Toxicologists will tell you that everything is poisonous, at a high enough dose. Oxygen is one of the most corrosive substances on the planet, yet we can’t survive without it. People have become very ill, even died, from drinking too much water too quickly. Large amounts of salt will raise your blood pressure: eat nothing but bananas and celery (healthy foods, right?) and your BP will drop to dangerous levels, causing you to faint, or worse.
Manufactured low-fat foods are full of sugar, salt and additives to make it taste of something, low-sugar foods are full of trans-fats and salt, and low-salt foods are full of just about any kind of junk they can put in it. Health foods make you sick.
Despite all the dietary advice we have been getting, and the products we have been sold, the average American and Northern European is 20 pounds heavier than we were a couple of decades ago. We may appear to live longer lives than our ancestors, but much of this is made up of the reduction in infant mortality, raising the average age considerably, and to the advances in medication and surgical procedures to mitigate the effects of the Modern Western Diet – and so one arm of the giant multinational is selling you health foods that not only don’t work, but make you sick, while their other, pharmaceutical arm is selling you the drugs to relieve the very symptoms they create.
Friedrich Nietzsche famously said “What does not kill me, makes me stronger”, although he was actually nicking an old Latin proverb in the process. If he’d been commenting on the Modern Western Diet With Added “Health” Food he’d probably have said something like “What does not kill me, makes me fat, sclerotic, hypertensive, diabetic, cancer-prone… And, actually, will probably kill me.”
I’d better stop before I raise my own blood pressure to dangerous levels by continuing with this. I strongly urge you to read “Food Rules” by Michael Pollan, who sums the whole nonsense up in one pithy, concise and frequently funny little book: reading this will change the way you eat, in a good way. No more guilt for eating cheese, or steak, and lots of pleasure in eating a cabbage because you like cabbage, not because it’s “good” for you. And no more edible foodlike substances, as he calls them. I’ve posted the Amazon links below.
So, that’s the rant part: what’s the mission statement? Well, just this. If it’s actually OK to eat any “real” food as part of a good, varied diet and lifestyle, then let’s damn well enjoy it when we do. Eat an ice-cream that’s made with real cream and sugar rather than something hideous made from chemicals in a vat that is supposedly Lo-Something. Eat a nice piece of crusty bread and slather it with real butter. And, while we’re at it, let’s have a big chunk of real cheese alongside. Have a lovely slice of slow-roasted pork belly, and revel in the crunchy crackling and melt-in-the-mouth fat. But make the bulk of what you eat fruit, vegetables and generally unprocessed foods. You’ll be healthier and happier for it, you’ll probably live longer (for a start, you won’t be stressing about each mouthful in a paranoid “what is this doing to my heart/waistline/cellulite” kind of way) and most of all, you’ll enjoy your food.
(We’re heading towards the recipe now, by the way. Nearly there. I don’t know, you’re thinking, all this for a fried egg?)
You are going to buy good eggs, of course. At least free-range, if not organic. Yes, I know they cost more, but come on. Why pay half-price for something that tastes bad? Is that really a bargain? Half a dozen of the finest free-range eggs hardly requires a bank loan. If you’re broke, as I have been many times, and probably will be again, eat less eggs, rather than the same amount of nasty ones. There is plenty of good food out there that won’t break the bank; I wrote about this in two of my earliest posts on this blog: “The Cheese Sandwich Concept” and “Mugged By Chicken.”
(Warning: this paragraph contains a somewhat unpleasant image, and a mildly rude word or two. If you’re easily offended, skip it.) Cheap eggs are produced from battery chickens, each confined for the whole of her short miserable life in a cage about the size of a toaster. Water, and the lowest grade of feed (often fishmeal and ground animal proteins) goes in the front, and turds and eggs come out the back. Is it any wonder that these eggs taste like shit?
So, you’re going to buy good eggs, right?
A traditional French method of frying eggs is to gently poach them in about 2oz/55grams of butter. Now, despite what I have said above, this is somewhat extravagant, even for me. I’m not worried about the cholesterol, and I’m sure they will taste delicious, but as I’m not going to eat fried eggs every day, or even every week, all that butter is going to get thrown out, as it’s going to be a bit eggy to use elsewhere. However, there are some important lessons in the French method. Gently; take it easy, we’re not in a hurry here. Poach, to use plenty of fat, not a thin smear in the pan – we’re not scared of fat anymore, are we? And to use butter, for the flavour.
So, what I do is to use a mixture of oil (usually a bland, flavourless oil) and butter. How much fat in total? Well, when the butter has melted and the eggs broken in, there should be enough fat when you tilt the pan to easily scoop up a spoonful for basting.
Do use a good, medium-heavy non-stick pan. Thin pans are useless; they buckle, dent and don’t conduct the heat efficiently or evenly.
How to Fry an Egg
As many very good, very fresh eggs as you need, but I would suggest not cooking more than two at a time.
Oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan to a “spoonable” depth
A good knob of butter, perhaps the amount you would spread on a slice or two of toast
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Add the oil and butter to your pan. If you like crispy-bottomed eggs, use a fiercer temperature, otherwise put on a low heat until the butter has melted and started to froth. Don’t let it brown or burn; swirl the pan to amalgamate, then crack in one or two eggs. The eggs should start to set immediately, but will proceed relatively slowly, unless you are going for the crispy lace-doyley effect. Cooking slowly gives you total control to produce your perfect fried egg, but even so the whole job is unlikely to take more than three or four minutes. If you like your eggs well done or over-easy, turn them once the base has set enough to get your egg-flipper under. For sunnyside, just let them gently cook through. I usually use a soup spoon to baste the top of the egg with hot oil/butter – avoid the yolk if you don’t want it to develop that translucent veil or “bloom”, which personally doesn’t bother me at all.
Serve with your accompaniment of choice: simple bread and butter (NOT margarine), bacon, a Full English Breakfast, toast, fried bread, to top an Indonesian-style rice dish such as Nasi Goreng…