Béchamel. Velouté. Espagnole. Hollandaise. Sauce tomate.
These are the five French “mother sauces.” Béchamel boasts a luxurious, creamy texture, and creating it involves an attentive eye, a whisk, and a roux (a flour-butter mixture). Hollandaise can, thank goodness, be made in a blender, but it has a tendency to break.
You know what’s easier than any of these fancy concoctions? Frying an egg.
Whether you like yours sautéed in butter, olive oil, or nothing at all, the fried egg is perhaps the easiest way to add a kick of protein to any dish. (This is also true of its brethren, hard-boiled and soft-cooked eggs—heroes of lunchtime salads across this fine nation.) Plus, the fried egg can rescue leftover pasta like nothing you’ve ever seen.
To try it out, set a medium skillet over high heat. (Use a bit of butter or olive oil if desired.) Remove your leftover pasta from the fridge while the pan warms up; crack the egg into the pan when it’s very hot. Add one serving of pasta to the other half of the pan, spreading out the noodles so they heat through. Immediately turn the heat to low, and cover the skillet. Cook the egg till the white has set but the yolk is still molten.
Carefully remove the now-warmed pasta to a bowl, season it with salt, pepper, or red pepper flakes—whatever it needs—and season the egg with sea salt. Carefully remove the fried egg to the bowl. (Instagram. Obviously.)
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Did the yolk break as you set it in the bowl? No problem at all, because that’s what you’re going for anyways. You’re about to stab it with a fork, spin that luxe yolk through the noodles, and make an instant sauce out of that jammy golden goodness.
The best part of this trick? It can be used on almost anything. Consider leftover rice, which can be reheated and transformed, then topped with an egg for sauce. Steamed or sautéed kale or collards do well with this, too. And remember that eggs pack a good amount of protein; one or two of them added to leftover roast cauliflower or broccoli can constitute a meal.
Suspicious? Well, if you like carbonara, chances are you like this sort of thing already. Some restaurants will simply nestle a raw egg yolk right into the hot noodles for you to spin into them. And there are definitely shortcut recipes out there involving fried eggs in carbonara.
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Finally, it’s just a delightful hack to have on hand when you’re convinced your pantry and fridge are bare. As Tamar Adler writes in her book An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace, “an egg can turn anything into a meal, and is never so pleased as when it is allowed to.”