At one end of the fried-egg spectrum you have sunny-side up, cooked so hot and fast in oil that the bottom gets crisp and the white bubbles up furiously. At the other end is the butter-basted fried egg. This method demands lazy tenderness and returns the favor. The name tells you everything, doesn’t it? The pan can’t be too hot or you’ll burn the butter. You can’t move too quickly or you risk breaking the yolk. The just-right territory is medium heat, a nonstick pan, a wide spoon for basting, and a gentle hand.
You don’t make butter-based eggs for a brunch crowd: This is the kind of breakfast you treat yourself to on a lazy Sunday, alone in the house, floating between the newspaper and the coffee pot, still in your jammies. Or the kind you make with extra tenderness for someone else.
To do it, sizzle a generous curl of butter — about a tablespoon per egg — in the pan until it goes foamy, then crack in the eggs. The whites will quickly start to set, and when they do, tilt the pan just far enough so that butter puddles at the edge. Use your spoon to dribble butter over the eggs continuously, until the whites are just set. By this time, the butter will have browned and started to give off that toasty, nutty smell, also known as the best smell in the world.
Toast is never really optional when eggs are on the menu, but these eggs, in all their buttery goodness, absolutely demand it. You can toast an English muffin (or what-have-you) right in the still-buttery skillet. Of course, you don’t need toast. You could serve them over a bowl of grits for instance, or over thick yogurt or wilted greens, where the yolk and the brown butter can pool together. (On second thought, you definitely need bread for swiping through the yogurt or scooping up the greens.)
Butter-basted eggs is not just a recipe, either. It’s a loose format perfect for riffing on: The relatively slow heat lets you flavor the butter with whatever strikes your mood: Add a couple of smashed capers (or anchovies!) to the butter and finish with a squeeze of lemon, if you like. Thinly sliced garlic is another nice addition. So are pinches of mustard and cumin seeds, or smoked paprika, or chile flakes.
- 2 tablespoons
Freshly ground black pepper and/or red pepper flakes
Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a medium nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. When it foams, add 2 eggs. As the eggs cook, carefully tilt the pan toward you so that the butter puddles towards the edge, then use a spoon to baste the hot butter over the egg whites (avoid the egg yolks unless you like a firmer, more set egg—in which case, spoon butter over the yolk too). Baste until no jiggly white remains, 2 to 3 minutes.
Use a spatula to transfer the eggs to a plate, leaving the butter behind. Season the eggs with pinches of salt, pepper, and/or red pepper flakes. Place the pan back on the stove over medium heat and continue to cook the butter until it becomes deeply golden and nutty-smelling, about 2 minutes more. Pour the browned butter over the eggs.
If desired, toast sliced bread or halved English muffins in the still-buttery pan until golden and crisp-edged, then serve alongside the eggs.
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