The genius is in the details

By Sammy Nickalls
Updated August 02, 2018
Credit: Photo by Sammy Nickalls

My family is a little unconventional for our small, rural town in central Pennsylvania. While both of my parents work, my mom is the financial brains of the family; my dad cleans the house more often than she does. While my mother has always been the cook, my dad has a couple trusty recipes up his sleeve. Every time I’m home, I ask him to make me one of his grilled cheese sandwiches. From the way he carefully butters the sides of the bread and dusts them with garlic powder to the blend of cheeses he sandwiches between big slices of heirloom tomatoes, it’s perfect. But one recipe from my childhood stands out above the rest: egg in a cup.

Egg in a cup sounds nasty, almost like it's egg... in a cup... microwaved. But don’t let the name fool you; this isn't a microwaved dish. During the rare times my mom was away on trips or couldn’t be home for dinner, my dad would get out a big bowl and all the traditional breakfast ingredients. But instead of making eggs and toast, he’d put them all together in the bowl for a big breakfast party.

The thing is, my dad has never been one to just throw something together. He attends to every single thing in his life with extreme attention to detail and a careful eye. So when I went home for vacation this summer and watched him prepare his traditional giant bowl of egg in a cup, I recognized the dish for what it is: a profoundly simple, yet deeply comforting dish that, if tended to lovingly, works any time of the day.

Credit: Photo by Sammy Nickalls

Egg in a cup’s foundations are simple: white bread, fresh eggs, butter, and seasonings (my dad sticks to black pepper and salt, preferring Tibetan pink salt). “I have been served this as far back as I can remember anything,” my dad told me. “I initially thought it was a WWII dish, as my father and mother were youngsters in England during the war.”

But after talking with his mother, he discovered it was only following his birth in Melbourne, Australia, when the family spent a few years living on the island of Nauru just south of the Marshall Islands in the Central Pacific, that his mother first heard of the dish from an Australian friend in 1965.

Egg in a cup isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing dish—it’s a mush of stuff in a big bowl, after all—but that’s kind of what makes it great. It’s not about the looks and all about the taste, the texture, the feel. It’s a warm bowl of everything you associate with waking up in a place you trust: warmth, heartiness, comfort. And it takes no time to make enough of the stuff for a whole family. Even better, you can switch it up by adding whatever you like—bacon bits, Old Bay or other spices, onions, cheese, you name it. The beauty of egg in a cup is that any family can make it their own.

Egg in a Cup

Credit: Photo by Sammy Nickalls

Ingredients, with notes from Dad

1. White bread (Dad: “Always seems to be better if it is white, as long as it’s not too cheap, or it’ll get mushy.”)

2. Fresh eggs (Dad: “One egg for every one or two pieces of bread.”)

3. Stick Butter (Dad: “Soft and not just out of the refrigerator.”)

4. Black Pepper (Dad: “Although white pepper is nice.”)

5. Table salt (Dad: “Although sea salt or Tibetan pink salt is the best.”

6. Pot (Dad: “With a lid, to poach the eggs.”)

7. Slotted ladle or spoon

8. Large bowl


1. Add water to covered pot and put on to boil. You can add some salt to the water for taste.

2. Choose the number of slices of bread you need—usually two or three slices per serving.

3. Tear the bread into small pieces in the bowl; my dad recommends “thumbnail-size pieces.”

4. Use butter knife and place small pieces of butter onto the broken bread. This will melt when poached eggs are added.

5. Grind salt and pepper and add to the bread in bowl to taste.

6. Break the eggs carefully into a glass and quickly pour into the boiling water.

7. Monitor the eggs as they are poaching in the water. (Dad: “I usually slowly and carefully stir them with slotted spoon.”)

8. After a minute or so (or longer depending on the quantity or eggs—until they appear soft-boiled), carefully remove them and place into the bowl.

9. After all eggs and solidified whites are in the bowl, cut up soft yokes and mix using knife and fork.

10. Serve “and watch it disappear very quickly,” my dad says. “There are never leftovers.”