© Christina Holmes
Even those of us who are not shaky-handed drunks often find ourselves fumbling in the morning. I speak of breakfast, a meal nearly always made badly, and always in the same way. I’m 46 years old and it is only in the past few years that it has ceased to be a disaster, a catastrophic start to what was sure to be a demoralizing day. But thanks to a few dope moves I’ve picked up, now each day begins with a shimmer of absolute confidence. These moves are as follows, preceded by the problem that begat them.
Uneven, splattery bacon. Like everyone else in the world, bacon is my favorite food. But cooking it has almost always been problematic. The pan is round, but the slices are long, so they don’t all fit. The part in the middle gets cooked while the ends are half raw. And the fat splatters in every direction, leaving the stove a greasy mess and the cook lucky to escape with first-degree burns.
The Hack: Cook the bacon in the oven. The slices lay out easily in a roasting pan, they all cook at the same time, at the same rate, and what splattering goes on is out of sight and contained.
Dry scrambled eggs. Eggs are among the trickiest of all foods to cook, because they come together all at once, and irreversibly. Runny, slimy eggs are easy enough to fix; all they need is a little more heat. But what happens once they begin to dry up? Then they become tasteless, pasty lumps, the kind you eat in airport buffets.
The Hack: A teaspoon of softened salted butter bathes and softens even ruined eggs, tricking your mouth into thinking they are good. (Note: The same trick works for steak as well, as all steak houses are aware.)
Mushy, undercooked hash browns. Few people even have the patience to try cooking hash browns, but those that do are inevitably disappointed. Instead of the wonderfully crisp, buttery confections produced by Denny’s or Waffle House, they get tan, unbrowned chunks that are hard inside or mushy, and in neither case ever really browned.
The Hack: Of all these moves, this is the one I’m proudest of. Are you sitting down? OK. Here is the secret to preparing hash browns at home. One: Take a big pan with lots of butter sizzling in it. Two: Take an unpeeled potato and grate it into the pan. That’s it! Just don’t get greedy. You need plenty of space in there, or the steam from the potato will have nowhere to go. A bonus feature: As the shreds cook, the release their starch and bind to each other, forming a great lacy latke.
Cupcaked pancakes. I call them “cupcaked” because they suffer from the same fatal error as most cupcakes. The top is covered with a giant mass of syrup and butter, while pancake two and pancake three are dry and tasteless.
The Hack: As each pancake comes out of the pan, spread it evenly but liberally with soft butter and syrup. The final pile will be a layer cake of buttery sweet deliciousness, instead of a top-heavy cupcake.
Gummy or watery oatmeal. The back of the oatmeal container always says the same thing. Add some water, a pinch of salt and then the oats. But who has the presence of mind to carefully measure out the water and the oats? Especially since once the measuring cup (or whatever) is wet, a good part of the oatmeal sticks to it. Anyway, the measures are nearly always wrong, just like the spaghetti box that tells you to boil eight gallons of water. So either the oatmeal sticks and seizes up, or comes out as a nasty, watery mess if you overcorrect the other way.
The Hack: Start out with the suggested amount of water and just a handful of oatmeal. Add a little bit at a time, constantly stirring, as if you were making risotto. You might also consider flavoring the added liquid, adding, say, butter. This is what they call “process control” in chemical engineering, and it will work for you too.
Runny or dry fried eggs. No matter how long you cook a fried egg, the yolk never gets quite done. And if you flip the egg, the yolk gets done too much. Also, the things are never greasy enough.
The Hack: Cook them in bacon grease, and plenty of it. As the egg cooks, constantly spoon sizzling hot grease on top, so that the thing cooks on both sides. As a bonus, it now tastes like bacon.
Print this list and hang it on your refrigerator. It won’t fail you, or my name isn’t Josh Ozersky.