A Perfect Egg Sandwich

DSCN4304One of the best bits of Christmas (or the holidays, as your preference may be), is having family and friends around in leisure.  I mean, nothing is open on Christmas Day, and the morning after Christmas is usually characterized by laziness and sleeping in.  We don’t do breakfast often in Lolita’s house, but when we do there is nothing like a perfect egg sandwich to make the day break better than most.  I owe this recipe to one of my oldest friends, T.C., with whom I’ve lost contact since Bloomingdale Senior High, despite our mutual sentencing to a 3-day suspension for a slam-book in 9th grade.  Before that inauspicious day, I spent the night at T’s house, and she prepared for me an egg sandwich the likes of which I strive to emulate each time I slap skillet to flame (or eye, as the case may be).  I remember her showing me how to brown the butter; how the fry the egg just so’s the edges brown before flipping; how to let the cheese melt until it bubbled into greasy crisps at the egg’s outer rim.  I think of that morning as my first cooking lesson; and although I’ve tweaked the recipe somewhat in the last 30 years, here I pass the basics on to you.

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A Perfect Egg Sandwich

1 egg
2 slices white/wheat sandwich bread
1 tbs  butter
3 oz cheddar cheese
2 tbs mayo
sea salt, cracked black pepper

DSCN4294Using a cheese shaver or mandoline, slice the cheddar cheese into wafer/paper thin slices.

DSCN4295Melt your tablespoon of butter over high heat inside an egg ring until foaming, about 2 minutes.

DSCN4296Crack your egg into the ring; fry for 2 minutes, or until the white just barely sets, and the edges start to brown and bubble.

DSCN4297Season with salt and pepper; remove the egg ring.

DSCN4298Using a spatula, or a flick of the wrist, flip the egg.

DSCN4299Layer the thin slices of cheese immediately over the egg; lower the heat to medium low and cook until the edges of cheese are just melted.  (It will continue to melt when layered onto the bread.)

DSCN4300Toast the bread in the oven or toaster until lightly browned.  Slather both slices with mayo; sprinkle with salt and pepper; transfer the egg/cheese patty to the toast.  Slice from corner to corner.

DSCN4302Crispy crunchy toast, gooey cheese, runny yolks, innocent whites, and tangy dressing: the ideal blend of flavors for the perfect breakfast sandwich.  4 basic ingredients, plus a little salt and pepper — heaven’s golden white morning lovefest.  Thanks, T.C., for the lifelong inspiration.  Lolita owes you.

Breakfast for Dinner: Prosciutto and Green Onion Omelets with All-American Grits

There is this awesome moment in one of my favorite so-bad-it’s-good big-budget all-star-cast total-flop movies where LL Cool J waxes philosophic about the omelet.  (Here’s a clip.  In some language I really can’t identify.  So it’s surreal for me to watch this, knowing it word for word without *really* understanding what words he’s saying… yet it’s the only example of the scene I can find.) A cook, his perfect omelet recipe is the only legacy he can leave, recorded on a hand-held, leagues under the sea and being hunted by artificially intelligent vengeful super-sharks.  A classic story.

Omelets are, in so many ways, the perfect nutritional vehicle.  They shouldn’t take too long to make, or need too many ingredients to pull together.  They are simple and elegant.  But I can never find one I actually *like*.  Most I find at restaurants – from Waffle House’s to Henrietta’s Table’s, are too fluffy, too big, too browned, and with fillings not in my preferred proportions.  There was this one cook at Annenburg  who always made my omelets just the way I liked them: slender, lightly cooked, scattered with savory filling, and molten with just-enough cheese.  I miss that guy; my new job at Harvard no longer comes with Freshman Dining Hall privileges.  But I can do what he did — I just need a breakfast reason, since I generally don’t eat before noon.

This evening, on the way home, Clayton suggested “Breakfast for dinner!”, and although he had some specific menu dictations which I admittedly automatically tuned out, I did latch hold of the general theme – which I mulled over during my first apres-work beer, sorting through my mental recipe box, considering the contents on my pantry, contemplating the level of compromise husbandman  might be willing to entertain to risk reaping the fruits of my reward.  Eventually, I zoomed into some large eggs, American cheese, stone-ground grits, heady prosciutto di Parma, and fresh scallions lingering on the shelves.  I could work with that.

