Many years ago, I knew an old Navy gunner named Earl. On the plus side, Earl was one of those sunny people who are always either smiling or getting ready to. On the minus side, he was also one of those guys who told very bad, very stale jokes that no one really laughed at, and had a special talent for wretched puns that made people wince and take cover. Some who knew him thought he was nice enough, but perhaps a bit, you know, touched.
But Earl always made me chuckle, because I knew what he was up to: he wasn’t trying to entertain other people with his un-funny attempts at humor; he was entertaining himself by watching their reactions to his un-funny attempts at humor. Kind of an ongoing social experiment or a subversive performance piece.
Needless to say, I liked the guy.
Earl was one of the regulars at a Jersey diner where I spent some of my misspent youth, and we’d occasionally sit together for breakfast and a cup of coffee (or six) and shoot the breeze. Earl liked to satirize the local politicos, excoriate “that ratbastid Steinbrenner” for his mistreatment of the great Billy Martin, and, most of all, to reminisce about the stunningly beautiful islands (and the stunningly beautiful half-dressed islanders) of the South Seas.
He never did talk much about WWII itself, but from a friend of his I’d learned that Earl had been through some of the very worst the Pacific theater had to offer, and had barely come out with his skin. It was hard to imagine how any man could witness more than his share of horror and still remain a basically happy guy, but Earl had, and he did.
One morning we were sitting at the counter and got to talking about food in the miltary. “You ever hearda Sailor’s Eggs?”
“Uh…, no…I don’t think so.”
“Jeez! Hey, George!” Earl said to the grillman’s back, “the kid’s never hearda Sailor’s Eggs, can you believe that?”
“Jeez,” George replied, not turning around.
“Make us a couple, will ya?”
George reached for butter, bread, eggs, … and a juice glass. After ignoring Earl’s non-stop stream of ‘helpful suggestions’ during the preparation, George placed the results in front of us.
Earl lifted a fork – then stopped. He sat staring at the plate. George waited. I prompted.
“So, uh, how do they look? They look like you remember?”
For a moment, a spark of memory had caught and flared; good or bad, no one could say. And then it passed.
Earl smiled. “They look good, kid,” he said, reaching for the salt, “Real good.”
The whole raison d’etre of Sailor’s Eggs is simply to keep slippery fried eggs from sliding around – on the griddle or the plate – while cooking breakfast on a rolling, lurching boat. Even if you’re on solid ground, they’re a fun and unusual way to serve breakfast, and kids absolutely love them.
They also make a satisfying light meal when you want an indefinable ‘something’ at the end of a hard day or a late night, something tasty that might leave you feeling a bit happier and more content than you were before. For some reason, Sailor’s Eggs are especially good for that.
Old Earl’s long gone now, but I remember him every time I make these. And I probably always will.
Here’s a photo of the Sailor’s Eggs (or Eggs in a Nest) below.
Ingredients:1 Tbsp (or more) butter
2 slices of your favorite bread
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
First, find a ring mold, biscuit cutter, or thin-rimmed drinking glass/cup that you can use to cut a section out of the bread slices. You want something that will make a hole large enough for the egg to fry in, but will leave at least a half-inch border of bread.
Butter the bread on both sides before cutting out the circle. Why, you ask? Because you want maximum butter coverage on the bread. Sure, you could melt the butter in the pan instead; that would be neater, but the results are not nearly as good.
(Now, some folks cut the circles out and (gasp!) DISCARD them. That, to my mind, is sheer insanity. You definitely want to keep those circles because you’re going to pan-fry them into decadent little toast rounds! I mean, how often do you get to have round toast?)
To begin, choose a non-stick pan large enough for the bread and the toast rounds (if you don’t have a pan big enough, make the toast rounds first so you won’t have to wait on them while your eggs get cold.)
Heat the pan to medium high. Lay the buttered bread pieces in and let them toast just a bit. Melt a small piece of butter in the center of each slice and crack an egg into the hole. When the bottom of the egg has firmed up, gently slide a wide spatula under the egg/bread slice and flip it over; cook the other side as you would a regular fried egg. Take care not to overcook the eggs, though. You want to leave a nice soft yolk so your toast rounds will have a purpose in life!
You can add salt and pepper as desired, or anything else that strikes your fancy (paprika, minced chives, etc). Sprinkling some cheddar on top just after you flip the slices is a must-try variation, but I strongly recommend keeping it very basic the first time you make Sailor’s Eggs. That way, you can really appreciate and enjoy how the simple combination of these few familiar things, done in an ingenious way, creates an unexpected and little-known delight.
Please join us tomorrow to enjoy our latest recipe, an Alhambra Breakfast Torte, as part of this week’s special focus on breakfast.
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