Is olive oil the answer or is butter always better?
I know some cooks whose pet peeve is when folks reach for olive oil no matter what they’re cooking. I’m in the latter camp—I pretty much go through olive oil by the case—but I cede that certain oils that are better suited to some tasks than others. Butter is happy with pancakes. Peanut oil makes for a marvelous stir-fry. And eggs have their favorite oils, too. When it comes to frying, we’re mostly talking about oils with a relatively high smoke point—that is, oils that can get pretty hot (we’re frying here) without burning—and a flavor that goes happily with eggs. Which oil is best for frying eggs? It’s a matter of preference. Read this, then fry, fry away.
I love frying eggs in olive oil. It’s flavorful while still being fairly neutral, and performs well at higher heats—which means that if it’s a crispy-edged fried egg you seek, olive oil is a friend indeed. Be fairly generous with the oil, get your pan very, very hot, and crack in your egg; it should scream when it hits the pan. Let the white get crisp and brown around the edges and the bubbly on its surface.
If olive oil is the all-purpose, weekday, hard-and-fast oil, consider butter your dreamy, low-and-slow, weekend vehicle for egg-frying. Butter can’t tolerate high heat the way olive oil can because the dairy solids in butter will burn. (Brown butter, however, where the dairy solids toast but don’t burn is excellent on an egg.) So, you forgo crispy edges in exchange for lots and lots of butter. You’re still frying, though, so get your pan hot over steady, medium-low heat, drop in butter, and then, as soon as it’s melted, crack in your egg. Spooning butter over the egg as it cooks is a great way to maximize flavor—and butter consumption.
I don’t need to tell you that bacon and eggs are a heaven-made match. If you have a little bacon fat lying around (my parents keep a ramekin of it in the back of the refrigerator at all times), you should certainly use it to fry eggs. Bacon grease will tolerate high heat well, so don’t be afraid to crank the stove.
It’s good at high heat, and a little bit sweet. Use it wherever you’d use olive oil!
Why, why would you fry an egg in pale, flavorless canola oil if you could fry it in something like olive oil or butter or bacon fat, for crying out loud? You wouldn’t. (I wouldn’t, anyway.) But canola or vegetable oil can get really hot (crispy edges!). With that knowledge, let it be a dance partner to oils with lower smoke points, such as specialty or flavored oils like sesame oil or pumpkin seed oil (which would burn and burn if you were to fry an egg in that alone). Your egg will get the best parts of both oils: heat from the canola, flavor from the special oil. It can also serve as a base for a serious spice pop.