Friday, March 5, 2010

Basic Training #1: Poached Eggs (or, Breaking Up is Not So Hard to Do)

"Poached eggs...are to my mind the purest and loveliest of ways to cook eggs." ~The late, great Julia Child

For years, I've been tempted to get a pair of these:

Despite their appearance, these have nothing to do with breast enhancement or birth control; they are called "poach pods" and they are a specialty gadget for cooking poached eggs. These silicone cups float in a pot of boiling water with the egg safely contained inside, where it can cook without separating. While I'm constantly tempted by them each time I enter a kitchen supply store, I could never bring myself to buy them. Because, well, they're soooooo cheating. And while this blog is new, my desire to be a good cook has been around for quite awhile.

To me, a good cook with a capital G understands and has mastered the basic preparation techniques of common foods like eggs, meats, vegetables, sauces, baked goods, soups, etc. He or she can sauté, roast, blanch, steam...and definitely poach...without having to read instructions every time he or she cooks. I consider these to be part of the "cooking basics." And if I want to be a Good cook, I've got to start learning. 

I decided to start basic training with poached eggs. Partly b/c I really really like them, and partly because I read Julie & Julia and strongly identified with Julie Powell's fear of the poaching process. So this challenge was the first to come to mind. And, as with all of life's challenges, if you want to get it right the first time, you consult the master. In this case, Julia Child and her bible, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

The instructions are very simple: 1 T. of white vinegar to every quart of water, bring 2 inches of water to a low simmer in a frying pan, crack egg directly into the water (or crack it into a shallow bowl first and slide it into the simmering water), use a small spoon to quickly spoon the egg whites back over the yolk as they desperately try to run as far away as they can, cook for 4 minutes maintaining the low simmer, and finally transfer the now-poached egg into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process and wash off the vinegar. Note: The reason MtAoFC is the ultimate cooking bible is because Julia and her co-authors are so brilliantly clear on every step of the process for every recipe in the book. For the same reason, it can be hell to try to cook from it sometimes. Because if you read over one sentence, or misinterpret one direction, your dish is toast.

So before I even started, I called in reinforcements: my friend Sallie, someone I very much consider to be a Good cook (you'll see more of her in the future). I consulted her, and she gave me some good tips. First, to definitely use the shallow bowl to slide the egg into the water. And second, to use a paper towel to dry off the egg after it comes out of the cold water bath, otherwise you'll end up with watery eggs. With good guidance handy, I set about poaching my very first egg.


Because I understand the importance of following Julia's (if I may) instructions to the tee, I heeded her warning to only use the freshest eggs in order to avoid the yolk separating from the white (which, let's be honest, is the singular fear about poaching eggs). So on a cold Saturday morning in March, I hit up an indoor farmers' market and bought a dozen eggs from a nearby farm called Whetstone Farms.

After mixing the vinegar and water, and waiting 15 years for it to come to a low simmer, I slid my egg into the water with my heart beating out of my chest. This is the exact moment of intimidation when it comes to poaching eggs: the drop. I tenderly spooned some egg-white wisps back over the yolk, then watched. For four minutes. As nothing at all scary happened. The egg cooked. Nicely, I might add.


It's almost heart-shaped (more human-heart-shaped than the iconic symbol, really), which is appropriate considering how much care I took to make my very first poached egg. And it was so not-scary that I did it a second time. And that one turned out nicely, as well. To my utter shock and delight, I found I'm good at making poached eggs. And they tasted great, too!

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