Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.
I’ve promised a number of times to revolutionize the way you make eggs—soft-scrambling in 15 seconds, spiking your frying oil with smoky spices, pouring beaten eggs into boiling water and ending up with a fluffy omelet and not egg confetti.
But for the first time, I’m here to tell you about an egg recipe that’s changed both the way I think about cooking eggs and just about everything else, too. It’s changing how I grocery shop and the pans I reach for; it’s opening up secret rooms in the dusty mansion of my brain to meals that are ethereally, almost unknowably delicious. All with one simple, genius little idea.
So I hope you’ll excuse me if I wax a little hyperbolic here.
I first stumbled on this technique on Ideas in Food, the pioneering experimental food blog from Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot (aka Aki and Alex), when I was there to look up … well, I’m actually not sure what. (I saw “Caramelized Cream Eggs” and immediately pulled over and forgot what I was doing.)
Because—instead of frying eggs in butter or oil or any other fat that we’re comfortable with—they were frying eggs in cream. And only cream.
“Cream is sort of like liquid butter,” Talbot later explained to me over the phone. More specifically, “Cream is fat, water, some solids—it’s just nicely homogenized. All we’re doing is destroying it.”
Over a little direct heat, cream will quickly separate into butterfat and buttermilk (an outcome we used to think of as a problem—breaking, curdling—but no more!). The buttermilk steams off to gently cook the eggs (or carrots, or potatoes, or insert-other-ingredient-here) while the butterfat bubbles in the pan, milk solids toasting and racing toward browned butter.
Aside from the Whoaaa, you can do that? factor, there are a number of benefits to cooking in cream over traditional sautéing or frying:
- For ingredients that we’re often told to blanch, then sauté in butter (like carrots, green beans, brussels sprouts); this lets you skip the pot of boiling water and ice bath and all that business. Two-stage cooking all in one pan, with one ingredient.
- There’s less spattering than when searing in straight butter or oil. “I hate mess!” Talbot told me.
- It’s a gentler introduction to cooking for the ingredients—the steam does most of the work for you, then conveniently disappears. Or, as Talbot said, it’s “like fat with training wheels.”
- Cream is as easy to keep in the fridge as butter, and even easier to dole out—you just pour a little straight from the carton. (I now keep cream in the fridge all the time, instead of just when I need it for a specific recipe.)
You’ll notice the recipe doesn’t list exact amounts for any ingredient, just suggestions. This is because the pan, the heat level, the type and thickness of the ingredient, and your own mood will all affect how much cream you’ll need.
But the technique is very flexible if you realize you’ve eyeballed wrong: If the pan is looking dry before everything’s cooked through, just add more cream, or even water or stock. If it’s looking too sloshy, pour off some cream or turn up the heat. And no matter what, it will be good. Because whatever you’re left with at the end of the process—cream, butter, brown butter—is all delicious. (Just don’t burn it.)
After you try the eggs, you’ll of course want to cook more things in cream, and flavor the cream. I’ve tried the carrots and—oh my word—the smashed potatoes from their blog, but also kale (stems first) and a few baby eggplants I didn’t know what else to do with. Soft-creamy and brown-buttery-crispy every time.
As we chatted, Talbot rattled off still more ideas for ingredients to cream-caramelize than I could write down—everything from meats (a lot of them: pork chops seared in smoked paprika cream, burgers, sausages, hot dogs, ragus, dumpling fillings) to fish (with mustard, soy sauce, or miso) to fruits (apples with—“holy cow,” he said—star anise and cinnamon).
Talbot says he thinks of this as less of a recipe and more of a: “Hey, why don’t you start walking down this path? You may mess things up, but you may come across greatness.” I’ll add that, as long as you heed my note about burning, you really can’t mess it up too much.
So in your future, I see nothing but greatness.
Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what’s so smart about it) at [email protected].