Spicy Eggs in Hell

A small cast-iron skillet filled with eggs in hell, and half a piece of toasted bread.

Eggs in purgatory is what to eat when you’re feeling like hell. I’m not saying that you have to have a hangover, but after an evening of carousing, eggs cooked in a fiery tomato sauce can feel like heaven.

I feel I should address this recipe’s name, but I have nothing conclusive to offer you. The heat of the red pepper and the red of the tomato might more plausibly have led this to be called uova in inferno rather than in Purgatorio. [Editor’s Note: Uh, that means purgatory. Eggs in purgatory, given the recipe’s rather fire-and-brimstone-esque look.] Purgatory is the place where those who die in a state of grace but are not ready for ascension into Heaven must wait, in a long-suffering limbo. This, I do appreciate, is a simplistic categorization, but please: I’m writing an introduction to a recipe, here, not a work of doctrinal history. Besides, not being Catholic, all I know about purgatory I learned from reading Dante. So I particularly liked the hopeful literary attribution, which suggests that said dish of golden yolks rising out of Parmesan-hazy spicy tomatoes might be a reference to Dante’s having reached purgatory at dawn, and later hailing the advancing sun as the “cheeks of beautiful Aurora . . . changing into orange.” Yes, I know, I wouldn’t push it too far either, but you can’t blame a person for trying.

Let’s put questions of attribution and whimsical theories aside, for we have the pure and pleasurable physicality of the dish to consider. Now, normally I have an almost hysterically inflexible no-red-with-egg rule: I can’t bear to see so much as a blob of ketchup or broiled tomato near (let alone mixed with) an egg on someone’s plate. But these utterly challenge and overturn my previously rigid prejudice. As to the cooking itself, if I use my little cast-iron skillet, only 7 inches in diameter, there is really only room for 1 egg; but generally, a small frying pan tends to come in at about 8 inches in diameter, in which case you can easily fit 2 eggs. Or you could always do 1 egg and drop the yolk of the second egg on the white of the first…. Either way, this is so easy and speedy to make, I can find time to rustle it up for breakfast, brunch, lunch, supper, or late-night snack, whatever state I’m in. If solo salvation turns into brunch for a roomful of people, obviously use a bigger pan, and I would think 2 cans of tomatoes could provide enough liquid—if there’s room in the pan—for up to 8 eggs.–Nigella Lawson

LC Eggs In (Sorta) Spicy Tomato Sauce Note

How odd that there are so many recipes in print for something with such an odd jumble of ingredients as eggs in tomato sauce. We’ve known a dozen or more versions of eggs in purgatory to be in existence, and in fact for years we made the recipe by M.F.K. Fisher. But no matter how savvy one’s intellect or how vivid one’s imagination, it sorta takes seeing the above photo to really get the title. Each of these many renditions, whether dubbed Eggs in Purgatory or Eggs in Hell, are essentially the same, coming together with just a little unattended bubble and nary any toil or trouble. And each takes well to any tweaks or additions that you fancy. As one of our recipe testers keenly observed, “green olives, caramelized onions, sardines, spicy salame…basically anything you pine for in a pasta sauce or on a pizza.” Hot sauce is our personal must, but suit yourself—probably not a good idea if there are kids at the table, actually, so skip the hot sauce and be certain to set out toasted bread as “dippers.”

Spicy Eggs in Hell

  • Quick Glance
  • (2)
  • 5 M
  • 15 M
  • Serves 1
5/5 - 2 reviews
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Pour the olive oil into a skillet, then add the garlic, scatter in the red pepper flakes, and heat the skillet over medium, stirring, for 1 minute.

Tip in the tomatoes, stir in the salt, and let it come to a bubble.

Crack 1 egg at a time into a small dish and pick out any shell fragments before you slip it into the tomato mixture. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the egg whites, leaving the yolks exposed if you like them runny or spooning the tomato sauce completely over the eggs if you like your yolks hard-cooked. (Conversely, if you’re obsessive about the whites of your eggs being set, maybe sprinkle the yolks with the Parmesan, seeing as it’s hard to tell when they’re covered with cheese.) Partially cover the skillet with a lid. Let the tomato sauce bubble for about 5 minutes, by which time the white should be set but the yolk, if left uncovered, still runny. Keep an eye on the eggs, as the timing will vary somewhat.

Remove the skillet from the heat and serve, if so wished, sprinkled with a little (or a lot) more Parmesan and some chile oil or hot sauce, and accompanied by bread for dunking, if so desired.

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

You want to know what I love most about this dish? It’s one of those that upon first description (and even first glance) totally underwhelms, but in the end is a runaway hit so easy to make you could do it blindfolded. When I first told the kids that we were having Eggs in Hell for dinner, then explained to them what the dish included, I was greeted with a serious rolling of the eyes and a general look of disgust. “Why can’t we just have eggs like normal people?” Ugh.

I actually found the finished meal in the pan to be quite pretty—the bright yellow yolks peeking up from their bed of tomato sauce—but if their sneers were any indication, my resident food critics weren’t nearly as impressed. We dished ours up as finger food, spooning an egg and sauce onto grilled pieces of rustic bread that we had painted with garlic oil. One bite in and there wasn’t a critic left at the table. In fact, a race ensued to see who could be the first to get to the last few eggs in the pan.

And it couldn’t be easier. The simple tomato sauce comes together in minutes, and true to the recipe, the eggs were perfectly cooked with runny yolks at 5 minutes. We doubled the sauce ingredients to accommodate the 8 eggs, and the ratio seemed perfect. Be sure to break the eggs first into small individual ramekins or prep bowls to allow rapid, shell-free pouring into the sauce. The addition of various herbs or spices could enrich the sauce, but it was quite delicious as written, so such efforts should be viewed as completely optional. Wish I made more!

This is a nice spin on a favorite of mine, eggs in salsa. It really is the perfect meal for 1 or 2 in a hurry. I liked the taste of the canned tomatoes and fresh garlic, and using the red pepper flakes allowed me to control the heat. I used a small 7-inch cast-iron skillet and the 14 ounces tomatoes half filled it. By the time I added the eggs and sprinkled on the Parmesan cheese, the pan was pretty full. I had to cook it all at a low simmer so it wouldn’t bubble over. So all in all it took closer to 20 minutes from start to finish with being on the cautious side. The eggs were perfectly done with runny yolks and the whites were set. The Parmesan cheese blended into the tomatoes during cooking. With another sprinkle of Parmesan to serve it was a perfect meal for a busy Saturday. When I make this again, I think a little basil sprinkled on top would make this perfect. I guess I have a new favorite.

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