Where's the book?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The poached egg epiphany

I used to joke that I was going to write a cookbook for raw beginners and call it How to Boil Water. Then somebody (Food Network, of course) actually did. My birth mom, who was an amazing cook as well as an author of cookbooks and culinary history books, wrote a beginner's cookbook that she called, How to Slice an Onion. It makes a wonderful gift for kids heading off to their first apartments or any other kitchen newbie, and you can pick up a copy here.

But no matter how experienced a cook you are, there's always something new to try. I've mastered lots of what appear at first to be pretty challenging recipes and techniques. I bake my own bread (baguette recipe coming soon), have made cheese (mozzarella and ricotta), cure my own bacon, and there was even, once, the infamous Night of the Crackers. Yes, I made my own crackers, which took an entire day, and I served them to dinner guests with the cheese platter before the meal. They were a little oddly shaped, and somewhat less tasty than a Ritz. But they were homemade crackers! I was so worn out from the cracker-making that I don't think the rest of the meal was much good. They did, however, become legend, as an example of over-the-top do-it-yourselfishness. And I learned a good lesson. There are some things better left alone, especially things that are completely incidental to the meal. Have you ever heard anyone leave a restaurant exclaiming, "Oh, those crackers!"

A Dementor. Pretty ugly, no?
But despite all the bacon curing and baguette baking, there's one simple item that I've never managed to master: the poached egg. I've tried adding lemon juice and drops of vinegar. I've tried swirling the water clockwise and swirling the water counter-clockwise. But no matter how I swirled and dipped, my poached eggs ended up looking like the shredded ends of Harry Potter's Dementors (but white). Ugly things, my poached eggs.

Until I found a little secret on this cute video, which also reveals the easy way to tell a fresh egg from a not-so-fresh egg (fresher eggs poach more tidily). Don't you love knowing these little cooking tricks? The video reveals this easy tip: crack the raw egg into a fine mesh sieve. That way the watery part of the white drains away, so that when it cooks it stays nice and tight and pretty.

Maybe my fine mesh strainer is finer than most, or my eggs thicker, but I found that the fine mesh did not strain any of the white away. So I tried using a slotted spoon, and that worked perfectly. Plus it made lowering the egg into the simmering water very easy, since the egg was already sitting pertly on a spoon. Very lightly oiling the spoon beforehand made it slide off more readily.

It's a little bit of a balancing act, handling egg and spoon, so cracking each egg into a small cup before starting makes it easier. Then you can just tip an egg into the spoon, let the watery white drain away, and lower it into the water. Use the spoon to gently move them around while they cook, and to lift them out when they're done.

In addition to making my first nicely poached eggs, I also made my first hollandaise sauce. And I used the food processor, so it was ridiculously easy (recipe below). Which means I also made my...drumroll, please...first eggs benedict. Served to a very pleased Figlio Minore. What's next? I'm heading to the country for a bit so I'm thinking smoking. Fish, that is. Onward!

Food processor (or blender) hollandaise

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large egg yolks, room temp
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Pinch of cayenne

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan or microwave.
  2. Place the egg yolks, lemon juice, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/5 teaspoon pepper, and cayenne in the processor. Blend for 15 seconds. With the processor running, slowly pour the hot butter in and blend for 30 seconds, until thick. 
  3. You can leave the sauce in the processor at room temp for up to one hour. Or make in advance and refrigerate. When ready to serve, add about a half-tablespoon hot water and pulse for a few seconds before serving. 


  1. I will try your method. I love the combined taste of a poached egg on top of sliced salmon, no bread.

    1. Ooh, that sounds delicious. Do you use smoked salmon or regular?