toga-wearing chef. Did they get it right every time? Or did they merely omit such incidents from their writings? Are we over-thinking the process? Maybe we should just rely on our intuition and common sense.
Enough of the theory, let’s get this done
We’ll use our own experience and the wisdom of professional cooks and go through the stages involved.
(1) Warm the pan. This is pretty much uncontested. The pan should be placed over a gentle heat before anything is added. If the heat is too high, the pan will get burnt and the acrid smell of a burnt pan is very unpleasant as well as setting off any nearby smoke detectors.
(2) Add oil/butter. Allow the pan to heat for a few seconds. The length of time will vary according to the type of pan being used (more about the choice of a pan later) but a medium-high heat for about 10-15 seconds works best. Then, add oil or butter.
(3) Butter: If you use butter, allow it to heat until it starts to bubble and swirl the pan to ensure that the surface is evenly coated.
(4) Oil: If you use oil, allow it to heat until it thins and becomes liquidized. It is advisable to have it evenly distributed but not through stirring as this breaks up the oil’s texture and may mean that parts of the pan are effectively devoid of an oil coating.
(5) Add the eggs. The stage is now set for the eggs to be added. Allow them to cook for about 30 seconds until the eggs develop a lighter colored ring around the edge of the pan. At this stage, a spatula can be run around the rim of the pan to ensure that the eggs haven’t adhered to the surface.
From there on, it’s pretty much about personal preference. You can ensure the eggs are thoroughly cooked by running the spatula (or similar utensil) through the eggs to form thin channels which will then fill with egg mix. If cooking an omelet, you can flip the layer eggs over so that both sides of the omelet are cooked evenly. For scrambled eggs, the mix is tossed around.
But such concerns are about the end product whereas we’re concentrating on ensuring that the eggs don’t stick to the pan…
The pan: another area of dispute. Stainless steel pans will facilitate quick cooking whereas heavy cast iron pans take longer to achieve the desired result. Again, there is an element of individual taste involved here but there are implications for ensuring the eggs don’t stick to the pan. A stainless steel pan is quick to diffuse heat and can burn within seconds if the heat is too high. Pay careful attention!
An old adage says that you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs and that’s indisputable, but you can ruin an omelet (or any eggs-based dish) if you skip a few crucial steps in the process. By following the advice above, you should be free of any concerns about the eggs sticking to the pan. Cooked eggs in whatever form (omelet, fried, scrambled, etc.) make a simple yet tasty – and nutritious – dish and it’s important that they’re allowed to impart their delights without causing a sticky mess and extra post-meal cleaning. Enjoy!