American Eggs: Cracking the Code


How do you like your eggs? (JC)

Growing up in the UK, eggs were eggs, plain and simple, take them or leave them. We had boiled, fried, scrambled, poached and omelets, or “omelettes”.  (Ok, coddled eggs starts to get a bit fancy, but how many people had coddled eggs on a regular basis anyway?)

Here in the U.S. eggs can be well, a trifle confusing if you’re a Brit. It’s taken me years to feel comfortable with all the “over easy” stuff, and I still get my Benedicts and Florentines confused. Glance over any brunch menu on this side of the pond and your choice of egg dishes usually takes up three pages and matters are not always crystal clear. Obviously there are slight regional differences in egg terminology, but for the most part it goes:

Sunny Side Up – this is basically a fried egg cooked on one side only, yolk still liquid and whites a little runny. (Gag) In other words, the kind of egg at we were warned against eating in the Edwina Currie salmonella scare back in 1988.

Over Easy (yes, this actually does exist, it’s not just something people have in the movies) – this is the same egg as above, but flipped over (get it) and lightly fried on the other side, as in “Easy on the frying”. The yolk remains runny but the whites are more cooked. You can also have your eggs “over medium” and “over hard” where the degree of cooked-ness increases. Opinions vary as to whether the “over medium” yolk is broken, but the “over hard” version definitely is.

Culinary note – if you want your whites less disgusting gelatinous, and/or you’re worried about breaking the yolk when attempting the flip, experts advise adding a teeny bit of water to the pan and putting a lid on. This will effectively steam cook the whites without disturbing anything else.

Other eggs you’ll find on a breakfast or brunch menu are:

Eggs Benedict – This is a complicated one for Brits, since it starts with an English muffin, which of course, isn’t really what we ate in England. Sitting atop the muffin is a runny poached egg and ham or bacon. Of course the bacon may or may not be like the back bacon we’re used to, but the ham (Canadian) will. This is all smothered in a creamy Hollandaise sauce, containing yet more eggs.

There are many varieties of Eggs Benedict, the most well known being Eggs Florentine, where spinach replaces the meat. You can also find Eggs Mornay, which has a cheese sauce instead of the Hollandaise, and Huevos Benedictos, which is a Mexican version containing avocadoes and chorizo sausage, and served with salsa.  Eggs Chesapeake contains crab instead of ham, and Irish Benedict has either Irish bacon or yes, you’ve guessed it, corned beef.

And speaking of huevos, another common dish is Huevos Rancheros, which consists of poached or fried eggs served with salsa, corn tortillas, frijoles, and often avocadoes, melted cheese, cilantro, sour cheese etc. (There are definitely variations on this dish.)

What you probably won’t find are Scotch Eggs unless you’re in a Brit eatery, a Renaissance Festival or at the Minnesota State Fair where apparently they are served on a stick. And if you see Toad-in-the-Hole on a menu, please be advised that this is actually what we’d call Eggy bread, i.e. a piece of bread with a hole cut out and an egg dropped in, as opposed to the Yorkshire pudding dish with sausages.


Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a British author who has lived in the USA since 1990. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom and The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students. She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV discussing US/UK matters.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • Owen

    Scotch eggs are actually fairly easy to find, though not as prevalent as the others mentioned. I have found them on a number of brewery and charcuterie menus as appetizers, including here in Chicago at Goose Island from time to time.

  • Melody Pond

    You got one thing a tad mixed up, my British friend…. You referred to “Toad in a Hole” —- I think you were meaning to say “Eggs in a Basket”, which is a piece of bread with a hole cut out and an egg dropped in. And what Brits call “Eggy Bread” is actually called “French Toast” in the US, which is bread soaked in beaten eggs and then fried and served with syrup.
    Yep, we love our eggs around here!

    • Toni Hargis

      There are recipes all over the place showing ‘toad-in-hole’ as bread with a hole and an egg in the center/centre. There are also several menus online which call it toad-in-the-hole. Again, probably regional.
      Where I grew in the UK, up we called it eggy bread; we called anything like that eggy bread, including the one that’s called ‘french toast’ here. We just didn’t do the syrup thing!

      • Melody Pond

        No syrup? You crazy Brits! LOL

    • Frankie Herron

      Robin, where I come from, what you call “Eggs in a Basket” is called “Egg in a Hole”.

  • Sarah

    The only eggs I ever eat are fried eggs, scrambled eggs, and boiled eggs. And French toast, if that counts as an egg. I never ever eat eggs that are under-cooked or runny. That’s disgusting. Whenever I cook eggs I make sure the whites and yokes are completely cooked through.