It is powerfully good economic and culinary news: fried or poached eggs on top of all sorts of vegetables and entrees have been proclaimed "in" for 2009.
For several years, leading chefs here and there have been moving the affordable, comforting and homey egg onto their lunch and dinner menus - a tiny poached quail egg nestled in a fancy hash or on a pizza, for example - but now the technique is widespread enough to be called a bona fide trend.
At Osteria on North Broad Street, the popular Lombarda pizza is fashioned of cheeses, sausage and a poached egg.
Nicholas LoBianco of LoBianco New American Cuisine in Collingswood has morphed the traditional American breakfast of a poached egg on corned-beef hash into an elegant first course of duck confit served in a crock that has the diameter of its poached-egg hat.
And on the winter menu of James on 8th Street in Philadelphia's Bella Vista neighborhood, sole is wrapped in microscopically thin, sliced potatoes and finished with a slow-poached egg yolk. Like many chefs, James Burke poaches the egg rather than frying it, to achieve a more sophisticated look and a more tender bite. (He also eliminates the egg white in this presentation.)
"I love anything with a runny egg on it, and I've found that it strikes a chord with just about everybody. You break into the runny yolk and it automatically gives you a great rich sauce for whatever it is on top of," he says.
"Eggs add richness and decadence," says LoBianco, who adds he undoubtedly will add a different dish that incorporates a fried or poached egg when his menu changes with the seasons.
Unlike some culinary trends - I'm thinking truffles, foie gras, deep-frying, making your own sausage or bread, and sous vide - this is something that is easy and inexpensive enough to duplicate at home.
Put a fried egg on top of roasted or steamed asparagus and ratatouille. Float a poached egg in chicken broth or other soups, or bake a few nestled in spinach puree and serve with grilled or toasted bread.
It also indicates a loosening of national fear about the safety and nutrition of eggs - they no longer carry the stigma of raising cholesterol (studies have disproven that), and we know that continuously refrigerated raw eggs cooked to 140 degrees for 21/2 minutes will have thickened, not hard, yolks and be free of bacteria.
None of this is to imply that using eggs as scatter rugs is an innovation.
In German kitchens, laubskaus is a hamburger-sort of dish made of corned beef, herring, potatoes and onions and topped with a fried egg. "A la Holstein" means that a breaded chicken or veal cutlet has an egg on top. The traditional French salade Lyonnaise combines frisee, bacon, Dijon vinaigrette and a poached egg.
My family's favorite use of a fried-egg topping is in the form of Korean bibimbap, which is a staple and heavenly offering at many Korean restaurants.
Bibimbap is a comfort-food rice dish - perfect for winter - that features various vegetables, rice and sometimes beef topped with a fried egg. It often comes to the table in a clay pot. Before serving, you break the egg yolk and stir it into the rest of the dish, some of which is rice made crusty from contact with the intense heat of the clay pot, which is lightly coated with sesame oil.
Of course, serving a trendy dish is not chic unless it is done well.
Bibimbap and other dishes enhanced by an egg topper require paying attention to cooking eggs perfectly. A fried or poached egg with a hard yolk simply will not do.
In her book, The Good Egg (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), Marie Simmons offers these tips for frying an egg perfectly:
Choose a heavy pan, preferably nonstick and with sloping sides. For a single egg, use a six-inch pan; scale up the pan size to 10 inches if frying three to four.
Use only one teaspoon of butter or oil for each egg.
Heat the pan slowly over medium-low heat.
Break the eggs into a bowl, then slide them into the pan.
For sunny-side up, cook until the white begins to set, about one minute. You can cover the pan and cook over low heat for five minutes, or leave it uncovered and cook over medium and medium-low for four to five minutes.
Makes 2 to 3 servings
For the dressing:
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
11/2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 salt-packed anchovy filets, deboned, soaked in milk for 30 minutes, drained and patted dry
1 large egg yolk
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup canola oil
Freshly ground pepper
For the salad:
1/2 pound thickly sliced bacon
6 to 8 cups romaine lettuce, trimmed and torn into bite-size pieces
2 cups Italian or sourdough croutons, homemade or store-bought
2 to 3 eggs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or more to taste
1. To make the dressing, purée the garlic, shallots, vinegar, mustard, lemon juice and anchovies in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a mixer with the paddle attachment and beat in the egg yolk. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the oils. Season with white pepper. Cover and refrigerate. This can be stored 3 to 4 days and makes 2 cups.
2. Fry or microwave the bacon until well-cooked and crisp. When cool, crumble and set aside.
3. Divide the romaine among 2 or 3 individual, large salad bowls. Divide the bacon crumbles and croutons among the bowls. Dress the salad with just enough dressing to coat the greens.
4. Fry the eggs just until the whites are set, or to your liking. While the eggs are cooking, toss the salad with just enough dressing to coat the greens. Place an egg over each serving, and then sprinkle each with grated Parmesan cheese.
For a lower-calorie salad, reduce the amount of bacon and use the dressing sparingly.
Per serving (based on 3): 1,034 calories, 23 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 96 grams fat, 227 milligrams cholesterol, 1,055 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 4 servings
1 pound lean ground pork
4 teaspoons imported sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chicken broth or water
4 to 8 small new potatoes, not more than 2 inches in diameter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 to 8 eggs
1. In a bowl, mix the meat with the sweet and hot paprikas, salt, garlic and broth. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. Boil the potatoes, in their skins, in salted water until tender.
3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet; add the meat mixture and sauté, breaking up the meat as it cooks, until lightly browned.
4. Once the meat and potatoes are done, fry the eggs - to taste, or better still, in the Spanish method (see Note). Peel the potatoes. Divide the meat onto dinner plates and arrange the potatoes around the meat. Place the fried eggs over the meat and serve right away.
To fry eggs in the Spanish style, pour olive oil to a depth of quarter-inch in a 9-inch skillet. Heat to the smoking point. Break 1 egg into a cup, and then slide into the hot oil. You must work quickly, folding in the edges of the egg white with the aid of a wooden spoon. Then, with a large metal spoon, pour the hot oil over the egg so that it puffs up and becomes crisp around the edges. This must be done in a matter of seconds to keep the yolk runny.
Per serving: 480 calories, 28 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 33 grams fat, 293 milligrams cholesterol, 489 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 4 servings
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, halved and cut into thin slices (about 2 cups)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups small broccoli florets (optional)
4 large eggs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for serving
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red-pepper flakes, salt to taste, and add a grinding of pepper. Set aside.
2. Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. If using the broccoli, add it during the last 4 minutes of cooking.
3. Meanwhile, reheat the onions in the skillet over medium-low heat. Break the eggs on top of the onions, spacing them evenly, and cook until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Drain the spaghetti and broccoli, if using, and immediately return to the cooking pot. Add the egg-and-onion mixture and the cheese and stir thoroughly until the yolks coat the spaghetti and the whites break up into pieces. Serve at once, with additional cheese on the side.
Per serving (without broccoli):
272 calories, 11 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 22 grams fat, 220 milligrams cholesterol, 225 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.