The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

You can help by becoming a follower. I'd really like to know who you are and what your thoughts are on what I'm doing. Every great leader needs followers and if I am ever to achieve my goal of becoming the next great leader of the Italian culinary world :-) I need followers!

Grazie mille!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Review: Aperitivo, New Bern, NC

A Well-Kept Secret Within a Well-Kept Secret

Hidden along North Carolina's Crystal Coast is a gem of a place called New Bern. Once the royal colonial capital of North Carolina and the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, it stands today as a charming little coastal town with a rich history and a lot of interesting nooks and crannies to explore. It's kind of a well-kept secret, the kind of place you have to know exists in order to know it exists. I visited New Bern once back around 1977 and recently decided it was time to reacquaint myself. My wife had a hankering for some beach time and, having explored much of Florida and hit all the South Carolina beaches from Folly to Myrtle, we thought we'd see what the Atlantic looked like a little farther north. Remembering New Bern from way back when, I thought it would be a perfect place from which to base our adventure.

Always on the lookout for good places to eat – particularly good Italian places – I stumbled upon another well-kept secret in the form of a little hideaway called Aperitivo. And I do mean “well-kept secret” because nobody in New Bern knows it's there. I only found it through an Internet search and then only because it popped up in conjunction with another restaurant.

Here's the deal: there is a well-established establishment called Lawson's Landing Cafe attached to the relatively new North Carolina History Center at Tryon Palace. It's located on the banks of Lawson Creek near the confluence of the Trent and Neuse rivers at the point where South Front Street makes a big loop around Tryon Palace. Everybody knows where Lawson's Landing is and it comes generally well-recommended by the locals. However, what everybody apparently does not know is that when the History Center shutters at 5 pm, Lawson's Landing Cafe morphs into Aperitivo, a place where one can “enjoy the fine taste of Italy.” And a truly fine taste it is. Too bad nobody knows it's there.

It's my understanding that this is a relatively new concept restaurant. They tell me they have some ads running here and there. But not one single local I talked to knew the first thing about it. Nobody at the hotel had heard of it, nobody connected with the trolley tour we took knew about it, nobody in the shops we visited was aware of it. Even the docents at Tryon Palace near which grounds the restaurant is located didn't know it was there. Can you say “marketing fail?”

And that's an honest-to-goodness shame because the place is simply phenomenal. According to their website – and yes, they have one – “Aperitivo is dedicated to offering only the finest and freshest foods, along with the best wines from Italy.” It sounds like a lofty goal for such an unlikely place, but it's a goal Chef Ben Strange and his staff achieve admirably.

Don't come to Aperitivo with the idea that you're going to sit down and tuck in to a monstrous plate of spaghetti swimming in a mediocre red sauce. Chef Ben describes himself as “an Irish boy,” but he has the culinary soul of an Italian. The menu at Aperitivo consists of traditional Italian small plates and desserts. There are no heaping, steaming platters of quasi-Italian fare here. There are no red-checkered tablecloths and Dean Martin does not sing “That's Amore” in the background. (Although there's nothing wrong with him doing so. I like Dino.)

We were the first to arrive on a Thursday evening and were greeted by an extremely friendly and attentive host named Neal (hope the spelling is right) who conducted us to a very nice deuce by the window overlooking the waterfront. Our server was Mike and he was shadowed by a trainee whose name I did not catch, but about whom I will say more in a minute. I'll say this now; Mike's service was above reproach. I've had servers in far more upscale places who could have taken lessons from this young man. Little details were noted and appreciated. I hope his shadow was paying attention.

As for that shadow, I hope I had an impact on her as well. As you know if you've read anything I've written, I am on a one-man campaign to stamp out bad Italian in Italian-American eateries. And I overheard this girl putting an extraneous “r” in “mascarpone.” You know – “MARS-kuh-pone.” (Shudder.) So I called her over, corrected her pronunciation – it's “mahs-kar-POHN-ay” – and gave her the speech about respecting the language and the culture and all that stuff. And she didn't just stand there smiling indulgently; I think she actually got it. Of course, she may have gone back to the kitchen and laughed about the old nutball at the deuce by the window, but I prefer to think that she was instead passing on the lesson the distinguished Italian-ish gentlemen had taught her.

