Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hands On - how to poach an egg

Today's post is about a basic cooking skill or technique.  That's why I call it Hands On.  I will be posting Hands On every Thursday.

Tip:  This is a good opportunity to practice multitasking and efficiency.  While each egg poaches for its alloted three to four minutes, you can be doing other things in the kitchen.  I washed some dishes, chopped shallots, made a short phone call and sauteed spinach.   So poaching the eggs really didn't take much time at all.

How to poach an egg:
 Assemble the following:  Cooking pot or pan, white vinegar, eggs (the fresher the better.  Also better if they are still cold from the refrigerator), slotted spoon or strainer, cooking spoon, small bowl or cup, clean kitchen towel, timer.

Fill pan with water to a depth of 2 inches.  Heat water to a steady simmer.   Add about 1 T. white vinegar to the water.    This helps the egg white (albumen for the science buffs) to coagulate.

What does a simmer look like?  You don't want bubbles breaking the top - boiling is a no-no here.  You do want to see little bubbles on the bottom and up the sides and some movement in the water.  After some experience you will know a simmer when you see one.  If the eggs seem to be cooking too slowly, turn it up a bit.  Too high and the eggs will be tough.  You don't want that.  The theme song for eggs is "Love me Tender".   Maybe the next time you tell some children to "simmer down" it will mean more to you.

Crack an egg into a small cup or saucer.  Give the simmering water a stir with a cooking spoon or chopstick - forming a little whirlpool in the middle of the pan.  Lower one end of the saucer into the water and gently slide the egg into the center of the whirlpool.  Leave it alone for about three minutes.  You can cook it an extra minute if you don't like runny yolks.

When the egg is done, lift it out of the water with a slotted spoon or strainer and put it on a clean kitchen towel to drain.  You can use it right away or you can save it a day or two in the refrigerator.  If you are going to save the eggs and want the egg yolk to stay soft and runny, you can dip the egg in a bowl of ice water for a minute or two to stop the cooking before you drain it.  To reheat, bring to room temperature and place in a pan of very hot water for a minute or so.
Until you get experienced, I suggest poaching one egg at a time.  I did six, and they are going to be supper for me, Frank and my Dad.  We are going to eat them with sauteed spinach and some toast.  No hollandaise for us tonight, but I have a little creme fraiche around and I think I will gild the lily with a dollop of that and some chopped fresh chives.

Postscript on olive oil:
Yesterday I wrote about olive oil.  Olive oil is not a local food (at least in Minnesota).  I still think it is ok to eat it.  I get somewhat exasperated when I read of rigid locavores who think they should eliminate olive oil from their lives because it is not produced within 50 or 100 or 200 miles of their kitchens.    My local food credentials stack up pretty high - we grind all our own cornmeal and polenta from corn that we grow, for heaven's sake.  And I haven't bought a California strawberry in about five years.  But I think it is crazy to give up wonderful basic foods like olive oil or chocolate just because they are imported.  Italians who live in the Piedmont region don't produce olive oil, but they do make great red wine.  They have been trading for olive oil and anchovies from Liguria for many centuries and both are an essential part of their highly developed regional traditional cuisine.  (remind me to tell you about bagna cauda.  for another day.) It is just not possible to grow olives around here, so I think that means we can buy olive oil and be proud.  Maybe in my lifetime we will have enough hazelnut oil in Minnesota that I could stop buying olive oil.  But until that happens, I say cook your locally grown vegetables in olive oil and be happy.

Tomorrow's post: Focus on Asparagus
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