Monday, May 07, 2007

Eating. fried-egg sandwiches.

Whenever I eat fried-egg sandwiches I think of the scene in The Inn at Lake Devine when Natalie storms out after an argument with her parents and returns home to go, "in the manner of distressed daughters...directly and noisily to [her] room." Her mother comes to the door with a fried-egg sandwich, the egg "cooked up with lacy gold edges...on toasted pumpernickel," seasoned with white pepper. As if family arguments could be solved by a sandwich. (You think this is all it takes? says Natalie to her mother. Room service?). It is highly unlikely that my mother ever brought me food after an argument (because, of course, she is never wrong), but I remember her making fried-egg sandwiches on weekends, a single fried egg between two pieces of lightly toasted whole-wheat bread.

The fried-egg sandwiches we had at home were different from the ham-and-egg sandwiches I remember from Taipei convenience stores of my childhood, a thin sheet of fried egg and even thinner slice of ham between the sweet softness of white bread, the kind that is finely textured and tastes of milk and egg, but more substantial than American white bread. (Sometimes, when I am back in Taipei, I go down to the 7-Eleven for one of those sandwiches, packaged in triangular plastic boxes, and those sweet yogurt drinks that comes in little foil-capped plastic bottles. I miss the sandwiches more than anything, more than beef noodles at the corner stand and xiao lung bao. Well, maybe not more than xiao lung bao. Almost).

A fried-egg sandwich needs toast. It doesn't need salt - although you could sprinkle a little seasoned salt and perhaps some black or white pepper if you like - because of the mayonnaise or Miracle Whip that is spread on both slices of toast gives you all the flavor you need. And the toast should be lightly toasted, just to give some strength to the bread but still remain pliable enough so you can spread the mayonnaise evenly, not so crisp that the toast shatters as you eat your sandwich. I heat a little butter in a small skillet (now I use a non-stick omelet pan, the perfect size for one or two fried eggs), break the egg and gently slide it into the sizzling butter. (Sometimes I use olive oil). As I toast the bread I pierce the yolk with a spatula so it runs out over the white as it quickly becomes opaque; the edges turn, as Lipman describes it, lacy and golden, and the fried egg forms itself into a slightly irregularly oval, yellow-and-white sheet. If I have judged things right, it is exactly the right size for my toast, which is done just as I flip the egg to brown slightly on the other side.

I remember reading what Amanda Hesser had written about eating fried-egg sandwiches in Cooking For Mr. Latte, during a visit to her mother: ...she made us fried egg sandwiches for lunch. They were my father's specialty. Whenever my mother was away, he'd make us fried egg sandwiches. He was particular about every step, and usually did it while singing and humming and doing a shuffly dance to Bonnie Raitt or Ray Charles. He would toast the bread and fry up bacon. He'd thinly slice a tomato and an onion. He would spread Miracle Whip on the toast, and sometimes, for himself, add a dash of horseradish. The egg would be laid across first, then the bacon, tomato, and lettuce. I hadn't had one in years, perhaps since my father had died. It was just as I had remembered it and this made my heart ache.

Reading that made my heart ache, too, and I think about Hesser's words as I spread mayonnaise on my toast - not too much, just a thin layer - slip the fried egg onto one slice of bread, centering it carefully before putting the other on top, slicing the finished sandwich in half. It needs nothing else, no ham, or bacon, or lettuce and tomato. Just egg, mayonnaise, toast. I pour myself a glass of orange juice, as I have since childhood, sit down to eat my dinner. It is perfect, as I knew it would be.

Lipman, Elinor. The Inn at Lake Devine. Vintage Contemporaries, 1998. p 140.

Hesser, Amanda.
Cooking for Mr. Latte. W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. p 260.


jenblanck said...

And now I'm dying for an egg sandwich. Even though I've never had an egg sandwich. I think I'll fry my imaginary egg in imaginary bacon grease...

Elaine said...

I was contemplating an egg sandwich and then happened to stumble onto this post! I eat mine with soy sauce and lots of pepper, whitebread squished together like how i used to when I was a kid. Mmm... brings back memories. Will go make that sandwich now.

Love your food posts by the way. Always gets me hungry!