Sunday, February 20, 2011

Have you ever poached an egg? You really should.

I remember with much fondness the first time that I tried eggs Benedict. Our team was on a trip to somewhere in central Arkansas for a high school debate tournament, and for whatever reason, we were staying at a pretty nice Hilton Hotel. In the morning, we had a sit-down breakfast, and I had no idea what to eat (a common problem for me at unfamiliar restaurants). My friend JP convinced me to try eggs Benedict, and I went for it.

A delicious eggy on toast.
For those unfamiliar with this dish, it's fried Canadian bacon, a poached egg, and Hollandaise sauce, all on a toasted English muffin. Oh, what flavors I had been missing! Hollandaise sauce, accurately described by JP as "the nectar of the gods," was one of the best things to have graced my fairly inexperienced palate.

What's more is that it was one of my first forays into the world of runny eggs. My view of eggs has changed drastically throughout the years. I used to absolutely hate the things. I thought that egg yolks were meant to be cooked through and that people who ordered them "sunny-side up" were lunatics. Now I like my yolk slightly runny so that I can mix it in to my hash browns or other delicious items on my plate.

Warning: eggs Benedict is a stove-consuming task.
Butter, water for poaching, pan for frying bacon,
and a double boiler for Hollandaise sauce
In any case, as promised, I'm talking about poaching eggs in this post. Some might be asking: what the heck does it mean to poach something? Well, you pretty much just cook it in hot liquid. It can be broth, milk, whatever, but in this case we'll use just water. So, why poach? Well, not only will you get some sweet elephant tusks out of the deal, but it's also a healthier way to cook your eggs. You can cook to any completeness, though I'd recommend a little runny yolk...unless you're pregnant or have some sort of autoimmune disease.

I'll go over one method of how to poach an egg (not hard), and then give a good recipe for eggs Benedict. While just eggs are good for any quick meal, I'd highly recommend going all-out with the recipe if you have the time. It's quite delicious. Also, it's a highly variable recipe, so find something you like and go with it.

Ingredients (Show/Hide)

Whole eggs (for poaching)
English muffins
Canadian bacon

Hollandaise Sauce
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons water
10 oz. butter
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice

How to Poach an Egg (Show/Hide)

This is just one way to do it, but as you'll read on any guide to poaching, the fresher the eggs, the easier the process and the better the outcome.
  1. Put some water on medium heat in a saucepan until it reaches around 175-185° F. If you don't have an immersible thermometer, either invest in one, or wait until you see tiny bubbles starting to form on the bottom of the pan. Then turn it down just a bit more and you should be in the right range. You do not want the water to be boiling.

  2. Add a couple of teaspoons of white vinegar to the water if you have it, unless you're using super-fresh eggs. This will help the albumin (the protein in egg whites) to coagulate a little faster and stay together a little better. If you don't have any, don't sweat it.

  3. Prepare an egg by cracking it into a small glass dish of some sort. I prefer a ramekin, but you can use a mug or small bowl - whatever you have available. This makes it much easier to drop into the water while keeping the egg together.

    An egg in a ramekin, ready to drop
  4. Gently drop the egg in the water. It's really more like a gentle placement - I even let a little water flow into the ramekin before I fully upturn the dish. Figure out what works best for you so that the egg stays as together as possible. (If you're really all about form, you can even gently swirl the water before putting the egg in. If you do it right, this will help the egg white stay in the center of the pan instead of spreading out all over the place. Do it wrong, and it will spread out all over the place. I personally usually do without.)

  5. Wait about 30 seconds, then gently make sure that the egg isn't stuck to the bottom. Let it cook about 3 minutes total for a fairly runny yolk, longer for a bit firmer. The white will still be fairly jiggly, but will still be cooked through. Do a couple and you'll get the feel for what you like.

Hollandaise Sauce (Show/Hide)

This stuff is so good. It's basically an emulsion of butter and egg yolks with some lemony zing to it.  After reading more websites about Hollandaise sauce than any person should, it seems that many prefer using clarified butter for their sauce. This makes sense to me, because the sauce is rich enough as is and doesn't need any more creaminess that the milk solids would contribute.

  1. Start by heating some water on medium low to use for a double boiler.

  2. Make some clarified butter. To do this:
  3. Skimming off the whey protein. Not perfectly
    clear, but it doesn't need to be.
    • Heat up about 10oz unsalted butter in a small saucepan (yeah, that's about 2 and 1/2 sticks) on medium heat.
    • When melted, turn it off and let the butter separate for a few minutes; then, tilt the pan and skim off the foamy whey protein. Decant the clear liquid into a small bowl or dish (or again, ramekins are great here), being careful to avoid the fat solids at the bottom of the pan. Allow it to cool while you continue the rest of the recipe.

  4. Separate three yolks  from the egg whites. This is most easily accomplished by hand instead of the back-and-forth method in the shell, because doing it with your hands eliminates more egg whites, which is important for this recipe. You can do with the egg whites what you wish (perhaps some meringue cookies).

  5. This is what it should look like on the
    double boiler - nice and thick.
  6. In a metal mixing bowl off the heat, whisk together the 3 egg yolks and 2 tablespoons water for three minutes or so. Try to incorporate lots of air.

  7. Put the bowl on the double boiler, and whisk constantly from here on out. You do not want the eggs to start cooking. Rather, you want the heat to slowly thicken the eggs until the whisk leaves trails that last for multiple seconds. When it gets to this point, which should take several minuts, pull it off the heat (but keep whisking)!

  8. Slowly add in the clarified butter (which should be just somewhat warm at this point), just a bit at a time, whisking all the while. Keep mixing until all the butter is incorporated.

  9. Then, mix in the lemon juice. I don't like any more than 2 teaspoons, so start with one and add more to taste. Add salt and a bit of pepper.

Assembly is easy enough (start frying up some Canadian bacon while you're whisking the sauce for an eternity, and throw an English muffin in the toaster towards the end of the process), but having everything come together at the right time at the end can be a bit tricky. As you can see, it's a full-stove operation! Mad props to my brother Eric for his many minutes of whisking while I poached eggs and took pictures.
Lackluster photography skills. It looks lonely...
...but deliciously so.

So, go on and try it. Poaching is a delicious and healthy way to make an egg, and Hollandaise sauce is a delicious way to counteract any health benefits. Mmm.

Next time, I'll probably take a look at wilting greens, a method I'm pretty sure I've never tried.


  1. I have to say I love your pictures! And even though... I am not a fan of runny eggs.. the ease to which you describe it makes me want to try it.. I just would have to find someone to eat it. ha ha.