By Harold McGee
The containerless fried egg is even more prone to spreading than the poached egg because it is heated only from below, so its white is slower to coagulate. Fresh, high-grade eggs give the most compact shape, and straining off the thin white also helps. The ideal pan temperature for a pale, tender fried egg is around 250°F/ 120°C, when butter has finished sizzling but hasn’t yet browned, or oil to which a drop of water has been added has stopped sputtering. At higher temperatures, you lose tenderness but gain a more flavorsome, browned and crisp surface. The top of the egg can be cooked by turning the egg over after a minute or so, or by adding a teaspoon of water to the pan and covering it to trap the resulting steam, or—as in the browned Chinese “coin-purse” egg—the egg can be folded over onto itself when barely set, so that top and bottom are crisped but the yolk remains protected and creamy.