If you know your diner lingo, you’ll know that there is a lot of variations on fried egg lingo as well as several types of fried eggs. It seems that some people are having trouble ordering their eggs!
If you need a quick cheat-sheet to order eggs now, skip to the bottom of the article.
You know, when I was growing up, my grandmother owned a diner, and she had a certain egg lingo that had been handed down to her, which I used freely, but would be nonsense to people from other regions. For example, I ate my fried eggs “half done.” What’s half done? It means the same thing as over medium. But what is that? Well, it’s one of the four standard ways that you can order your eggs in most diners, and get what you want, despite the local lingo. It all depends on how you like your eggs.
We are assuming, of course, that you want to order your eggs fried. You know what scrambled means, and you know what an omelet is (regardless of what is in it). However, some people do go so far as to order their scrambled eggs “soft” which means that they want them to be cooked a little less so the curds are not hard and dry. A diner would not have time for this, but I give the secret to the ultimate creamy scrambled eggs here. It’s not what you think!
As for fried, to know how to order, you just need to know what kind of cooking the different terms for fried eggs mean. Afterward, I’ll provide a bit of a rundown on how to cook them for yourself, if you are interested.
The first order of business is to get sunny side up versus over easy confusion out of the way. A lot of people are under the impression that a sunny side up egg is an over medium egg or vice versa. Sunny Side up eggs are never flipped over. The sunny yolk is “up” and since it is not turned to make contact with the surface of the hot pan, no film forms over it, so it can shine forth in all its sunny glory. On the other hand, the “over” part of over easy means that the egg is flipped over. Same thing goes for over medium and over hard.
With that out of the way, the way you order your eggs depends on how much you want the white cooked and how much you want the yolk cooked. This distinction does cause some controversy over the precise difference between over-easy and over-medium! I’ll go over the preparations in order, and I’ll explain about the controversy along the way. What? You didn’t know fried eggs were such a contentious subject? You bet your undercooked whites they are.
Sunny Side Up Eggs
In a sunny side up egg, the white of the egg is fully cooked, but not browned, and the yolk is warm and has begun to cook, but is still nice, runny, and smooth. It is difficult to get a sunny side up egg absolutely perfect, but in a perfect one there would be no runny white and no solidified yolk. Most of the time, when you order these in a diner, since they are cooked in a hurry, a little bit of the underside of the yolk will have started to solidify (although not always). I don’t mind this too much, personally. But the other, more typical problem is that the yolk will have begun to solidify underneath, but the white will still be partially unset up top. No go for me! I avoid ordering sunny side up eggs in a diner. There is really no reason to order them except for aesthetics unless you are of the runny white camp (explained next). Also, sunny side up eggs may tend to come with the yolks rubbery and over-cooked. Yes, you can cook an egg white too much! Egg whites should be just set, with no runniness, but not hard and rubbery.
Some folks, especially those in Pennsylvania, call sunny side up eggs, and over easy eggs, below, “dippy eggs,” referring to how easy it is to dip your bread into the runny yolk. As far as I know, this is of Pennsylvania Dutch, or Amish origin.
In eggs over easy, which are sometimes called over lightly (or over light) the white is allowed to set on one side and just barely set on the other. The runny white camp are those who think that an over easy egg should have its white partially unset. This means, that, too them, an over easy egg is fundamentally different, in terms of doneness, from a sunny side up egg. These people, then, should they want a perfectly runny yolk with perfectly set whites, would order sunny side up eggs; and if they wanted a runny yolk with a little runny white, they’d order over easy.
Personally, I think that there is no place for runny whites in a fried egg and an over easy egg is an egg that has been cooked until the white sets on one side and the yolk has become warm and begun to cook (there is a difference between a raw yolk and a runny cooked yolk), and then it is flipped just long enough to set the white but keep the yolk runny, about 30 seconds. So, essentially, the degree of doneness of a sunny side up egg and an over easy egg is the same, they just look different because the yolk is starting to film over and it doesn’t look so pretty any more.
So, to sum up so far: Sunny side up means set white with runny yolk, not turned over. Over easy means set white with runny yolk, turned over.
Over Medium (Most Popular)
Over medium eggs are cooked on one side until the white sets then turned over and allowed to cook longer than an over easy egg, until the yolk begins to solidify a little bit. This means it should still have some runny yolk, and most folks prefer a lot of it, but its okay for part of the yolk to have gone a little solid.
In diners, over medium is probably the most popular way to order fried eggs. In reality, if you order over medium in crowded diners you end up getting something more like an over easy, but perhaps a little more brown. So if you want sometime that sounds like the over easy I described, but you are unsure about the restaurant, you may want to order over-medium. The yolk may be a little more solid than you wanted, but some runny yolk is probably better than a lot of runny white. Over medium eggs are cooked until the white is set on one side and then flipped and cooked for about 1 minute more.