Anyway, drinks were ordered and served promptly. Aperitivo prides itself on its fine Italian wine selection, but a Limoncello Collins caught my wife's eye and I am partial to Birra Moretti, a rare find in most restaurants that was on the drink menu here.

The menu changes periodically and seasonally at Aperitivo. My wife chose the shrimp scampi and I opted for crostini alla Romana. Neither of us were disappointed. My wife pronounced the house-made pasta “outstanding.” I nicked a bite and agreed. The shrimp were delectably fresh and local and the garlicky, buttery sauce with just the right hint of lemon was perfection. The crostini were nicely toasted and topped with flavorful prosciutto di Parma and fresh mozzarella and drizzled with a rich sage butter. Our dolce of two mini-cannoli was a perfect conclusion to a perfect meal.

We so enjoyed Aperitivo that we returned the next night and partook of a hearty fettuccine Bolognese (her) and a wonderful ravioli in sage butter (me.) To finish, I stuck with the cannoli while she went over the moon with a decadent flourless chocolate cake. And again the service was impeccable.

In Italian traditional dining culture, an aperitivo is a pre-meal drink intended to stimulate the appetite. In recent years its meaning has expanded to encompass the act of going out for a pre-meal drink, and the Italian bars that cater to the trade generally serve a variety of light comestibles. It is this atmosphere that New Bern's Aperitivo attempts to emulate and it does so quite effectively. Bravo to Chef Ben and his staff.

The actual name of the place varies from an unwieldy Aperitivo at Lawson's Landing Cafe at the NC History Center to Aperitivo Wine Bar to simply Aperitivo. Until their advertising catches up, you might have to use any or all of them in order to find it. The restaurant(s) is/are located at 529 South Front Street in downtown New Bern. Dress is casual, parking is plentiful and reservations are accepted but not required. Hours of operation are from 5 to 9 on Thursday and from 5 to 11 on Friday and Saturday. Call them at (252) 637-9307 or check out the website at  

Aperitivo is a phenomenal place in a fabulous setting. But let's keep that our little secret, okay?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review: La Farm Bakery and Cafe, Cary, North Carolina

A Delicious Lesson in Humility

When you think about culinary hot spots in North Carolina, what comes to mind? People in the know will immediately think of Asheville, one of the rapidly rising stars in the food firmament. Others may choose urban centers like Charlotte or Greensboro. I can't think of anybody who would give even a second thought to the town of Cary. And yet......

Located near the Research Triangle comprised of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, Cary is quite the up and coming place. It's actually the second most populous unincorporated town in the United States and was cited as the fifth fastest growing municipality in the country between September 1, 2006 and September 1, 2007. (I love census data.) It's also home to a phenomenal bakery and cafe called La Farm.

La Farm bills itself as a modern day boulangerie and cafe. Just how modern day it is is evidenced by the fact that it is wedged into a strip mall out in what passes for the suburbs in an unincorporated town. But don't let that fool you. Everything else about the place is as Old World as owner/Master Baker Lionel Vatinet can make it. A member of France’s prestigious artisans’ guild, Les Compagnons du Devoir since age 16, Lionel (and that's pronounced “lee-oh-NEL,” by the way) apprenticed with European bakers and traveled the world honing his craft before opening La Farm in 1999.

I discovered La Farm as the result of running across “Flavor NC,” a program produced by North Carolina Public Television. The show highlights locally produced foods and spotlights local restaurants that utilize them. The host is....... an......enthusiastic woman. Just don't listen to her try to pronounce foreign words in her thick Southern accent. Or some English words either. Anyway, the episode I found online was about Carter Farms Wheat in Pinehurst, NC and it featured La Farm Bakery and Cafe. You can view it for yourself here:

So we were heading for a little vacation time on the North Carolina coast and I remembered La Farm. I discovered that Cary was pretty much on our way and we decided to make a detour, stopping in for breakfast and for some bread to accompany us on our trip. (You know, hotels use awful cheap white bread for their “continental breakfast” offerings.) The GPS guided us smoothly from I-40 to the front door at La Farm.