Prosciutto and Green Onion Omelets with All-American Grits

4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2-3 cleaned whole scallions – greens and whites
1/4 lb (6-8 slices) prosciutto di Parma
1/ 4 lb white American cheese
1/2 cup grits
1/2 stick butter
sea salt, cracked black pepper

I’m not a fan of pan-seared prosciutto; I like it tender and freshly sliced.  This comes from the super-nice Whole Foods in Dedham, and it is as good as it gets.  I roll it into a cigar, and roughly chop it.  I’ll add it to my sheath of eggs to be warmed with steam instead of searing it directly on the surface of the pan.

One of the tricks to making a good omelet is having all your ingredients chopped and ready to throw onto the egg, so that it can cook delicately and not risk burning while one futzes with chopping and whatnot.  I split my scallion whites (the solid roots) from the green (hollow tubes), then roughly chop them both.  The whites will be cooked within; the chopped greens scattered fresh atop.

White American cheese has become a guilty pleasure staple in the Fountainhouse.  It melts SO WELL, and adds the right creamy flavor to many preparations.  I admit, though, it was a stretch to use such a pedestrian cheese with such a fine Italian sliced meat – but I frankly had nothing else in the fridge so I figured I’d make it work.  As it turned out, its particular milkiness offered just the right lactic glue for the sweet cured meat and mild scallion snap.

I start my grits before I start my omelets.  They can hold.  1/2 cup grits to 2 cups salted boiling water, set to low,…

… thoroughly stirred, …

… covered, and cooked until all water has evaporated and the grits are thick.  About 10 minutes.

My perfect omelet is made with 2 eggs, not three.  No milk.  No additives to the eggs.  Only eggs – lightly whisked.

Oh.  And butter.  A really healthy pat of butter.  And a non-stick pan, set to medium high to start.  Melt the butter …

… and coat the bottom of the pan entirely with it.  A buttery base is *very* necessary for a Lolitomelet.

Spill your 2 beaten eggs into your hot butter, and swirl to spread across the entire surface of the pan.  Watch for the edges to turn opaque.

Using a plastic spatula, drag those white edges up in a few places, one at a time, flooding those areas with raw egg by tilting the pan, spreading the surface area but keeping the crepe thin.

Reduce the heat to low, allowing the thin omelet to gently cook, until the surface is just barely no longer runny.

Remove the pan from the heat, and sprinkle 1/2 of your chopped prosciutto, scallion whites, and 1/3 your shredded cheese in more-or-less of a line in the center (leaving a wide margin at the edges) of one half of the omelet.  You are aiming for a sealed half-moon huge egg ravioli.

Using that rubber spatula, slide the unladen half of omelet up the side edge of the pan opposite the handle to elevate that ‘flap'; fold it over the meatcheeseonion, lining up the edges to make a nice total package.  You should still be on low heat here — so let it simmer for a moment to melt and warm the filling.

If there was some way I could take my picture and flip my omelet at the same time to give you a real idea of how to do it, I would.  But Lolita’s is a budget-blog, people – and I only have two hands.  To describe: position your omelet with the straight edge perpendicular to the handle, and slide your eggpacket to the very edge of the pan.  Thrust the hand holding the pan firmly and confidently forward a few inches (as if you were stabbing something really stabbable) before quick-yanking-and-stopping back.  Try it; then tell me if it works.  Ideally, your omelet should flip  completely over.  It works for me 99% of the time.  The rest of the time: scrambled surprise!

Gently simmer on medium low until fully cooked and all the cheese is melted — about 3 more minutes.  Slide the omelet off the pan onto a plate, cover it, then do the whole thing again for the second omelet.  It will stay warm the 8 minutes the next plate needs to make.  Meanwhile, the grits should be perfectly thickened and cooked, so a pat of butter, some salt, pepper, and the remaining 1/3 American cheese stirred into the pan will finish the dish.

A delicate, wafer-thin, buttery omelet filled with savory salted Italian pork, creamy cheese, and sweet scallions, topped with thick, hearty, rich cheese grits and a smattering of fresh green onions.  So easy, and although not fancy, certainly not Denny’s, either.  And all pulled together from the pantry and tossed together in barely a half hour.  Clayton is thrilled (easy date), and I’m not unhappy either. After all, he got what he wanted, and I did it my way.  And that’s the equation for a happy marriage.  That, and “happy wife = happy life”.  I leave it to you to determine which holds sway as the ultimate rule…