The Cloudy Origins Of Eggs In A Basket

"Eggs with the bread with the hole in the middle," in other words, "eggs à la me." That's how the sometimes clueless but always well-meaning Joey Tribbiani described eggs in a basket on a season 2 episode of the long-running television show, "Friends." Also known as egg in a hole, egg in a frame, birdie in a basket, and countless others, the recipe for the multi-monikered breakfast dish requires just three ingredients and a few easy steps. 

Here's what you need to know: Melt some butter in a skillet. Cut a hole into a slice of bread — a circle is the classic choice, but any shape will do. Place the bread in the skillet. Crack an egg into the hole. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the egg is done to your preference. Flip the whole thing over. Cook for a few more seconds, and there you have it — egg in a basket.

A breakfast by any other name

As ubiquitous as it is on American breakfast tables, the genesis of eggs in a basket is still a bit shrouded in mystery. That is at least partly because it goes by so many different names (more than 60, by some counts). Food historians tend to date its debut to the late 19th century, which is right around the time its better-known cousin, eggs Benedict — with its fancy hollandaise sauce and Canadian bacon — hit the scene, overshadowing the breakfast dish for decades. 

One of the earliest references to the simple egg preparation dates to the 1890s. The recipe for egg in a basket, as well as the offshoot "egg with a hat," which saves the bread cut-out to later top the egg with, was published in the "Boston Cooking School Cookbook" by Fannie Farmer. There was also some overlap between Farmer's publication and when Italian immigrants brought uova fritte nel pane (fried eggs in bread) to U.S. shores, though the traditional side of tomatoes and peppers was regarded as "too ethnic" for American palates. 

While the dish was a simple and cheap go-to in many households, it wasn't until it started popping up on the silver and the small screen that it was truly spurred on. 

The pop culture connection

One of the most memorable, in what became a classic scene of the 1987 star vehicle Moonstruck, was a true uova fritte nel pane sizzling on the stovetop. It drew so much attention it prompted yet another name for the classic breakfast dish — Moonstruck eggs. But that wasn't the first time it hit the big screen; Eater also spotted the appearance of the eggs in the 1941 Betty Grable film "Moon Over Miami." And though in the film they're referred to as gashouse eggs  (a reference to the German word for guesthouse), fans of the picture started making at home what they henceforth called Betty Grable eggs. Eighteen years following Moonstruck, another generation got a look at the dish in the film V for Vendetta, which used it to draw a parallel between the titular V and Stephen Fry's character, Dietrich. 

Television's nods to the polyonymous dish are too numerous to detail in full, but one can be sure this visibility has contributed to its staying power. In a 1987 episode of "Sledge Hammer!," the main character uses a gun to shoot the requisite hole into the bread. And egg in a hole, as it was called on the show, even had a seat at the table during a season premiere of "Fraiser." 

With so many pop culture references working to cement egg in a basket's place on American breakfast tables, it's a sure bet it's not likely to go out of style anytime soon.