Why It Works
- Pre-salting helps eggs retain moisture and tenderness.
- A small proportion of milk provides a sense of creamy richness, without going overboard.
- Adding the eggs to a hot pan encourages the formation of big, fluffy curds.
My partner, Kate, and I have an ongoing disagreement about scrambled eggs. She's in the crack-'em-into-a-hot-pan-and-stir-until-well-done camp, which produces firm eggs that have visible striations of white and yolk. Influenced by my days as a professional cook, I belong to the soft-scrambled-or-bust party. Ultimately, there's no right or wrong—in the world of scrambled eggs, it's all about your personal preference.*
*Ha, that's just the BS that I tell her to keep the peace. We all know soft-scrambled eggs are the only way to go. Also, anyone have a couch I can sleep on tonight?
Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge one thing. Yes, I realize that writing an article on how to scramble eggs treads dangerously close to "How to Boil Water" territory. It's such a fundamentally simple dish that an explanation almost seems absurd.
And yet there are some finer points worth describing when it comes to scrambled eggs, and even a misconception or two worth dispelling. So, with that in mind, here's what you need to know when scrambling eggs, whether you want them American-diner-style or as silky as you find them in the fanciest restaurants.
Let's Start With the Big Myth: Pre-Salting
Perhaps the biggest thing some people get wrong about scrambled eggs is when to add the salt. There's a common belief that salting the eggs in advance of cooking makes them watery or tough—some folks even refuse to add salt until after the eggs have cooked. It's easy to see why: Add salt to beaten eggs and let them sit for even a few minutes, and the eggs turn a darker shade of orange, become slightly translucent, and appear to be thinner than before. It appears that the salt is doing undesirable things to the eggs.
But after testing this, Kenji and I both found that pre-salting is beneficial, helping the eggs retain their moisture and tenderness. The reason is that salt acts as a buffer between the proteins in the eggs, preventing them from linking as tightly as they otherwise would during cooking. The tighter they link, the more water they push out and the tougher they become, so this buffering property of salt helps to mitigate some of that.
The overall effect is fairly minor, so I wouldn't say that it's worth going to the trouble of pre-salting your eggs hours in advance, but at least you don't need to worry. Add salt whenever you want, since it won't hurt a thing.
Milk, Cream, and Other Liquid Add-Ins
Next up is deciding whether to add any liquids to the eggs. It's pretty common to add a splash of milk or cream to the beaten eggs before scrambling, so I thought it would be fun to test it out.
To do it, I made several batches of three beaten large eggs each, with different amounts and types of liquid: one, two, and three tablespoons of water; one, two, and three tablespoons of whole milk; and one, two, and three tablespoons of cream. I seasoned each with 1% salt by weight, added half a tablespoon of butter to each, and also prepared a control batch that had just the beaten eggs, butter, and salt, with no liquid added. To control for the inevitable variations in cooking that would occur if I made each batch in a skillet, I cooked all of these eggs sous vide at 167°F (75°C) for 20 minutes, massaging the bags throughout to scramble the eggs.
What I found basically corresponds to expectations: As the volume of added liquid in the eggs goes up, the eggs themselves become softer and moister. At the same time, as the fat content of the liquid goes up, the eggs become richer and firmer. So, three tablespoons of cream per three eggs will be firmer than eggs made with three tablespoons of water, but both batches will be softer and moister than eggs made with one tablespoon of either cream or water.
The batches made with cream, to my taste, were a little too rich and custardy, especially at the higher volume levels. Water, as would be expected, added moisture and lightness without flavor, which wasn't exactly appealing. (Stock or dashi, however, would be interesting additions, producing something not too different from chawan mushi, the Japanese custard with dashi.)
The control batch, meanwhile, was the densest, bordering on rubbery. Ultimately, my preference was for whole milk, with a ratio of two tablespoons per three large eggs. This yielded moist, light eggs that were just rich enough, without going overboard.
That said, when you scramble eggs in a skillet, you have a tremendous amount of control over both moisture level and texture depending on the technique you use. While my sous vide control batch of plain eggs wasn't my favorite, it's possible to get a very different result with those same plain eggs in a skillet. The key is in how you apply heat to them, and how you agitate them as they cook.
One risk of adding liquid to eggs that's worth mentioning: There's a greater chance that water will be squeezed out as the eggs cook, especially if you like them well done. An analogous effect is the weeping and pitting that can happen when a custard is overcooked—loaded with cream (which is mostly water), a custard can break and weep if exposed to too much heat. The same can happen with scrambled eggs.
Overall, I'd consider liquid add-ins a way to modify the texture, flavor, and moisture level of the eggs, though they're much less important than the cooking method itself.
Heat and Agitation
So now we get to the most important decision when scrambling eggs: the scrambling technique itself. There are endless possible variations, but I'm going to break it down into three overarching groups with links to their recipes/techniques: very soft and loose eggs with barely perceptible curds (i.e., fancy-French-restaurant scrambled eggs); soft-scrambled eggs with small, delicate curds; and dry, fluffy eggs with large curds (see recipe below).
Two factors determine which of the three types you'll end up with: your method of agitation and how hot the pan is.
While I prefer softer scrambled eggs, a lot of people like their eggs cooked a little harder, with big, fluffy, diner-style curds. If this is your chosen scramble, start by melting butter in a nonstick skillet. Medium-high to high heat is our best bet here.
Once the butter is hot and foamy, we're ready to roll.
In go the eggs.
We scramble with a silicone spatula, though it's okay if we don't break the curds up. Big, fluffy sheets should start forming pretty quickly on the bottom of the pan.
We just keep cooking, stirring those curds, until the last traces of wetness disappear. The eggs come out drier (though hopefully not dry), with curds that don't necessarily all stick together. They should be fluffy, with a springy bite. Add ketchup if you must.
Herbs, Vegetables, and Solid Add-Ins
Once you've mastered your ideal scrambled eggs, you may start to wonder about adding cheese, herbs, or vegetables.
For the most part, we want to add anything solid near the end, just before the eggs are done. That way, the add-ins can be incorporated and warm up or melt without interfering with the eggs. Vegetables that release water, like mushrooms, should be fully cooked first, so that they've already released their water before going into the eggs. (If you don't want the color of your add-in to affect your eggs, remove 'em from the pan for a minute while you get the eggs cooked.) With raw tomato, such as in Tex-Mex migas, your best bet is to pre-salt the diced tomato to draw out as much water as possible before adding it to the eggs.
Now go ahead: Make my egg.
How to Make Fluffy Scrambled Eggs
3 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt (see notes)
2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 30ml) milk (optional)
1/2 tablespoon (1/4 ounce; 8g) unsalted butter
Freshly ground black or white pepper
In a small bowl, beat eggs with salt and milk (if using).
In a nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat until foamy. Add eggs and cook, stirring and scrambling gently with a silicone spatula, until large, fluffy curds form and eggs are fully cooked through, about 3 minutes. Season with pepper and serve.
Nonstick skillet, silicone spatula
We like to season our eggs with salt at about 1% of their weight, or about 1.5g for 3 large eggs (though we rarely actually measure it out in practice). Just note that not only do different eaters have different salt-level preferences, but the volume of a given weight of salt itself will vary dramatically by brand, so season at your own discretion.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 20g||26%|
|Saturated Fat 8g||41%|
|Total Carbohydrate 1g||0%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|