The art of the scramble

Nearly everyone thinks they know how to make scrambled eggs, but really exceptional ones are trickier than they seem and chefs all have their special methods for making them. Where to whisk ‒ bowl or pan ‒ and for how long? What to add, how much and when? Here are a few tips from some of today’s most watched chefs, offering intriguing hints for their own versions of outstanding scrambled eggs.

From Alton Brown, creator and host of Good Eats on the Food Network, and the host and main commentator on Iron Chef America, among others:

Whisking with whole milk is the secret to his favorite recipe. Brown also urges putting an oven-safe plate in a low oven or in hot water while the eggs are cooking. Cold plates suck the heat right out of food, says the recipe. This is Alton Brown’s scrambled egg recipe.

From Gordon Ramsay, the restaurateur, celebrity chef and star of Hell’s Kitchen:

For Ramsay, low and slow along with one secret ingredient make his eggs truly unusual. Although not a simple recipe for everyday use, the finished dish looks more like a custard and will melt in your mouth. Be one of the over 17M people who have watched him as he demonstrates the making of his recipe.

From Mario Batali, American chef, writer and restaurateur:

Batali takes scrambled eggs up to gourmet status by adding mascarpone and/or parmesan cheese, then makes them spectacular by topping them with shaved truffle. Click here to learn how to make the eggs named after his two sons.

And you thought you knew how to scramble eggs.

2016-10-17 13:26:44

It just keeps going

You’ve read it here before and you’ll read it here again: breakfast is where the best potential for real growth is in foodservice. But you know we’re not the only ones saying it. Every trade pub and research group points out this on-going reality multiple times each year.

I keep a pretty keen eye on all things breakfast, so sometimes I forget not everyone in the industry gathers certain categories of information like I do. I recently ran across several articles that had published bits and pieces of recent research results from The National Restaurant Association, Technomic and NPD/CREST concerning the continuing importance of breakfast. Acting as your personal info aggregator, I share a few interesting numbers from those articles that support the lead-in statement above.

  • In a May article, the writer cites NPD/CREST data as showing the average annual number of breakfasts consumed per person in 2015 was 361. That’s an increase of 11/person from 2010 ‒ astounding!
  • Ethnic-inspired breakfast items are considered a hot trend by 68% of American Culinary Federation chefs answering the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 What’s Hot survey. That’s likely to get hotter if Millennials have anything to say about it.
  • Breakfast is becoming cool. 34% more younger consumers consider breakfast and brunch as a destination vs. a quick, convenient occasion, compared to two years ago. This will favor those operations with designs that welcome larger groups who want to linger. (Technomic’s 2015 Breakfast Consumer Trend report)
  • In a Restaurant Hospitality article, NPD/CREST data is quoted as having determined that in the year ending February 2016, breakfast and morning snack visits increased by 5 percent. And that was on top of a 3 percent increase during the same period between 2014/2015. Pretty unstoppable.

Hopefully, you found these bits and pieces tasty, interesting and actionable. 

2016-10-03 13:44:48

We would all eat them, Sam I am!

When I was at this summer’s School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference I frequently encountered green eggs and ham. Not physically you understand, but in anecdotes shared by attendees about how much their kids like them.

I got it. Just like Sam I Am, I wouldn’t have chosen my eggs to be of the green variety before reading the Dr. Seuss book to my kids, but now a smile comes to my face when I think of them. Beyond the fun food there’s an extra layer of comfort to the dish just because of the beloved author and his humor. So not only do kids think they’re fun to eat, so do their parents.

