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To me, "over easy" seems to refer to the pan, because I think of a pan sitting atop an easy flame. "Over hard" makes me think it refers to the egg, because the liquid becomes solid. Then again, maybe it's something else altogether.

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I think hard refers to the yolk, as you surmise, but then easy is just the opposite of hard. I guess over but still retaining its liquid form just didn't sound quite right. –  J.R. Jan 27 '13 at 23:05

3 Answers 3

There's not really such a thing as over easy scrambled eggs. It originates with fried eggs, where it means turn them over gently (easy, carefully) and cook for for a few seconds more before serving, so the white is fully set (not "snotty"). That's gently because you don't want to break the yolk.

The opposite to over easy is sunny side up (i.e. - don't do that turning over).

EDIT: Because over easy is so well-known in the above context, and because there are no other standard terms to describe how you want your eggs (unlike, say, rare, medium, bloody, well-done for steaks), people do sometimes extrapolate variants such as over hard, or apply over easy to scrambled eggs. They're easily understood, but such usages aren't really standard terminology.

EDIT2: It never occurred to me anyone would propose an alternative origin for over easy. Having scoured the Internet, I don't see anything looking remotely like an "authoritative" etymological reference - so unless someone else does, all I can offer is a couple of links supporting what I think...

  1. The spatula edge should stay on the pan so that the rolling of the egg off the spatula is "easy".
  2. ...in order to faciliate lightly cooking the yolk, you would have to flip the eggs over, and to prevent the yolk from breaking (and rendering the eggs "cooked hard") you have to flip them over easy.
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Actually a colleague with a heart transplant needed to order eggs over "hard" because no part of the fried egg could be under cooked - though I'm sure that phrase would be exceedingly rare. –  Kristina Lopez Jan 27 '13 at 23:15
@Kristina: Bearing in mind your culinary credentials, I'm diffident about disagreeing, but I'd be surprised if the doctor wrote Any fried eggs must be over hard on his "special needs" diet card. Thoroughly cooked through, or maybe just fully cooked sounds more credible there. –  FumbleFingers Jan 27 '13 at 23:23
I'm pretty sure over medium and over hard are recognized terms: they all mean that the egg should be fried on both sides, but cooked more than over easy. An egg cooked over easy will have a fully cooked white but a runny yolk, when over medium the yolk is mostly congealed, and when over hard the yolk is completely solid. I've ordered eggs both ways in restaurants (in the US) and never been asked to clarify. It's neither exceedingly rare nor facetious, just not as popular among diners. Google has lots of hits for both. –  Nate Eldredge Jan 27 '13 at 23:29
For scrambled eggs, you just drop the over. That's how I order mine anyway: "Eggs scrambled hard." I've never had a server ask me what I meant and I usually get them the way I wanted them, so I assume it's standard lingo. –  Kit Z. Fox Jan 28 '13 at 2:54
... this isn't a credible source, but since I believe "in order to faciliate lightly cooking the yolk, you would have to flip the eggs over, and to prevent the yolk from breaking (and rendering the eggs "cooked hard") you have to flip them over easy" is correct, there's the link. –  FumbleFingers Jan 28 '13 at 14:05

I'm pretty sure that "over hard" came first: it's diner jargon that the eggs should be flipped over and cooked until they are hard. Now if you want it flipped but not hard, well the opposite of hard is easy, right? (Sure, you could say soft or runny, but diner slang is often supposed to be funny, a bit of an in-joke, and opaque.)

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Most likely, easy refers to going easy on the temperature and duration, and hard on the condition of the egg, as you suspect. We can play hard and work hard, but we don't really speak about cooking hard. The egg yolk gets solidifies atop even an easy flame, given enough time. And of course, easy doesn't refer to the liquid condition of the yolk.

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