Back in the days before brunch was a big deal, (Do you remember? I barely do.) we could all stroll into our diners and waffle houses, slide into booths and order our scrambles without much, if any, fanfare. Now it seems that even the quaintest of places have all-morning lines that stretch around the corner, and by the time you roll out at 3 p.m., you’re completely sozzled and you’ve spent $13 or more on eggs and potatoes. So we take the problem home: Brunch at our house. We invite our friends. We buy a big bottle of not-as-cheap-as-you’d-usually-buy-because-you’re-saving-so-much-by-brunching-at-home Champagne. And then we have to confront the problem of the short-order cook.
The weekend brunch egg station is known, in the restaurant world, as a certain kind of hell—and there, a kitchen will have a giant griddle and maybe even a second person helping. In your kitchen, you may have only one smallish frying pan and a pot. That is okay. That is all you need.
Lay down some ground rules: It’s okay to give everyone the same kind of egg. If you want to accommodate for different doneness levels of eggs, you are a more gracious host than I am.
Next up, decide on your types based on degree of ease (and what you want to serve alongside it). Here’s a preview of what each will look like.
Scrambled: These cannot sit (or else you risk rubbery eggs à la continental breakfast at the chain hotel). You will need a very large frying pan, and for everything else to be in place before you bring the just-finished eggs to the table.
Poached: These are actually easier, once you have your poaching game down. Do them in advance, store them in a bowl of water, and reheat in a simmering pot while you’re getting the last things on the table.
Soft-boiled: Same as poached. And you get to keep them in the shell, if that’s comforting to you.
Fried: Accept your fate, short order cook.
Baked: You’ll need a bunch of ramekins or other small, oven-safe vessels. Do you have those? You’re golden. (Good to know: Jars are not oven-safe.) You can assemble these the night before.
Coddled: You’ll need a bunch of small jars with lids, and a biggish pot. You can assemble these the night before.
OK, the table is set. You are having a small mimosa before your brunch guests arrive. You have at least two eggs per guest. Onward!
Pro tip: If you want to add anything to your eggs—cheese, herbs, vegetables, meats, etc.—make sure they are all prepped and ready near the stove before you even dare crack an egg. Crisp and crumble bacon, caramelize onions, mince herbs, grate cheese, wilt spinach. Keep them warmish or at room temperature. First of all, no one likes to hit a bite of cold something-or-other in the middle of their scrambled eggs. Secondly, eggs always cook faster than you think they’re going to. Be prepared.
About 15 minutes before sitting down at the table, grab your largest frying pan and warm it over low heat. I wouldn’t recommend more than a dozen eggs per frying pan—even a very large one. If you need to make more than 12 eggs, either have two frying pans going, or use a roasting pan—the one you use to make gravy on Thanksgiving—over two burners. Crack two eggs per guest into a large bowl, add a good pour of water or milk, a fat pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper, and whisk together. Add a big pat of butter or a dribble of olive oil to the pan, follow it with the eggs, and scramble veeeeeery slowly, stirring often with a wooden spoon or spatula. Take off the heat a few seconds before you think they’re done, since they’ll continue to cook from their own heat. Serve immediately.
The night before, fill a large dish (like a 9-x-13-inch pan) with cold water and set it next to the stove. Poach your eggs (I like this Julia Child-tested-and-approved method), which does them one at a time; the genius J. Kenji López-Alt over at Serious Eats does a couple at a time in a steamer basket. Either way, set your just-poached eggs in the dish of cold water and stash in the fridge. The next morning, drain the water from the dish, heat up fresh water to just below the boiling point, and pour carefully over the eggs, leaving them two or three minutes to warm up.
Soft-boil as many eggs as you like (I do this by putting eggs, straight from the fridge, in a pot of boiling water for exactly six minutes); you can do this a couple of days in advance. Two or three minutes before sitting down, warm them up in a pot of gently simmering water. Let everyone cut the tops off their own eggs.
Sorry about this one. You could try heating a very well-oiled baking sheet in a very hot oven for 15 minutes, cracking eggs onto it, and returning it to the oven until the whites are set—but it wouldn’t cook the eggs evenly, and a pan of hot oil is a perilous thing, and they would be baked and not fried. And at that point, it’s really just easier to fry them on the stovetop, per usual.
You’ll need a ramekin or other small, oven-safe dish per person. Butter or grease the insides, crack in two eggs, add anything else you might want (cheese? cooked vegetables?), and add a short pour of cream. Season generously with salt and pepper, then line up on a baking sheet and bake at 400°F for about 10 minutes; they may still look a little wobbly, but the residual heat will continue to cook them.
You might be wondering, Can’t I just crack a ton of eggs into a buttered cake pan or skillet (or something even larger) and get on with it? You could. But then you encounter two issues: one of divvying and serving, and one (more serious) of uneven cooking. I wouldn’t recommend it.
You might, however, consider making shakshuka, the wonderful Middle Eastern brunch of spiced tomato sauce with eggs poached right in it. Make a tomato sauce with lots of bell peppers and garlic, some chiles, pinches of cumin, and handfuls of cilantro. When it’s thick, crack eggs over the top of it, baste the whites just a little with hot tomato sauce, cover with the lid, and remove from the heat for about 10 minutes, allowing the eggs to cook.
The coziest egg method, no? Plan on a small, shortish jar (or coddler, if you have them) per guest. Butter or grease the inside, crack in up to two eggs, add anything else you might want, and splash in a bit of cream. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then screw on the lids and submerge completely, by about an inch, in a large, deep pan of simmering water. (They should be in a single, even layer—no stacking.) Cook for six to ten minutes, until your desired doneness. Carefully lift the jars out of the hot water, screw off the lids, and serve the eggs in their jars.