Wow. That's it. My review can be summed up in that word. “Wow.” But let me add a few others; overwhelming, astounding, incredible, amazing, delicious. Hyperbolic as it sounds, I might go so far as to say “profound” in that La Farm will challenge your perception of a bakery and forever make the “bakery” at the local supermarket or discount center look woefully pale by comparison. It's that good. I remember real bakeries from back in the '50s and '60s and this one hearkens back to those days with a decided Old World French twist.

I consider myself a decent bread baker. I haven't bought gummy white store bread in years and I've even sold my breads and baked goods at local markets with favorable results. But after sampling the wares at La Farm and leaving with an amazing rustic Italian loaf and a splendid focaccia, I told my wife that the experience had been an exercise in humility. In addition to the awe-inspiring breads, we also came away with marvelously light and luscious chocolate macarons – the first authentic ones my wife had ever had – and the kind of decadent chocolate chip cookies that common Toll House cookies can only dream of being when they grow up.

And let's not forget the cafe. We were there for breakfast, so I had the deluxe breakfast sandwich. Usually served on a signature hard roll, it is also offered on a fresh baked croissant, the option I chose. Topped with locally-sourced applewood-smoked bacon and ham, farm fresh eggs and cheddar cheese, it was worlds away from the pretenders that fast-food outlets peddle. And my wife's croque madame, made with local ham, gruyere, and mozzarella on toasted La Farm fresh bread and topped with mornay sauce and two perfectly fried eggs left her absolutely speechless. Actually, that's not true; she couldn't stop talking about it for days. The lunch menu features a mouth-watering array of soups, salads, and sandwiches, all crafted fresh from premium quality ingredients, many of them locally produced. Although not cheap by any means, the prices are certainly reasonable for the quality of the products in both the bakery and the cafe.

La Farm Bakery branches out to the community at large through a bread truck – a rolling bakery that travels the Triangle area on a daily basis serving delicious, fresh-baked artisan breads, pastries, and sandwiches to those lucky enough to encounter it.

Everything else you need to know about La Farm can be found here: The bakery and restaurant itself can be found at 4248 NW Cary Parkway in the Preston Corners Shopping Center in Cary, NC. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., you can call them at 919-657-0657. And, yes, they cater.

Lionel Vatinet sums it up thus: “When you make bread, it becomes a reflection of who you are. If you have a passion for it, it will come through." If you're anywhere within....oh, say.....a hundred miles of Cary, stop in and let the master baker's passion come through for you. I'll probably see you there.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

To Refrigerate or To Not Refrigerate; That Is the Question

Chill, Baby – Or Not

Standing tall in the average American kitchen is the appliance that changed the world about a hundred years ago. I'm talking about the refrigerator, of course. Or as my grandmother called it to her dying day, the “icebox.” Or, as Alton Brown says, the “chill chest.” Whatever you call it, the technology has certainly changed the way we preserve food.

Used to be, drying or salting or maybe pickling were the only ways to make food last more than a few days. People who lived in icy places recognized another way, but that method was difficult to replicate indoors. That is until somebody came up with the idea of building a wooden box and lining it with tin or zinc and stuffing that lining with cork, sawdust, straw or some other form of insulation. Then they stuck another box or a tray on top and put a big block of ice in that box or tray. The cold produced by the melting ice would sink – because cold air sinks and hot air rises – cooling the interior of the insulated box. And the ice box was born.

That worked well until the early1900s when somebody else thought, “there must be a better way” and came up with one. And the development of the modern refrigerator was underway. By the 1930's, home refrigerators had become ubiquitous, putting people like my dad, who worked in an icehouse, out of work, but vastly improving the quality of life – and of food – for most people.

Some folks began throwing everything in the ol' icebox/refrigerator on the theory that if it's good for some things, it must be good for everything. Not so much. To refrigerate or to not refrigerate; that is the question. And here are some answers.

