Wondering how to perk up a meal? Put an egg on it

04/15/2014 12:00 AM

04/14/2014 1:18 PM

It’s that time of the year when we think about eggs. Mostly though, as Easter approaches, we consider them in Technicolor and placed lovingly in a child’s basket. Some are even plastic with centers of chocolates or jelly beans instead of daffodil-yellow yolks.

But Easter is still a few days away, and today I am celebrating how a fried egg can elevate the most mundane tangle of flavors. Leftover fried rice? Bam. A fried egg on top turns it into Dinner, Night 2. Sick of Caesar salad adorned with chicken or salmon? Slide a fried egg on that ice-cold, dressed Romaine and let the runny yolk make the dressing even creamier. Looking for a new way to garnish a cheeseburger? Let a sunny-side-up egg do the talking (but not to your doctor).

Eggs are a hot topic this year, perhaps because of the city chickens phenomenon. There are at least seven cookbooks out this year celebrating the egg; among them are three published last month: Eggs on Top by Andrea Slonecker (Chronicle Books), The Farmstead Egg Guide & Cookbook by Terry Golson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and The Egg Cookbook: The Creative Farm-to-Table Guide to Cooking Fresh Eggs by Healdsburg Press.

Adding a fried (or poached or baked) egg to a sandwich or salad is not a new trick. The French bring the technique to an art form with the Croque Madame sandwich and Salad Lyonnaise. The former is the femininely named version of the Croque Monsieur, basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a lush bechamel sauce. Add a fried egg to the top and you’ve got the Madame. For the Salad Lyonnaise, a web of spidery frisee is dressed with a red wine vinaigrette, studded with crispy bits of slab bacon and topped with a poached egg. Simple, elegant, delicious.

The Korean rice dish bibimbap typically has a cooked egg on top, and, honestly, what hash is worth its weight in calories without that yellow yolk winking up at you?

I think it best to keep the yolks soft and let the flavor run through the dish. If the yolk is hard-cooked, that changes the dynamic. You can fry them any way you like, using olive oil to baste them, executing a classic sunny-side-up egg or even finishing them in the oven. The experts advise against seasoning until they are done or you risk pock-marking the whites with the salt. I don’t mind that look at all. I call it rustic, but to each her own when it comes to frying eggs.

Here are five dishes you might not have thought to put an egg — fried, baked or poached — on:

Cheesy Grits: For breakfast, lunch or dinner, a bowl of cheese grits becomes even more deluxe with the addition of a fried egg. I stir in sliced scallions before the egg topper and then dot with Sriracha sauce. (You could do the same thing with creamy polenta or any type of risotto.)

Baked Avocado: Split an unpeeled avocado and discard the pit. Crack an egg into each well and bake the pieces on a sheet for about 15 minutes in a 400-degree oven or until egg whites have set. Sprinkle with feta cheese and some chopped fresh parsley. Serve with toast.

Roasted Asparagus: Consider this for Easter morning brunch. Add a poached or fried egg to a raft of roasted, seasoned asparagus and then top that with chunky shavings of Parmesan.

Lentils and Greens: In a large skillet, saute 1 diced onion and a couple of small diced carrots in olive oil. When carrots get soft, add 2 to 3 cloves of minced garlic. Stir in several cups of cooked lentils and heat through. In another skillet, wilt greens (spinach or arugula) in a bit of olive oil (or broth). Mix greens with lentils and then add a fried egg to the top of each serving. (Use the spinach skillet to fry the eggs.)

Twice-Baked Potatoes: When the potatoes go into the oven for their second baking, make a well and crack an egg in the depression. Sprinkle with chopped chives. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, or until egg whites are set

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