A quick survey of the types of green eggs available on menus shows the following:

  • Huckleberry Bakery & Café (Santa Monica) says it sells tons of Green Eggs & Ham, which is made with house-made English muffins topped with arugula, pesto, prosciutto and egg.
  • Asador (Dallas) has celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday with a brunch made of fanciful Seussian names, including, of course, Green Eggs and Ham Benedict with avocado hollandaise sauce.
  • Saus (Boston) has a Green Eggs (& Ham) on its snack menu, served in a box (but without a fox). The item is unique in its medley of Brussels sprouts tossed in a parsley vinaigrette, topped with a deep-fried egg, slices of pork belly and Bacon Parmesan.
  • Werkstatt (Brooklyn) makes a Green Eggs & Ham made of Viennese creamed spinach with rösti potatoes & fried eggs with ham. No connection to Seuss but the name, as it’s a favorite dish the chef grew up eating in his native Austria.
  • Peach & Green (Chicago) offers a kale, spinach and Cheddar egg scramble topped with a side of sliced avocado and ham. The chef says the Green Eggs & Ham name has certainly aided its popularity

Surprisingly, you won’t find green eggs on the menu at the Green Eggs Cafés in Philadelphia and Miami. But that’s okay, they serve plenty of other great egg dishes. And counter to Dr. Seuss’ book, eggs don’t have to be green to be terrific!

2016-09-19 13:24:29

I’d relish that

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m betting you haven’t encountered many breakfast sandwiches with tomato jam or even tomato relish on them. Don’t know exactly what tomato relish is? Take Bobby Flay’s recipe as a good example: along with the tomatoes there are finely diced Spanish onions, chopped parsley, red pepper flakes, red wine vinegar, olive oil and freshly ground pepper. Some recipes call for lemon juice and/or chilies, so the relish is a zippier cousin to the usually sweeter tomato jam.

But back to those breakfast sandwiches. Recently I’ve run across tomato relish or tomato jam as a savory component on a number of breakfast sandwiches and I’m wondering why it isn’t more common. Take for example the Australian McDonald’s national rollout of new breakfast sandwiches in May, one of which actually takes its name from the condiment. The Tomato Relish Roll combines a fried egg, bacon strips, baby spinach, tomato slice and tomato onion relish on a soft brioche-style bun. Then there’s The Artisan sandwich at Shoreline Sandwich Company in Corpus Christi, made with two eggs over easy, sharp Cheddar, fresh spinach and a thick layer of house made tomato jam on wheat. And the Biscuit Sandwich at Community Food & Juice in NYC, made of scrambled eggs, chicken-apple-rosemary sausage, Cabot Cheddar and tomato jam on a whole wheat biscuit. 

Am I missing something here? Both tomato concoctions sound like perfect complements to the combination of runny egg and salty Cheddar or feta. And as operators continually look for ways to distinguish their breakfast offerings from the throng of other menus, I’m going out on a limb and predicting we’ll see more of these condiments on the breakfast menu this year.


2016-08-22 13:11:19

The new breakfast

On a recent trip while I examined the breakfast menu in front of me, it occurred to me how much breakfast menus had changed over the years. For roughly a century, eggs, bacon, toast and coffee were the standard hot American breakfast. Eggs were scrambled or fried and ketchup might have been added if someone was feeling a little crazy. But then a series of events conspired to make breakfast the growth player it is today:

• The drive-thru was born, allowing a quick, hot breakfast on the way to work
• Breakfast sandwiches turned a standard plated breakfast into a handheld one
• Convenience, speed and low prices made per unit breakfast sales skyrocket
• To be competitive, drive-thru installations grew exponentially
• Increased competition demanded menu differentiation

End result: creativity in breakfast menuing became a brand new focus for operators. But how many unique ways were there to combine eggs, meat and cheese? And in handheld format no less.

Breakout breakfast items needed to do more than trade out an English muffin for a croissant. For a while, adding tomato or a schmear kept things moving along. Then an evolutionary step was taken by an unknown operator and we were off and running.

Up to that time ethnic breakfasts had been relegated to operations devoted to specific cuisines. But we suddenly started seeing breakfast burritos in both the drive-thru lane and on plates. Pretty tame at first, but then adding jalapenos and a choice of mild or hot sauce, the melting pot offerings became more and more prevalent. Over time we added sriracha, curry, and new spices and meats, sometimes mixing our ethnic influences. How American!

Going back to me with menu in-hand, I placed my order for huevos rancheros with kimchi and said a silent thank-you to that unknown operator who’d gotten the ball rolling.

