From scrambled and poached to shirred and coddled, there are dozens of ways to cook an egg, and I’ve written about almost all of them. (I work for a breakfast site, after all.) But the more time I spend thinking about eggs, the more I understand understand that we’ve been talking about eggs all wrong for what seems to be decades, if not centuries. Eggs, though versatile and delicious, are not entrées. Eggs are not the main event or the star of the meal, and really, eggs are not a meal in and of themselves. Eggs are condiments. Let me explain.
Eggs are best enjoyed when they’re paired with something. That “something” can be anything—savory or sweet, breakfast or dinner, side dish or entrée—but no matter what it is that you’re eating, there’s a good chance that if you put an egg on it, it’ll taste better, and that, at its most basic, is what a condiment is meant to be. After all, condiments are, by definition, not stand alone items, but “something used to give special flavor to food.” They’re sauces, spices, spreads, even salsas—something that enhances the food you’re already eating but couldn’t stand on its own. I happily put ketchup on all of my burgers, for example, but I’d never eat a spoonful of ketchup and call it “brunch.”
The same concept applies to an egg. If someone handed me a plate with a poached egg on it, I’d be wondering where the other stuff went. There needs to be toast, a salad, something else to tie the plate together, even if it was the most perfectly poached egg cooked by Julia Child herself. It wouldn’t be enough food, and it would feel like something was missing. But plop a poached egg on a burger, or on an English muffin with a slice of Canadian bacon, and suddenly, you’ve got something decadent. It’s a meal. The yolk sops through, onto the bun or into the nooks and crannies of the toasted muffin, and the your mouth is coated with a creaminess that’s like butter but better. At its best, the egg enhances the flavor of the dish that’s already in front of you—but you could eat the same dish and feel just as full, albeit likely less satisfied.
It’s the difference between a croque monsieur sandwich, which is great, and a croque madame, which is exactly the same sandwich as a croque monsieur except with a fried egg on top that makes it multitudes more desirable. And why would you ever order a croque monsieur when you could get a croque madame?
To me, is the best evidence that eggs are condiments is the simple fact that I’ve never received an egg dish without something else on the side. Whether it’s a diner or a five-star restaurant, eggs come with a side of toast, a side salad, something that ties the whole dish together. Runny yolks are crying to be sopped up by a slice of toast, after all. Even scrambled eggs or omelets, which have more heft and volume than a poached or fried egg and none of the soft yolkiness, are best enjoyed with an accompanying vessel for shoveling. A proper French-style omelet needs a green salad. A plate of scrambled eggs needs a slice of toast to really make it edible.
The hard-boiled egg seems to run in the face of this theory, but I promise you that it’s still a condiment. Most of the time, when I eat hard-boiled eggs, it is because it has been chopped into bits and thrown into a potato salad, along with relish and mayonnaise, which are both undisputedly condiments. Ipso facto, the hard-boiled egg is a condiment. And have you ever eaten a hard-boiled egg by itself? It’s fine as a snack, something to grab at the airport, but it’s not a meal. You’d never eat a hard-boiled egg and say, “Well, that’s breakfast!” In that way, hard-boiled eggs are like pickles. Pickles are condiments, and you could eat a single spear of a dill pickle as a snack, but it’s not satisfying on its own. It longs for something else.
The fact that you can put condiments, like ketchup or hot sauce, on your eggs doesn’t disqualify eggs as a condiment, either. Putting condiments on your condiment doesn’t make either condiment any less of a condiment. Mixing ketchup and mayonnaise, for example, makes both condiments more delicious. You can put both maple syrup and butter on your pancakes, no problem. The same should go for Sriracha and eggs (or any hot sauce and eggs, really). Both are valid condiments, no matter what other condiments you add.
Calling an egg a condiment isn’t meant to be a downgrade, and it’s certainly not an insult. If anything, it gives a new life to eggs. Eggs belong on every breakfast dish, from avocado toast and bagels with cream cheese to toasted muffins and waffles, and once you start thinking of eggs as condiments, not main dishes, you start to feel the culinary freedom to start plopping fried or soft-boiled or even poached eggs on everything you eat. And that’s exactly as it should be.
So stop trying to tell yourself that you can eat an omelet without the toast or a hard-boiled egg without the potato salad. If there are eggs on the menu at a restaurant, you should feel free to ask for an extra egg on your food, as you would as a waiter for extra ketchup or a bottle of hot sauce. Let eggs live their truth as condiments, and let us all put eggs on all of our brunch dishes without shame—because everything tastes better when you put an egg on it.