For the December Daring Cooks Challenge, Jenn (from Jenn Cuisine) and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg.
I recently purchased Dorie Greenspan’s new cookbook Around My French Table. It’s full of delicious and easy recipes and gorgeous photos. It’s my opinion that a cookbook’s photography is almost as important as the recipes it contains. I’m not just saying that because I like to look at pretty pictures (even though I do), I also like to see how the finished product is supposed to look and while my version probably won’t look as professional as the pictures in the book, I can at least have a benchmark for which to aim. I can infer from the images how thick a soup or sauce should be, how small I should dice my vegetables, how prominent a certain ingredient will be in the final dish. Very rarely will a purely written recipe answer all of my questions. And while I like to think I’m a good enough cook to have a recipe turn out tasty, I’m a perfectionist; if I’m cooking from a cookbook, I like my finished product to resemble the source. I’m just weird like that. And now that we’ve gotten completely off topic….
One recipe, or series of recipes, that caught my attention were the tartines. In it’s most basic form, a tartine is just an open-faced sandwich, the French equivalent of the Italian bruschetta. Dorie explains that the French verb, tartiner, translates “to spread.” Therefore a “tartine” is a piece of bread spread (or topped) with one or more items. Unlike American open-faced sandwiches, French tartines are smaller, often only consisting of a thin layer or two of ingredients. My tartine is five ingredients: bread, butter, radish, asparagus and poached egg. Not quite the French version, which can often consist of just bread, a thin slice of meat, and a spoonful or two of soft cheese; but it’s also not quite the hefty American version of an open-faced sandwich.
There are many ways to poach an egg. All of which I had previously refused to eat. I have a textural problem, you see. I just don’t do slimy things and runny eggs. Eggs Benedict and perfectly poached, runny eggs never grace my plate. Ever. I just don’t see the pleasure in dipping a strip of toast into running, oozing egg yolks that other people apparently get so worked up over. When my family makes poached eggs for holiday breakfasts, I abstain. Or cook myself a fried, non-runny egg. I just can’t get past the “undercooked-ness” of runny eggs. I have the same problems with beef, tuna, smoked salmon and sushi. Never going to happen.
However, this month’s DC challenge was to poach an egg. And there would be no cheating in poaching the egg – like my family does each time we have “poached eggs” with individual egg poaching cups that easily cook perfectly round eggs. Oh no, this challenge required that we poach eggs in water – not cups. There are differing views on poaching eggs. Some people say adding vinegar keeps the whites together, others argue that leaves the finished product with a decidedly vinegary taste and smell. Some say you should employ the “whirlpool” technique: swirling the water in the pan before sliding in the egg. Some argue that the water should be at a rolling boil, others insist on simmering water. I don’t think there’s one perfect way to poach an egg (except, of course, to cook it long enough not to have runny yolks…but I’m fairly certain that I’m in the minority with that opinion). I poached my egg (on the first try!) in simmering water, with no vinegar, using the “whirlpool” technique.
Poached Egg with Asparagus and Radish Tartine
one large egg, very fresh and at room temperature
5 to 10 stalks asparagus (you want just enough asparagus to form one layer on your bread slice), steamed
2 to 3 radishes, thinly sliced
one slice of the bread of your choice (I used sourdough)
salt and pepper, to taste
Begin by poaching your egg. Bring salted water to a simmer (not a boil) in a skillet or saute pan. You don’t want to use a sauce pot because they don’t give you much room to maneuver a spoon around without bumping into the egg. A skillet or saute pan just gives you more working room. While the water is heating, crack an egg into a smaller dish, taking care to keep the yolk intact. Using a smaller bowl makes it easier to slide the egg into the poaching water.
Using a wooden spoon, swirl the water around into a whirlpool or vortex before dropping the egg into the water to cook. The movement of the water in a circle helps to keep the egg whites together and wrap them around the yolk. Slide the egg into the middle of the whirlpool from the smaller bowl and quickly (and carefully) corral the runaway whites back to the egg, without breaking the yolk. You can also spoon the cooking water over the top of the egg for an even cook. Now don’t panic! It’s going to look like a mess for a minute, but it’ll come together if you keep swirling the water around the egg and pushing back any runaway whites. And if it doesn’t, it’s easy enough to quickly do another egg and nobody has to know! For runny eggs, cook for approximately three minutes, until the whites are set, but the yolk still wiggles a little. As previously stated, I detest runny yolks, so I cooked mine for approximately 7 minutes.
Place the cooked egg on a clean paper towel to drain while you assemble the rest of the sandwich.
Spread a slice of bread with a thin layer of butter and top that with a thin layer of radish and your asparagus. Place your poached egg on top of the asparagus and salt and pepper to taste.
Tip: Poached eggs can be made ahead of time and reheated in hot water before serving!