Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cooking the perfect (looking) egg

Sometimes you get asked to food style a small commercial.  Sometimes, for said commercial, you have to make lots of eggs that will look perfect, and will also perfectly slide out of a pan.  In addition to those perfect looking eggs, you have to make perfect omelets, steaks, hamburgers, cakes, stir fry, roast chicken, pot roast, pancakes, breakfast meats, and more.

I won't bore you with all of the details of the surreal experience that my assistant and I had styling this shoot.  We absolutely learned a lot about making both good-looking and bad-looking food.  I also believe that the producers are kind, hard-working, well-meaning folks.

That said, I knew the day would be wacky from the get-go.  First, I stepped in dog poo while loading up my car with equipment (please, for the love of everyone, clean up after your dog).  Then, I got a deep paper cut on my finger.  I had a weird feeling in my stomach about the rest of the day. The shoot itself took place in a home in North Hollywood, in a small kitchen, we had over 50 set-ups, and the crew meal was from Subway.  If you work in the entertainment industry, this description of the day is all you really need to know.  For those of you not in this crazy business, I'll just add that over the course of our day, the director and director of photography never referred to us by our names.  As my assistant said, "All they had to do is learn one of our names and we both would have responded. Just say "Sonya, can you (blank)? And we both would have done it." Instead, for 10 hours we were referred to directly and indirectly as "girls."  Hey girls, we need the omelets. Girls, where is the chicken? Girls can you stop moving while we're trying to shoot this, but can you also keep moving so we have something to shoot immediately after this? It was a challenging shoot for everyone.

Moving on... the point of this post is about how to make beautiful looking eggs.  Making pretty eggs should not be confused with making delicious eggs.

If you're a nerd about food, or have a hobbyist's interest in food styling, then you should immediately go get this book by Delores Custer.  Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera has taught me an invaluable amount of tips and tricks that might have otherwise taken me years of trial and error to discover on my own.  Want to know what pancake batter makes the best looking pancakes? Delores will tell you (it's Aunt Jemima's Complete Buttermilk Blend).  Want to know how to give that omelet structure and lift? Delores knows (you can do it by using a hard taco shell inside, or by using a folded up damp paper towel).

Eggs are tricky suckers.  Many a culinary professional has claimed that a chef can be judged by how well they can cook an egg.  So how do you get that commercial quality look out of your sunny-side up egg?

How to Make a "Perfect Looking" Sunny-Side Up Egg:
1) Use refrigerated eggs
2) Fill a nonstick pan with enough vegetable oil to cover the white of the egg (about a 1/4-inch deep)
3) Heat the oil slowly on low until it the oil reaches 160°F. Oil that is too hot will cause the egg white to bubble. If the oil is too cold the egg will take a very long time to cook.
4) Break the egg into the pan.  You can position the yolk into the center of the white by nudging it with the shell of the egg (P.S. using the shell is a great way to get broken shell out of an egg once you've cracked it... much easier than by using a spoon or fork).
5) Using a spoon, baste the white of the egg with the oil form the pan.
6) Once all of the white is firm, remove the egg from the pan and transfer it to a sheet pan that is lined with plastic.  Or if you don't want the egg to move around, blot the bottom of the egg with paper towel before transferring it onto a plate.

I'm not sure how valuable this information is outside of learning to make food for the camera, but who knows? Maybe you can make perfect looking eggs as a decorative centerpiece for a brunch party?! These eggs can sit out and look the same all day long. Maybe this is a cool party trick that you can use to impress your friends?  Maybe this is extra information that you'd rather soon forget?

Just remember: this is one instance where you shouldn't eat with your eyes. This egg is just for looks.

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