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Recipe: Fried cheese elevates eggs in salad

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Shredded Parmesan cheese makes a crisp crust beneath fried eggs in this salad.

I once asked a famous chef what his favorite food was, expecting an answer along the lines of caviar or foie gras or sea snail broth sipped from a shell.

He said fried cheese.

The wisdom of his words was profound. Because no matter the incarnation — whether mozzarella sticks, cheese curds or those thin wafers of grated Parmesan or Asiago called frico — few things are more deliciously craveable than molten fried cheese.

This recipe celebrates the lighter side of fried cheese, starring here as a golden crust for eggs. Crunchy and brittle, a cheesy halo envelops the fried eggs, giving them a potato chip appeal with a salty, funky depth. Take one bite and you may never fry up plain eggs again, not when the cheesy version is so easy to make.

You’ll need a nonstick skillet or well-seasoned cast-iron pan. Heat it thoroughly before brushing on a thin layer of oil, so you can be sure the Parmesan won’t stick. But don’t add too much oil or the eggs will be greasy. Properly fried cheese is all about balance.

The gorgeous, brown-edged eggs are heaped onto a lemony salad filled with crisp vegetables — radicchio, sugar snap peas and cucumber — to accentuate the crunch. I call for blanching the peas, which makes them a little more tender and encourages them to soak up the dressing. But if you’re looking to skip a step, skip this one; just slice the raw peas a little more thinly so they’re easy to chew.

If you love anchovies, drape them over the salad before serving. They counter all the richness from the runny egg yolks. (Capers or olives add a similar tang if anchovies aren’t your thing.) Or leave them off altogether. The Parmesan fried eggs will easily shine all by themselves.

THE TRUE stars of this main course salad are the Parmesan fried eggs, which have lacy, golden edges. As the runny yolks leak onto the radicchio and vegetables, they mix with the lemony dressing, making the whole salad creamy and rich. It’s important to sprinkle coarse strands of Parmesan into the pan, preferably cheese that you’ve shredded using the largest holes of your grater. The preground stuff is too powdery and won’t give you the same lacy perimeter. Then be sure to use a nonstick skillet or well-seasoned cast-iron pan to fry the eggs; they are liable to glue themselves onto a regular pan.

CRISPY PARMESAN EGGS WITH RADICCHIO AND PEA SALAD

By Melissa Clark

  • Fine sea salt, as needed
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar snap peas, trimmed
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons coarsely grated (not ground) Parmesan cheese, divided (or substitute Asiago or cheddar)
  • 4 eggs
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 1 medium head radicchio, cored and torn into bite-size pieces (about 6 cups)
  • 1/4 cup sliced pitted black olives, such as Kalamata
  • 1/2 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup sliced mini cucumber
  • 8 oil-packed anchovy fillets (optional)
  • >> Dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely grated or mashed to a paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for serving
  • Large pinch of red-pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt, as needed, to taste

>> To make dressing: Combine lemon juice, garlic, salt, black pepper and red-pepper flakes in small mixing bowl. Whisk in olive oil, then taste and add more lemon juice or salt, or both, if needed. Set aside.

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add peas and blanch 1 minute. Drain well and place in ice water to cool. Drain, pat dry and halve peas. Set aside.

Brush olive oil over bottom of a 10-inch nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet and place over medium heat. Sprinkle 1/2 cup Parmesan in an even layer, covering bottom of pan. Cook 2 minutes, until cheese begins to melt.

Crack eggs onto cheese, then cover pan and cook until eggs start to set, 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and turn heat to medium-high to finish cooking eggs, another 1 to 2 minutes, until edges are crisp and golden brown. Make sure cheese doesn’t over-brown; if necessary, turn down heat.

Season eggs with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, toss remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan, snap peas, radicchio, olives, tomatoes and cucumber with the dressing. Taste and add salt or lemon juice, if needed.

Serve salad with eggs on top. Grind on more pepper and garnish with anchovy fillets if you’d like.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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