Obviously, anything that's going to spoil or “go bad” needs to be refrigerated. Meat, for example. Or leftovers. Those are kind of no brainers. But it's not always a matter of maintaining food safety; sometimes it's a case of preserving food quality. And that's where a lot of people go off the track. Especially when it comes to produce. Carrots, celery, lettuce – pretty much anything you find chilled in the produce section of the grocery store should remain chilled once it gets home. But there are some items that fall into gray areas as well as some that should absolutely not be refrigerated.

Apples fall into the gray area. Some people like 'em cold and some prefer them at room temperature. And that's fine if you're dealing with fresh-off-the-tree fruit. Pick some apples and stick them in a nice basket on your table and you have both a quick source of snack food and a nice centerpiece. But if you do your apple picking at the supermarket, chances are those apples were in long-term cold storage before they hit the market. According to Purdue University, “apples are best stored at 30°- 32°F, with a relative humidity of 90 percent and some air circulation. These conditions provide the greatest delay in the normal ripening and aging process of the fruit. Such conditions are necessary because an apple is not dead at the time of harvest. It remains a living, respiring organism and continues to take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide and another gas, ethylene. Since the apple is no longer receiving nutrients from the tree but is still respiring, it must use up the food it has stored over the growing season. As this food is gradually used up during storage, the sugar, starch, and acid content of the apple changes. Eventually the tissues break down (a process enhanced by ethylene gas), water is lost, and the apple withers and decays. The low temperature, high humidity, and exchange of gases through air circulation serve to slow those natural events as much as possible.”

The nice, bright, “fresh” apples you just bought at the store may have been living in cold storage for the last year or so. And when you bring them home and put them in that pretty basket on the table.....well, they begin to show their age pretty rapidly. Oh, they're still “good” in that they're not overtly rotten, but they'll get old and mealy a lot quicker than if you keep them stored under the conditions to which they've become accustomed – i. e. refrigerated.

Some folks refrigerate bread thinking it will preserve the quality by retarding mold growth. And that's true. But it's also true that refrigerating bread will hasten the staling process. Bread goes stale for two reasons; loss of moisture and the retrogradation and recrystallization of starch. There's a pages-long scientific explanation of the process, but it boils down to this: cold reforms the starches in the bread and makes them harden. Even sealed loaves of bread will stale in the cold. Freezing is another matter. Freezing actually retards the process. So here's the takeaway: if you're afraid of your bread going stale, leave out just enough to use for a couple of days and stow the rest in the freezer.

Eggs are another good example of a gray area. In Europe, eggs are left out in baskets on tables and counters. In America, they have to be refrigerated. Why? Because European egg producers don't wash their eggs the way American suppliers do. American eggs are so thoroughly cleaned with hot water and a chlorine spray before they are packaged that the egg's natural outer protective coating – the cuticle – is washed away. Since eggshells are extremely porous, this means any stray microscopic bugs lurking about – particularly salmonella – can get an easy ride into the egg's interior. Hence the need for refrigeration. Farm-fresh eggs that don't undergo such rigorous cleansing can safely be left out, but bear in mind that an egg's freshness is also preserved by refrigeration. Experts say an egg will age more in one day at room temperature than it will in a week in the refrigerator. And in spite of the dimpled little trays in the door, eggs should be refrigerated in their cartons in the coldest part of the fridge. Door storage exposes them to too many changes in temperature and too much jostling as the door is constantly being opened and closed.

One thing that most people don't think to refrigerate but probably should is nuts. There's nothing wrong with keeping them in the pantry, but because nuts contain oils that can go rancid, refrigerating them will preserve flavor and quality for a good bit longer.

I've opened refrigerator doors and have been astonished at what I've seen stowed away in there. Coffee, sugar, flour, potato chips, even breakfast cereal. There's one word for that practice: STOP! And another word to explain why: moisture. There's no place like the refrigerator to create moisture through condensation. In an ideal world, the inside of a refrigerator would be perfectly cold and dry. But this is the real world. Every time you open the door, moisture gets in. If your door seal is not perfect, moisture gets in. If you have open containers of food or beverages in the refrigerator, or moisture-laden foods like celery and lettuce and such, they are all releasing natural moisture into the interior of the fridge. And what makes dried foods like crackers and cookies and potato chips get stale the quickest? Yep. Moisture.

