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Scrambled eggs - I think I've been here before

"everybody has his own method, which is invariably the right and proper one." Elizabeth David

I feel sure I've done all this before, and I should probably have just relegated this to a bits and pieces post, but in the end, even though many better people than I have tackled the subject, here I go again.

Why? Well that Julia Child book - My Life in France - which I am currently trying to sort of get rid of - had a rather nice passage in it about how she learnt to make scrambled eggs in Paris. When her husband Paul was posted to Paris, and she found herself with time on her hands, she decided to take cooking lessons with Chef Bugnard and some American GIs. Well that's how she refers to them. The Americans, remember were based in France for a long time after the war. When I was visiting Meung-sur-Loire in the 50s, you often saw them in the village, for there was an American base just outside Orléans. They were not loved, as they seemed not to make any attempt to learn any French, and had a slightly arrogant air. Why any of them should be attending cooking lessons is another question, to which I do not have an answer.

Anyway back to the lesson - here it is as written by Julia Child (and below is Julia with Chef Bugnard who became a good friend and advisor to her):

"Bugnard watched intently as I whipped some eggs and cream into a froth, got the frying pan very hot, and slipped in a pat of butter, which hissed and browned in the pan.

'Non' he said in horror, before I could pour the egg mixture into the pan. 'That is absolutely wrong!' ...

With a smile, Chef Bugnard cracked two eggs and added a dash of salt and pepper. 'Like this' he said, gently blending the yolks and whites together with a fork. 'Not too much.'

He smeared the bottom and sides of a frying pan with butter, then gently poured the eggs in. Keeping the heat low, he stared intently at the pan. Nothing happened. After a long three minutes, the eggs began to thicken into a custard. Stirring rapidly with the fork, sliding the pan on and off the burner, Bugnard gently pulled the egg curds together - 'Keep them a little bit loose; this is very important,' he instructed. 'Now the cream or butter,' he said looking at me with raised eyebrows. 'This will stop the cooking, you see?' I nodded, and he turned the scrambled eggs out onto a plate, sprinkled a bit of parsley around, and said, 'Voilà'" Julia Child

And indeed her recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking is exactly as described above - different words of course, and more detail about quantities and timings, but fundamentally the same.

I think it struck a nerve with me because, as Elizabeth David says, we all have our own ways - this is hers (as is the picture)

"melt a very large lump of butter in a thick non-sticking saucepan, add the well-seasoned and beaten eggs, and stir over a low flame until they start to thicken. At this stage, add another lump of butter, and take the saucepan from the fire as soon as the first characteristic granules begin to appear. Go on stirring, because the eggs will continue to cook simply with the heat from the saucepan. Scrambled eggs should be evenly creamy and granulated, not half liquid and half set. Of course, they must be served at once in a very hot dish." Elizabeth David

She also advises to remove one white for every four eggs you use, and beat the eggs very well - unlike as for an omelette. And of course the eggs have to be super eggs - very fresh, organic and all that. And I have to say that is probably correct. And these days we do indeed have access to organic free range eggs in our local supermarket, which has a rapid turnover, so they are probably pretty fresh too.

It's that final lump of butter that got to me - and the slow cooking. As the website The Food We Know says, it's probably one of the first things we learn to cook. And yes, like them, I used to make them on Sundays at university when the refectories were closed and we had to feed ourselves. So how did I make them? Well still do. Beat the eggs well with a very little milk - or water if there is no milk; put butter in a saucepan or small frypan over a highish heat; when it's melted add eggs and stir, until done.

So I now see I have made three basic mistakes. Adding milk or water to the eggs will make them watery - and in fact it does. Sometimes it sort of separates out. Mind you Bill Granger, whose scrambled eggs were once described by the New York Times as the best in the world - "as light as the breath of an angel" - adds quite a lot of cream to his - 300ml whipping cream to 8 eggs.! The technique is more like an omelette, in which you keep pulling in the outer edge to the centre until done. It looks a hole lot smoother and sloppier. Indeed Felicity Cloake doesn't really like them:

"they're heinously rich, without tasting of much but cream, and I find their famous lightness of texture more akin to an egg mousse than anything I'd trust myself with when I was feeling a bit delicate."

It should beow heat not high heat as I use. And I don't add that final bit of butter. I almost made myself some for lunch today following the above advice but we are having omelette for dinner tonight so I thought that would be too many eggs for one day. Next time I have them though I shall add that final butter and go a bit more slowly

My main mistake is the high heat though. Both Nigel Slater and Delia thought you should cook over a low heat. Well here Heston is the king - he cooks his in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Very slow - 20 minutes I think. And again, very smooth, which somehow doesn't look quite right to me. The picture is of Delia's

"To begin with, there's only one rule and that is not to have the heat too high; if you do, the eggs will become flaky and dry. The trick is to remove the pan from the heat while there's still some liquid egg left, then this will disappear into a creamy mass as you serve the eggs and take them to the table." Delia Smith

"At their best, scrambled eggs should form soft, creamy curds, barely set. This is quite easy to achieve if you cook them slowly over a low heat and ignore any interruptions. Friends and family must wait for the scrambled eggs, not, most emphatically not, the other way round." Nigel Slater

As to whether they should be served on a warm, cold or hot plate, they don't agree on that either. Nigel says:

"tip gently on to a warm, but not hot (which would allow the eggs to continue cooking) plate."

but Elizabeth David thought it should be a very hot plate. Go figure.

The thing is we all like them to taste differently probably. I remember my mother had to cook them differently for each of we three children. They do need to be freshly cooked though. Even the poshest of posh hotels cannot manage perfect scrambled eggs for a breakfast buffet. They sort of solidify, and in the worst case go sort of rubbery, which is not the right thing at all.

I will leave you with Jamie and his video on scrambled eggs three ways - English, French and American. I think I go for the American - on the right. He makes the point that the eggs need to be as good as you can get and at least barn laid. Good old Jamie, he is conscious that not everyone can afford eggs from individually named hens who wander at will on in a beautiful farmyard. I think I have posted this video before - but its good - he explains why about so much and doesn't just demonstrate. Five minutes of your time and then go and make some for lunch. And yes they must be served on toast. It's the only way. And don't add the salt and pepper until they are on your plate. Really I should have just said "watch this video and you will know how to make scrambled eggs to your taste."

"soft clouds of perfectly scrambled eggs are one of life's special joys." Delia Smith

(I didn't look at Gordon Ramsay who was often referred to - I think he is of the Heston variety of scrambled egg makers.) You can find his recipe here and he has a video too.

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