2016-08-08 12:42:29

Stalking the wild avocado toast

Remember when we first heard about avocado toast? It was everywhere, and although I liked it I didn’t obsess about it. That changed the day I ordered it at The Winchester, a casual Chicago restaurant. Made with avocado, spiced hazelnut, red chili, mint and topped with a fried egg, it was a symphony of intense flavors and textures.

Although the combination of eggs and avocado didn’t surprise me, my taste buds loved how well they worked together. Now I check menus wherever I eat in town to see who else is pairing these two fast-growing items on toast and what flavors they’re using to augment them. My most memorable ones so far:

  • At Summer House Santa Monica, the California-inspired restaurant from Lettuce Entertain You, the Avocado Toast is made with Hass avocado and scallion mascarpone on housemade bread, topped with two poached eggs. The food staff at the Chicagoist have named this one of their local favorites.
  • Le Pain Quotidien is known for its breads but is also famous for the wide variety of tartines on its menu. When I ordered the Avocado Toast, which is their most popular tartine, I also got great bread with citrus cumin salt, chia seeds, extra virgin olive oil and a soft boiled egg to add another dimension.
  • Publican Quality Meats markets itself as a butcher shop, café, bakery and gourmet market – quite a description, but it delivers the goods. Its version of the dish is made with avocado, scrambled egg, mojo rojo and pepitas on semolina bread, and I’m told it’s a perennial favorite.

That’s my report to date. Stay tuned for my further adventures stalking the wild avocado toast!

2016-07-25 13:34:54

The best sandwiches in America

Every year Restaurant Hospitality runs a competition for the country’s best sandwiches. In 2016 the editorial staff received far more entries than in any previous year but somehow were able to narrow them down to 17 category winners. Looking at the terrific winning entries, what stood out to me and confirmed the popularity of eggs was the fact that three of the category winners used eggs as a major ingredient. The Breakfast category might be expected, but the two others were somewhat surprising: Pork and… wait for it… Hot Dog or Sausage!


Breakfast Category

Bright Eyed Breakfast Sandwich (Blue Smoke, New York City)

Description:  Fried egg, pimento cheese and spicy fried chicken on a biscuit doughnut.

The chef said, “Our fried chicken is seasoned with homemade hot sauce powder, and the donut is fully glazed with honey and sprinkled with Aleppo pepper. When you press down on the sandwich, the sunny-side up egg yolk pops up through the doughnut hole, hence the name Bright Eyed Breakfast Sandwich.”


Pork Category

Open-Faced Pork Schnitzel Sandwich (Bohemian House, Chicago)

Description:  Grilled light rye bread topped with house-fermented sauerkraut, caramelized onion spread, horseradish cream, Emmentaler cheese, and crowned with a fried egg, pickled dill and house-made mustard.

The chef said, I thought our schnitzel on the dinner menu would make an awesome sandwich. I also considered what a grand impression an open-faced sandwich would make.


Hot Dog/Sausage Category

The All American (Prairie Dogs Hot Dogs & Handcrafted Sausage, Minneapolis)

Description:  All beef natural casing hot dog, crispy pork belly, sriracha aioli and Southern-style hash browns, topped with a fried egg.

The chef said, “This was our way of blending the great American breakfast (eggs, bacon, potatoes) with the great American lunch (hotdogs).”

Champions, all!

2016-07-11 15:02:07

Success is in the food

Chicago is a great restaurant town – I’d put the quality and innovation of its foodservice operations up against any U.S. city. I could follow my bragging by spotlighting one of Chicago’s James Beard winners or multiple-star Zagat darlings, but I’ve chosen an operator I find more interesting: Eastman Egg Company.

Eastman began as a food truck a mere three years ago with a small and very focused menu made with local ingredients, primarily consisting of scratch-made egg sandwiches and good coffee. It’s already added two brick and mortar operations in enviable Chicago Loop locations, and two more are due to open in the next twelve months courtesy of $1.5 million in new local investor funding.