The National Coffee Association will be the first among many to tell you “it is important not to refrigerate or freeze your daily supply of coffee because contact with moisture will cause it to deteriorate. Instead, store coffee in air-tight glass or ceramic containers and keep it in a convenient, but dark and cool, location.” They say freezing bulk quantities of coffee in small batches is okay as long as you don't return them to the freezer or fridge after you've taken them out.

Sugar will harden up when exposed to the tiniest bit of moisture. All you need is an airtight container in a cool, dry spot. No refrigeration required.

In spite of what Aunt Sally might say, white flour does not need to be refrigerated. Processed all-purpose flour will last a long, long time sealed up in the pantry. You'll probably use it up way before any spoilage can occur. Not so with whole wheat flour, however, which still contains the bran and germ. Oils in those elements can go rancid within a fairly short time, so if you're not blazing through your supply of whole wheat flour, refrigerating it is a good idea.

Potato chips? Really? Unless you just like cold chips there's no reason whatsoever for refrigerating them. You might think you're keeping them nice and fresh, but the opposite is true. Remember moisture? You might as well leave the bag open and store it in the bathroom next to the shower. And besides, an open bag of potato chips in my house is lucky to survive more than forty-eight hours. They wouldn't get stale in that time frame unless I really did store them in the bathroom next to the shower. Just close the bag, pressing out as much air as possible as you do so, and seal it up in – you guessed it – a cool, dry place.

And as far as refrigerating cereal, the same principle applies to Cheerios as to potato chips.

Tomatoes are big refrigerator no-nos. It's a topic for much debate, but science is on the side of keeping them out of the chiller. Chemically, the flavor in a tomato comes from a combination of sugars, acids and aroma-producing compounds called volatiles. These volatiles are most active at “room temperature” – sixty-eight to seventy-two degrees. My refrigerator stays at around thirty-seven degrees, as should yours. At that temperature volatiles start breaking down quickly. And it's not just the flavor that gets compromised. At temps below fifty, the actual structure of the fruit begins to soften and pit. If you like your tomatoes mushy and flavorless, the refrigerator is the perfect place to achieve that end.

Melons, like honeydews, watermelons, and cantaloupes, don't do well in the refrigerator. At least not whole ones. Different story once they're cut. Cut melons can be refrigerated for three or four days. I know, I saw a website that said it was okay to refrigerate melons. But recent findings by the USDA show that the antioxidants in them hold up better at room temperature. Can you refrigerate them? Yes. Should you refrigerate them? No.

Potatoes aren't happy in the refrigerator either. Cold breaks down starches, affecting both the flavor and the texture of the potato. The starches turn to sugars and impart a weirdly sweet taste when the potato is cooked. These sugars also make the potato develop dark spots in the flesh. So if you want baked potatoes that are yuckily sweet and dark, go for it. Store your spuds in the fridge. Otherwise, a cool, dark place is where they'll be happiest longest.

Onions should stay out of the fridge, again unless they're cut. Whole onions get soft in the refrigerator and can turn moldy. Condensation, you know. And besides, they're smelly and love to share their smelliness with your butter, your eggs, and pretty much everything else in the box. If you cut an onion and don't use it all, you can stick the unused portion in a covered container and refrigerate it for a few days. Otherwise, onions like warm, dry places.

By the way, keep your onions and your potatoes far away from one another. They are great cooked up together in a hash brown casserole, but they don't play well together in their raw state. Onions are high ethylene gas producers and if you want to watch your spuds sprout practically overnight, store 'em near the onions.

Garlic, avocados, citrus fruits, and bananas should all avoid the inside of a refrigerator, too. Unless you really like the jet black banana look. Oh, they'll be okay to eat, but one look and you won't want to. And you can refrigerate berries, but they'll actually spoil more quickly than if you leave them out and just eat them real fast. As I said earlier, pretty much anything your grocer sells unrefrigerated should stay that way once you get it home.

