Saturday, 4 February 2012
Perfect Poached Eggs - It's All In the Planning
Whether it's a breakfast treat for overnight guests, a hangover cure or just a naughty little snack, to me the perfect poached egg is where it begins and ends. I measure the quality of a restaurant kitchen by it's poached eggs and always order eggs poached when given the option. It's an anxious moment as more often than not I end out disappointed. They are usually either two hard or worse, have unset whites.
I get annoyed when asked 'how do you like your eggs poached?'. Perfectly of course! A perfect poached egg should have a hot creamy yolk and a fully set white. You can see the difficulty, a few seconds can make all the difference. In order to have a fully set white, the outside edge of the yolk must also be just set, leaving an nice steamy runny centre.
I'm proud of my poached eggs and I think I deserve to be. I've perfected the method over decades and no longer feel anxious when preparing as many as 8 or 10 breakfasts for guests. So today I share with you my little tips and hope you can enjoy the same feeling as I do because, there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of delivering perfect poached eggs.
1. The eggs:
Fresh fresh fresh and organic is all I can say. We eat so few eggs so what is the difference in a few pence per egg when it comes down to it. Always choose the ones from the back of the shelf with the latest use by date. If the egg is not really fresh, the white will go to pieces in the water. Yuck. Some say you shouldn't keep eggs in the fridge (supermarkets don't) but then I don't think it really matters and what are the egg holders in the fridge for anyway?. To be honest, if they are cold there is less risk of overcooking them.
2. The kit:
A ladle (to break the eggs into first) and a saucepan with at least 5cm (2 in) of gently simmering water with a serious dash of vinegar. I normally use white wine vinegar but I had run out so used malt vinegar instead. The only difference is the darker vinegar leaves a slightly coloured residue on the finished egg. Use a slotted spoon to check and remove the eggs. A bit of kitchen paper is useful to remove any last bits of water before they go on to the plate.
Timing is what it's all about, so get prepared. Make sure all of the other breakfast ingredients are cooked and ready to serve before you start poaching the eggs. Make sure the plates are hot, and make sure your condiments and garnishes are all ready to go. And don't forget the coffee.
Use the ladle to 'roll' the egg into the water. As the egg sinks it will plume as the white starts to set and create just the right shape. Now this is where it all gets a bit weird. I don't time poached eggs because there are too many factors involved. For example the temperature of the egg, the number of eggs being cooked and the volume of water. So, I invented the 'wobble test' instead. Pick up the egg with the slotted spoon and gently wobble it. If it looks like a bag of water, it's not ready. If it doesn't wobble at all it's overdone. It should wobble just like a set jelly. With a bit of practice you'll work this out in no time, it's intuitive. This tells you the outside is firm enough to hold it together and the inside is still liquid. It's weird , but it works. Roughly it takes about as long as the toast takes in the toaster, so I always put the toast on immediately after the last egg goes in the pan.
Two eggs is obviously easier than 8 or 10 eggs. When I do a large batch, I use a large pot and remember the order that the eggs went in. When serving, I remove the pot from the stove and continue to check each egg and remove them the moment the pass the wobble test. Everything else must already be plated up or you'll get into a right flap.
5. Make them pretty:
Fresh coriander (cilantro) and fresh chillies are my favourites plus lashings of freshly ground black pepper. I raided my chilli bounty in the freezer and finely chopped a mild red one, a pretty purple one and a little green bomb; super hot and full of flavour. It looks like a pea with a fuse and wow, it really does explode!
So there you have it. That's how simple and stress free it can be.
And last of all, the leading photograph is one of those happy accidents we all hope for. The word 'EGG' on the Emma Bridgewater dinner plate has somehow landed perfectly above the egg itself! It wasn't until I copied the photo on to my laptop that I even noticed. Priceless.