Certainly not me. But then I noticed that chefs at hotel breakfast stations use oil to make omelets in carbon-steel pans. Likewise, the Chinese cook their well-seasoned, well-browned omelets in oil. Ditto the Japanese. Even the Italians favor oil for their frittatas, and there are plenty of Middle Eastern recipes for puffy deep-fried eggs. But scrambled eggs?
As a test, I poured a bit too much olive oil into my nonstick skillet, heated it until just smoking, then poured in my whisked eggs. Whoosh! In a quick puff of steam, the eggs were almost instantly cooked in rolling, variegated waves. The eggs came out fresher and lighter than any I’d ever cooked before, and not at all greasy or heavy. I experimented with different oils but found the flavor and texture of the eggs were best with olive oil. Even a butter/olive oil combination produced eggs that were fleshy and heavy compared to olive oil alone.
But why? My first thought was that oil gets hotter than butter faster, because butter is 20 percent water. Butter can only exceed 212°F once all of the water has evaporated. With no water content, vegetable oils can hit 350°F or higher in much less time. That might explain the instant production of steam. But was there more going on?
Yes, if you wish to indulge in a bit of speculative food science. The proteins in eggs are folded. Heat unfolds (denatures) them. The interior of these proteins contains sulfur atoms (sulfhydryl groups) that link together, creating a solid network that traps the moisture from the eggs. Olive oil is unique among vegetable oils in that it contains surfactants (surface-area agents) that make it easier for the egg proteins to unfold.
Why do we care? It means that eggs cooked in olive oil can link up more easily and “scramble” at lower temperatures, around 160°F. So, olive oil gets hotter faster and produces more steam, and the protein network that traps that steam is produced more quickly. And so you get quicker, bigger puffs and more impressive scrambled eggs.
Cooking eggs in a hot skillet with extra-virgin olive oil allows the proteins to link up more easily, trapping steam and scrambling faster to create creamier, fluffier, tenderer eggs
The amount and temperature of the oil matter greatly. For two eggs in an 8- or 9-inch skillet, 1 tablespoon is right. That needs to increase slightly as the number of eggs and the size of the pan go up. As for the pan, it needs to be placed over medium heat and allowed to warm slowly until the oil evenly coats the bottom and just starts to smoke. This is important. If the oil is not hot enough, the eggs won’t puff up properly.
Technique and timing matter, too. The eggs should be poured into the center of the pan, which pushes some of the oil to the perimeter. That oil at the outer rim cooks the edges of the eggs first and makes them lighter. You need to stir immediately, then fold. I like my scrambled eggs not entirely cooked through. This takes less than 30 seconds for two eggs. If you want the eggs a bit drier, they’ll need a smidge longer. But fair warning: Take them off the heat before they are fully cooked and let them rest on a warm plate for 30 seconds. They finish cooking off the heat.
I thought I’d discovered something. But there’s an epilogue. I eventually stumbled across a recipe for scrambled eggs in olive oil in “The Basque Book” by Alexandra Raij. Two eggs. One tablespoon olive oil. As Jasper White, the famous Boston chef, once told me, there is nothing new in the kitchen.