Sunday, January 16, 2011

'I Like Mine With a Kiss'. . .(or if the proteins have coagulated at a lower temperature)

Eggs: that's it today pure and simple. More specifically a method of cooking them I've recently gone nucking futs for. By the way, if you've clicked onto this hoping for some kind of elaborate brunch preparation then, well, tough. Because recipe-wise all that's here is a way of cooking eggs. And not even a properly written one either. In fact looking over this it's pretty much just a sentence at the end of the fourth paragraph. Oh and a photo. You're lucky enough to get a photo. So let's talk for a minute about something called a slow poached egg. Something that some of you might be familiar with. But for those who don't, and haven't really been reading a word of this because after seeing the heading photo all they're thinking is, 'Jumping Nike-Air Moses what the fuck is that!!' Let me explain.

You see, I was never that excited about eggs until my folks took delivery of three hens (now two after an introduction from Granny's dog), because apparently that's what you do when you turn 50 and move out of the city. Since then I've discovered that they provide simply the best Goddamn eggs in the whole world. And so I've proceeded to boil, poach, scramble and fry my way through tons of those little nuggets of awesome. Their richness, the way that (when poached) they'd immediately fold up into neat quenelles. And then there's the yolk, oh man the yolk. That vibrant, rich, near-florescent shade of orange. To me, one of the great pleasures in life was poaching a couple of those bad boys, then put them on top of a bacon-covered, Ballymaloe relish-smeared piece of toast. Then watch as that golden yolk flowed out, over and onto the plate, creating a mess of pure deliciousness.

But now you've found me after experiencing a paradigm shift of sorts. You see up until recently I was convinced that eggs, poached to perfection in acidulated water was the ultimate tribute you could pay to l'oeuf. But no more, not now. I believe it was Sat Baines, several seasons ago on Great British Menu, who had it incorporated into his dish. This was the first time I saw the 'slow egg'. The judges 'oohed' and 'aahed' over it and the dish itself ended up getting to the final banquet. Since then it'd pop up here and there. Tristan Welch did it a few seasons later. The odd time on Professional Masterchef, etc. Then I saw Wylie Dufresne prepare it for a challenge on Top Chef Masters. It was the first time any show had gone into any real detail about it. Dufresne had my attention already from an appearance on Iron Chef where he used an enzyme (transglutaminase) to make noodles out of pureed fish (there is no typo in that sentence, he made noodles out of fish, watch!). Back to Top Chef Masters, Jay Rayner wound up gushing about the unctuous, custard-like consistency of what, at a glance anyway, looked like a pretty standard soft-boiled egg. My curiosity grew.

Fast-forward to a month or so ago. A package arrives containing David Chang's Momofuku. A book I'd end up reading with the same vigor and devotion as you would a great detective novel. A book I've fallen asleep to reading on more then one occasion, refusing to submit to sleep for just one more page! Then early into the book my eyes glide over the header at the top of the page: Slow Poached Egg. Up until this point I had an idea of the method, but no clue to the specifics. I knew that the egg was cooked in its shell in water at a certain temperature. But at what temperature and for how long? Here at last was a definite method and recipe. In short, 60-63 degrees for 45 minutes. I closed the book and knew that I HAD to try this.

As I said before, up until now I'd always thought that poaching was the best way to enjoy eggs. But to me anyway, there was still a problem with that. Namely the white. Because to me the white was the tasteless, tough purgatory you went through to get to the heaven that is the runny yolk. But with this method what you end up is one creamy pod of gooey unctuousness that falls apart with one push of a fork. The white now a near-translucent coating around the yolk. Almost like a loose jelly. This is because (so I'm told) the low temperature means the proteins coagulate differently then they would in a regularly poached egg.

Despite this being a method used in multi-Michelin starred restaurants around the world, don't expect everyone to like it. I was staying at my parents for a few days when I first tried it. My mum shrieked that it was still raw. My current flat mate after seeing me nurse over the pot with my digital thermometer, then describing the what's and why's of what I was doing, was curious to see what was going to come out when I cracked the shell. He wasn't impressed, as below shows. In short, are they more work then cracking them into boiling water for 2 minutes? Yep. But if you like your eggs then you kind of owe it to yourself to experience them in a way that's new, exciting and most unbelievable of all, may actually have you agreeing with Jay Rayner.

You ever eaten/witnessed/enjoyed this way of having egg? Do you have a favorite preparation that has made you friends, gained enemies or just divided opinion? Or, like my flat mate, just want to tell me how utterly mank they look? As always the floor is open. . .

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