By the title, you probably thought I was about launch into a rant. Sorry to disappoint. Today, boys and girls, I just want to justify the name of this blog and to urge you to learn how to poach an egg if you do not already know how.
Why? Because a poached egg goes on top of everything and anything: toast (of course), asparagus, ratatouille, spicy tomato sauce, and even on top of spaghetti. At the end of the day when you are brain-dead and cranky with exhaustion, a couple of poached eggs on top of something warm like whole wheat pasta tossed with Parmesan and some fat breadcrumbs toasted in a little olive oil on top of the stove can be a real mood buster. Not to mention, easy.
photo by Luke Vargas
In this month’s March issue of Vegetarian Times, I wrote a short “technique” article on poaching. I will share the “egg” part of it here if you missed it. (Right now you can still find the issue on newsstands with more poaching recipes like warm barley salad with poached vegetables and Swiss chard gnocchi.) Cut to the chase.
The thing about eggs is this: when you cook eggs, walk on eggs. That is, eggs are delicate, and so should you be when you cook them. In the same way I have perfected soft scrambled eggs by doing the burner dance—moving the pan between two burners to control the heat from medium to low—you can perfect and master poached eggs by cooking them in gently simmering water. They are a beauty to behold, and even better to eat. With a modicum of attention, you can master this technique FOREVER.
photo by Luke Vargas
Here are a few pointers
• Use the freshest eggs you can find, preferably organic and free range. (To see why, read Luke’s post here.) The egg whites of fresh eggs hold their shape; older eggs will spread amorphously, which will not be the end of the world, but not as satisfying. Check the carton for a 3-digit number on the outside. It indicates the pack date—exactly when the eggs were placed in the carton. e.g., January 1st as 001, December 31st as 365.
• Fill a wide, deep pot with at least 2 inches of water (2 quarts in a 9-inch saucepan). A wide pot with plenty of water gives the eggs room to absorb heat evenly without cranking up the heat too high. Add plenty of salt (1 teaspoon for 2 quarts of water) and some white vinegar or the milder choice, white wine vinegar (2 tablespoons for 2 quarts water.) The salt keeps the eggs buoyant and the vinegar keeps the whites from spreading.
•Bring the water to a boil and adjust the heat to a simmer. The tiny bubbles that form around the edge of the pot, not from the bottom, indicate that the poaching liquid is hot enough to cook food without blasting it with harsh heat.
• Crack the egg into a teacup and hold the edge of the cup close to the surface of the water. Slide in the egg and let it cook for about 1 minute. Draw a spoon over the surface of the water to ripple it and release the egg from the bottom of the pot. Keep cooking, and after another minute or two, slide a slotted spoon under the egg, lift it, and probe it with your finger.
• When the eggs are done to your liking, remove each one with the slotted spoon. Set the spoon on top of a folded paper towel and tilt it to drain the excess water. Set the egg on top of….everything!
Poached egg with roasted asparagus and mushrooms
Serves 1 (recipe can be multiplied, but you knew that)
5 asparagus stalks
1 handful small mushrooms
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
For the vegetables:
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
2. Mound the asparagus and mushrooms in 2 separate piles on the baking sheet. Drizzle 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil over each pile of vegetables, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss each pile to coat with oil, and spread evenly on the baking sheet, still keeping the vegetables separate.
3. Roast for 15 minutes, or until the mushrooms are done. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate. Return the baking sheet to the oven, and continue to roast asparagus for 5 to 10 minutes longer, until tender. Remove and keep warm while you poach the egg.
To poach the egg:
1. Fold a paper towel, and set it on a plate next to the stove. Crack 1 egg into a teacup. Bring 2 inches of water to a boil in a wide, deep saucepan. Add the salt and vinegar, and adjust the heat to a simmer.
2. Holding the edge of the cup as close to the surface as possible, slide the egg it into the water. Adjust the heat to maintain a steady, gentle simmer. Draw a spoon across the surface of the water to allow the egg to float in the pan. After 2 to 3 more minutes, lift the egg from water with a slotted spoon and test for doneness by pressing on the egg. The white should feel firm and the yolk should still be soft. Return to water if necessary.
3. While the egg is cooking, set the asparagus and mushrooms on a plate. When the egg is done to your liking, remove it from the pan with the slotted spoon. Rest the spoon on the paper towel for moment to drain excess water. If you like, trim stray bits of egg white with sharp paring knife or scissors. Set the egg on top of the asparagus. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and if you like, Parmesan. Serve with toast
Bring at least 2 inches of water to a boil in a wide pot. Don't forget the salt and vinegar. Adjust the heat to a simmer (bubbles around the edges, not on the bottom.)
Crack the egg into a teacup (to avoid mishaps, and make it easier.) Hold the edge of the cup close to the surface of the water and slide in the egg. Turn up the heat briefly and then turn it down, to keep the temperature just under steady simmer.
After about a minute, the egg begins to set. Draw a wooden spoon (no sharp edges) across the surface of the water to swirl it slightly, which will allow the egg to float.
After 2 to 4 minutes, check the egg for doneness by lifting it up out of the water with a slotted spoon. Press on the yolk with your finger lightly to see if it is cooked to your liking.
Once the egg is done, remove it from the water with the slotted spoon and rest it on top of a paper towel for a few moments, tilting the spoon to drain the excess water.
Place it on top of the asparagus, toast, spaghetti, you name it.
Addendum: A reader asked a question about how to poach several eggs, say 8, keep them warm, and cook them properly.
I will repeat here the answer to a comment below.
One thing I forgot to mention is that eggs can be poached ahead of time and refrigerated (or left at room temperature for a while if you are going to reheat them within an hour). If you want to keep them in the refrigerator (up to 2 days!) submerge them in cold water and store. This is a common practice among chefs. The point is, you could cook 4 eggs at a time or the number of eggs that will fit reasonably in your pan without crowding. Remove each egg as soon as it is done--no need to overcook some while you wait for the others to finish cooking. Rest each egg on a paper towel to drain excess water, and set it on a plate. If you want to cook 4 more, just repeat. When all the eggs are cooked and you are ready to serve them, get your plates warmed and toast ready. Then, simply dunk each egg in the hot poaching water (leave it right on the slotted spoon) for 20 to 30 seconds to re-warm it. Or, you could warm 2 or 3 at a time if you are super-coordinated. Remove and rest on the paper towel again and set on the awaiting plate.