Here are a final few yays and nays.

Once opened, ketchup will keep either way in the short run, but it's better refrigerated if you're not using it regularly. Same goes for mustard. Ketchup and mustard will last a month or two unrefrigerated. Refrigerated ketchup is good for six months or so and refrigerated mustard keeps for about a year.

Mayonnaise and dairy-based condiments should be refrigerated after opening. Relishes and other things made from fresh vegetables likewise.

Most oils are fine in cool, dark places. It won't hurt to refrigerate them, but they don't need it. I remember one winter when the power went out and the temperature in my kitchen dropped into the low fifties. The olive oil in my pantry got cloudy and a little sludgy. But when the room warmed back up, the oil cleared up and was fine.

Acidic, salty, or extremely sweet products are okay stored outside the fridge. Soy sauce, Worcestershire, vinegar, etc. need no refrigeration. Same goes for honey, molasses, and corn syrup. Some jams and jellies go either way. Most, especially those with two-thirds or more sugar, are okay in the pantry. However, some require refrigeration. Check the label.

Maple syrup is a touchy issue. I just checked the labels on the bottles in my refrigerator and both say “no refrigeration required.” BUT......both are “pancake syrup” not real maple syrup. Aunt Jemima and Log Cabin. One has HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) in it, a fact I did not notice when I bought it or I wouldn't have. But even the non-HFCS syrup contains corn syrup, sodium hexametaphosphate, sodium benzoate, sorbic acid and phosphoric acid, so nope, there's definitely no need to refrigerate those. Pure maple syrup, like honey, will crystallize in the refrigerator. On the other hand, it'll get moldy if you don't refrigerate it. Some people say you can just boil it lightly and skim off the mold, thanks. Producers associations in Vermont and Massachusetts say unopened maple syrup is relatively shelf stable but recommend refrigeration after opening.

Okay, this isn't a comprehensive list by any means, but it'll have to do for now. I have to go sort my produce. The onions are gassing the potatoes and making them cry their eyes out. So chill baby – or not.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How To Ruin Scrambled Eggs

“Experts” Who Say “Don't Add Liquid” Are Misinformed

A couple of things led to my writing this little screed. The first motivator was personal experience
and the second was a recent proliferation of unsound “expert” advice.

Breakfast is probably my favorite meal, both to eat and to cook. It's definitely the one I've had the most experience cooking – more than fifty years worth. It's my singular nod to non-Italian cuisine. Italians do coffee and pastry and call it colazione. Not me. Give me some combination of bacon and eggs and potatoes and toast and biscuits and pancakes and all the trimmings. I'll eat breakfast for breakfast, I'll eat it for lunch, and I often have breakfast for dinner. Bacon was the first thing I learned to cook. Eggs were second. I can fry 'em, poach 'em, boil 'em or make 'em into an omelet or frittata. But my absolute favorite way to prepare eggs is to scramble them up all nice and light and fluffy. And I am amazed and appalled at the way scrambled eggs can be ruined by inept cooking methods.

I eat at Waffle House a good bit, especially out on the road. They're conveniently located at just about every interstate exit in the South. They're inexpensive, they're open 24/7/365, and the food is generally consistent from location to location. Unfortunately, that consistency extends to their scrambled eggs. Don't get me wrong; they're not altogether bad, but they're not altogether good either. They're.......for lack of a better word.......typical. They're cooked the same way in a lot of diner-style eateries. By and large, they are flat, dry, and dense. On the rare occasion that I encounter light, fluffy scrambled eggs at a Waffle House or similar establishment, I make a big deal out of complimenting the cook. He or she is obviously not following the “approved” restaurant technique that results in......unremarkable eggs.

Hey, I know. Short order cooks are all about speed. And sometimes speed means sacrificing little decently cooked scrambled eggs. You break a couple of eggs into a hot pan, scramble 'em up with a spoon or a fork, cook 'em on high heat until they're dried out and brown. Doesn't usually take more than a few seconds and then you slap 'em on a plate and put up 'em for service. And a lot of home cooks do the same thing. That's what I mean by inept cooking.