According to founder Hunter Swartz, Eastman’s secret for success is the food. You’ve got coffee shops that offer a great cup of coffee but they’re not as focused on the food. I think people who come to Eastman come for the food first.

And they do. Singled out by Food & Wine as one of the nine best sandwiches in Chicago (that’s best sandwich of any type, not just breakfast), The Captain is made with local farm eggs, house-made pork sausage and melted Pepper Jack cheese served on a fresh pretzel roll. My own favorite is The Eastman, made of fresh-cracked eggs, Slagel Farm ham, artisanal cheese, sliced cucumber and house-made sweet chili sauce on ciabatta. The different flavors and textures are genius.

Social media activity confirms fans of the food are a growing legion, leading me to think about that old saying on the importance of location, location, location. Nothing makes you need more locations, locations, locations than a winning menu with loyal fans clamoring for more.

2016-06-27 13:21:24

Enjoying a little brinner

I was having lunch the other day with a food industry friend when the topic of having breakfast for dinner came up. Why not just have real dinner food? he asked. Why mess with the perfection of a steak or pizza?

Well it turns out that beside the fact there’s never a wrong time for comfort food, there are also some good physiologic reasons to dine on a plate of scrambled eggs or an omelet late in the day. For one thing, we Americans tend to eat a majority of our calories and fat at the end of the day, which doesn’t help fuel all the things we do during that day. On the flip side, eating so many of our daily calories just before lying down for bed isn’t the best plan for good digestion and makes it harder for many people to get a good night’s sleep.

According to Dr. Natalie Nevins, a board-certified family physician in Los Angeles, having a lighter breakfast for dinner instead of the traditional dinnertime fare, such as pasta, meat and potatoes, is beneficial for a number of reasons. She says that many of her patients skip breakfast, leading them to wolf down lunch. Having to wait another six or seven hours for dinner, their hunger makes them overeat again.

Dr. Nevins points out that if you’re constantly refueling yourself throughout the day, you won’t feel so depleted when evening comes, where so many tend to overeat and then lie around. Her recommendations include a nutrient-rich veggie omelet with mix-ins like mushrooms, onions, spinach, broccoli and a little cheese, topped with salsa or avocado and sided with fruit.

Steak and pizza are great, but these days’ eggs are also real dinner food.

2016-06-13 13:19:38

Home again

Industry experts keep telling us ethnic breakfasts are on-trend, and our response has been to add jalapeños to Eggs Benedict, chipotle cream cheese to bagels and salsa to omelets. In other words, it should be obvious that Mexican foods are the #1 ethnic influence on the American morning menu.

We grab a lot of Mexican-influenced breakfasts at quick service (QSR) drive-thrus, primarily highly Americanized versions of breakfast burritos. McDonald’s has its Sausage Burrito, Burger King offers a Hash Brown Burrito, and both Sonic and Jack in the Box have entire lines of breakfast burritos. All these items start with scrambled eggs and cheese, then add various meats and other add-ins.

Being menued at QSR is one indicator a food has become mainstream, but there is a better way to tell when a cuisine has really become part of the American table. It’s when we’re so comfy with it that it no longer feels exotic, and we begin to overlay it with aspects of other cuisines!

For instance, Huevos Rancheros can be found on countless American restaurant menus in its standard eggs/beans/chilies/tortillas format. The eggs can be poached or fried, the beans, pinto or black, the chilies, red or green. That basic structure led to the version served at Rex 1516 in Philadelphia, made with crawfish étouffée, fried eggs, corn tortilla, lime crema, pico de gallo, queso fresco and avocado. It also accounts for the egg-topped Rancheros dishes found at Royal Oak, Michigan’s Town Tavern, centered on venison chili, and at The Kenwood in Minneapolis, replacing beans and tortillas with a bed of roasted potatoes and caramelized onions. That one’s also spiced with North African harissa. 

The message is clear: Mexican breakfasts feel right at home on American menus even when they’re not authentically Mexican.

2016-05-30 08:13:00