In his iconic tome, Beard on Food, which was first published in 1974, our namesake wrote prolific prose on a vast landscape of culinary topics, from the pleasures of oxtails to a lesson in chicken anatomy to how to perfect scrambled eggs, which we share with you below. Humorous, erudite, and timeless, this collection of essays remains an indispensable resource for the home cook.
When people invite you in for a quick meal, or if something goes wrong in the kitchen, they are apt to say, “Oh well, I’ll just scramble some eggs,” as if “just scrambling some eggs” couldn’t be simpler. As a matter of fact, scrambling eggs is one of the more complex kitchen processes, and there are various schools of egg scrambling. There are those who believe eggs should be scrambled in a double-boiler over simmering water, those who believe they should be scrambled quickly, and those who believe that it takes slow and most accurate timing to make the curds tender, delicious, and of varied sizes. Every person regards his particular fashion of scrambling an egg as a mark of his culinary skill, and so it is. My good friend Julia Child once demonstrated her theory of scrambling eggs on television. She lifted the pan from the burner and then lowered it, to adjust the heat and the scrambling process, then as the final moment arrived, she accelerated her tempo to make the eggs come to just the right point. Hers is an extremely good method, providing you have the patience and dexterity.
Scrambled eggs can be so delicious, so creamy and rich and eggy, if I may use the word, that it is too bad we don’t use them more. They combine well with many things—chopped sautéed mushrooms, finely chopped ham, crisp bacon bits, little slices of sausage, freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyère cheese, chopped herbs, finely chopped peeled and seeded tomatoes—as well as being perfectly splendid on their own.
Depending upon the number of eggs to be scrambled, I like to use a small or large Teflon-coated pan. I have a cast-aluminum, Teflon-lined, 9-inch omelet pan with rounded sides that I use for up to 4 or 5 eggs and a 10-inch pan for larger quantities, which are much harder to make. I disagree completely with those who say you can scramble one egg well. It is an impossibility.
James Beard’s Scrambled Eggs
I think you should gauge at least 2 eggs per person. Add salt, freshly ground black pepper, and 1 or 2 dashes of Tabasco, and then beat lightly with a fork. For lighter scrambled eggs, I beat in 1 teaspoon of water for every two eggs. I don’t like cream or milk added to scrambled eggs, but if I want them extraordinarily rich, I mix in softened butter.
If I am adding ham or bacon, I would use 2 slices of Canadian bacon about 3 inches in diameter and 2 pieces of ham of the same size and 1/4 inch-thick, precook it lightly, cut into thin shreds, and toss into the pan with a tablespoon or two of butter. Let this warm over low heat, then add, for two servings, 4 beaten eggs and, as you do, increase the heat to medium-high. As soon as the coagulation starts, make pushing strokes with a rubber or wooden spatula so you get curled curds. I’m not quite as definite in my motions as Julia Child. I lift the pan off the burner from side to side with sort of a circular motion, while pushing with the spatula. As the heat in the cooking eggs increases, the curds form much faster with your pushing. That’s the ticklish point. You have to know the exact moment to cease applying any heat and rush your eggs from pan to plate, or they will be overcooked, hard, coarse-textured, and disagreeable.
If you are adding chopped herbs or mushrooms, lace them in as you scramble the eggs so they become a part of the amalgamation of the creamy curds. Of course, there is nothing wrong with adding chopped parsley or chives or other bits and pieces after you have transferred the eggs from the pan to a plate or platter.
If you have never tried the combination, cook scrambled eggs with sliced smoked fish for your next Sunday brunch or luncheon. A platter of smoked salmon, smoked eel, smoked sturgeon, or smoked whitefish, with lemon wedges, good rolls or bagels, and a huge pile of cream eggs—that’s good eating. If you like, you can scramble the eggs at the table in an electric skillet or chafing dish, guiding them to a perfect conclusion as you chat with your guests.
I have had, in my time, memorable meals of scrambled eggs with fresh truffles, scrambled eggs with caviar, and other glamorous things, but to me, there are few things as magnificent as scrambled eggs—pure and simple, perfectly cooked, and perfectly seasoned.