Ept cooking (yes, it's a word; check the OED) requires a little more finesse. And the addition of a liquid, preferably a fat-containing liquid, to the party. Hence my second motivator. Recently, I've encountered a couple of online articles, written by alleged “experts,” that insist adding liquid to scrambled eggs is not only unnecessary but detrimental. Here's an example of that flawed advice from the Huffington Post: “We don't care how many years you've been adding milk, cream or water to your eggs, it stops today. Despite whatever type of logic you've attributed to this addition, the truth is that eggs and added liquid will separate during cooking which creates wet, overcooked eggs.” There's an Italian word for that theory – stronzate. And I'm not just talking through my fifty-plus years of experience. I've got science on my side.

Rather than try to parse the scientific reasoning on my own, I turn to the culinary nerds at America's Test Kitchen for the explanation: “When eggs are scrambled, the mechanism that transforms the liquidy beaten eggs into a fluffy mound on the plate is protein coagulation—the process by which, when exposed to heat, proteins unfold and then tangle up with one another and set, forming a latticed gel. The more tender the scrambled eggs, the more loosely the proteins have coagulated. Adding water to scrambled eggs dilutes the proteins a little, thereby raising the temperature at which they coagulate and making it harder to overcook the scramble. Water also increases the amount of steam, which puffs up the eggs, producing fluffy scrambled eggs. As for milk, it contains water but also fat, which coats the protein molecules so that they can’t bind with one another as tightly. The key to scrambled eggs that are both fluffy and tender is a balance of water and fat.....The bottom line: Scrambled eggs benefit from added liquid, preferably a liquid with fat.”

Don't like those experts? How about this one, Dr. Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. “Cream, butter, milk, water, or oil (used in China) will dilute the egg proteins and produce a tenderer mass when the eggs are carefully cooked.” The italics are mine, because Dr. McGee goes on to point out that “overheating, however, will cause some of the added liquid to separate.” Ah-HA! Go back to that opposing statement a couple of paragraphs ago; yes, “added liquid will separate during cooking,” but only if you're not cooking the eggs right in the first place! If you're using a blazing hot pan, the liquid will, indeed, separate. So don't do that!

And as as aside to Dr. McGee, China is not the only place they use oil in scrambled eggs. Waffle House does, too, as Bon App├ętit Restaurant Editor Andrew Knowlton discovered on a recent magazine assignment as a Waffle House cook. Andrew calls liquid vegetable shortening “literally the grease that keeps the gears at Waffle House spinning.” And a former cook there reveals that Waffle House employs two or three tablespoons of the stuff in a hot aluminum pan when cooking scrambled eggs. And that's likely why the discrepancy I've experienced; some cooks not as obsessed with speed don't get the pan as screamingly hot as others and the eggs turn out better as a result.

Dr. McGee says “scrambled eggs made in the usual quick, offhand way are usually hard and forgettable.” Can I get an “amen” from the choir!! He goes on, “the key to moist scrambled eggs is low heat and patience; they will take several minutes to cook.” Oh, preach it, Brother McGee!!

Now, I'm not going to write another piece on how to make scrambled eggs because I've already written one and you can find it here: There's lot's of cool stuff in there about temperatures and protein matrices and coagulation and Maillard reactions and such, but besides all that it's a darn good example of the right way to cook scrambled eggs. One thing I will reiterate here, though, is Egg Cookery Rule 101: Eggs that look done in the pan will be overdone on the plate. If you remove the pan from the heat while the eggs are still a little soft, carry-over will render them perfectly cooked when you plate them. If you wait until they look “done” in the pan, carry-over will carry them right over the edge and they'll be hard and dry.

Here's the takeaway: Ignore the “experts” who babble about not putting liquid in your scrambled eggs. Either they were absent for the scientific discussion in culinary school or they only read half the lesson. And go out of your way to praise the rare Waffle House, Denny's, et al cook who actually gets it right. Maybe if enough people compliment the good cooks, the bad ones will either be inspired or fired. Better yet, just learn good technique on your own and you can make perfect scrambled eggs yourself.