Over hard, which is sometime called over well, is a fried egg turned over and cooked until the yolk is solid. It is likely that the whites will have taken on some brown crispiness, especially along the edges. Since you can cook an over hard egg on higher heat than a sunny side up egg, it is possible to achieve this white browning effect without the white being too rubbery. The same thing goes, to some extent, for over medium. Some people go berserk over egg whites that are brown and which have started to crisp, but others, like me, like the texture. Over hard eggs are cooked until set on one side and then flipped and cooked until both the whites and yolk are fully set and hard.
Over hard eggs are a way of eating fried eggs that is beyond me. I cannot forgo a runny yolk in my fried eggs because there is nothing like sopping up the yolk with your toast.
Speaking of sopping up the yolk, I said that there was no reason to have a sunny side up egg other than esthetics, but one thing a lot of sunny side up people enjoy is going right for that yolk with their toast. You can do that with an over easy or over medium egg too, to some extent, but you have to get past the film which has started to form over the yolks.
And there you have it, your fried egg manifesto according to me. This might be more than you ever wanted to know about fried eggs, or would ever care about. But, you may want to know the basic cooking techniques. We’ll start with sunny side up, but first, some general egg frying tips.
Egg Frying Tips
Use fresh eggs.
The best eggs for frying are the freshest eggs. Fresh eggs have yolks that will hold their shape and not run out all over the pan. When you place an egg in a pan, an the egg white tends to hold itself together in a compact little package, this indicates the eggs is fresh. In fact, you can judge how old eggs are getting by how much the white runs amok. The older the egg; the more watery the yolk. If you have farm fresh chicken eggs just out of the nest, these will make the best fried eggs you’ve ever had. Since you probably don’t, use the freshest eggs you have on hand (check the sell by date).
Use warm, room temperature eggs, not cold eggs.
You would never see a professional short order cook use an egg out of the refrigerator (I used to be one). A colder egg is much hard to fry up properly. The egg is cold, after all!
Use Clarified Butter, If You Can.
The absolute best oil to fry an egg in is clarified butter. I keep a jar of Organic Valley Clarified Butter on hand for this purpose. Without the solids in the butter, you don’t have to worry about it burning or discoloring the eggs. It still has that buttery taste, and, to me, it even seems like it makes the eggs less likely to stick. Otherwise, choose a vegetable oil, or dripping, such as bacon dripping, if you’re in a pork fat kind of mood. For sunny side up, a good method is the start with a little oil, and as the egg begins to set, put in some butter, which will froth up. You can then slide the egg around to allow the hot oil and frothy butter to slide over the white of the egg, which will help it set faster. However, this is not strictly necessary, and may not result in picture-perfect eggs.
I know I kind of dismissed sunny side up but I actually cook a lot of them, because my son loves them. I’m not a fancy-pants chef, but I am pretty good at sunny side up, although nobody ever ordered them during my hash slinging days. Still, I do occasionally rubberize the whites. I could give cooking instructions but you can find those all over the web. However, to learn how to perfectly fry an egg, whether sunny side up, over easy, over medium, or over hard, look no further than the egg frying video from Rouxbe Online Cooking School. Rouxbe produces some of the finest instructional cooking videos you will ever see. The narration is clear and concise, and the camera work captures the steps perfectly, without a lot of extraneous visuals or chat. You’ll have to click the link above to watch it on YouTube, since they don’t allow embedding of videos. They give the same tips I gave above but I swear I wrote all that before I watched the video!
When you flip your eggs, you can use a spatula. If you are using nonstick pan, which you probably should be, use a plastic or rubberized spatula. Flipping an egg without a spatula takes a lot of practice. Don’t try it unless you’re willing to lose some eggs and clean up some mess! There are a many brands of cookware, but one of the best for eggs, at a very nice price, is the T-Fal One Egg Wonder Fry Pan, or consider one of their larger nonstick pans.
Egg Ordering Quick Summary
- Sunny Side Up: Whites are fully cooked but not brown, yolk is warm but runny and smooth. Egg is not flipped.
- Over Easy: White is set on one side and barely set on the other so whites are slightly runny. Yolk is warm and runny. If you want firm whites but a completely runny yolk order sunny side up.
- Over Medium: The most popular cook. Whites are completely set and the yolk is still runny but has just begun to partly solidify, if solid at all.
- Over Hard: Both whites and yolk are completely solid. Whites will probably be slightly crisped and brown.
Eggs and pancake breakfast image © MSPhotographic
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