Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Take a Crack at it

Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper is the age-old mantra for a healthy diet. As a chef, this is as far away from being a possibility for me as is a social life that is worthy of mention.
My waking hours are 12 noon to 4 am.

When I'm just out of bed with my stomach rumbling to break its ten-hour ordeal of a fast, I can seldom find a restaurant or cafe that still serves breakfast. Mumbai, to my dismay, still doesn't have a decent diner-style establishment that serves breakfast 24X7.  So I skip eating altogether. It's an unhealthy habit but I'd rather not eat anything than be forcefully subjected to eating a random mid-day sandwich or a heavy thali as my first bite.

Nevertheless, I love breakfast.

Whether it is a traditional English one with eggs, bacon, sausages, toast and the works or just cereals, whether it is the Chinese congee or appam and chicken stew from Kerala, every part of the world has its own distinctive options for the first meal of the day. Unlike lunch and dinner, breakfast dishes are very characteristic of the meal. These dishes seldom seem appropriate when eaten out of the context of the morning meal.

Breakfast as a meal embraces the idea that food is not only crucial to our survival but also that a delicious meal at the start of the day can do wonders for one's productivity and frame of mind.

If there is one ingredient that is synonymous with breakfast in practically every self-respecting part of the world, it is the egg. And if there is one egg dish that intimidates even the experienced chef from time to time, it is the poached egg.

So how do you cook a perfectly poached egg? Don't stop with asking how but also why. A proper understanding of the process will surely give you better results.

Always use fresh eggs. This could not be emphasized more while talking about poached egg cookery. The fresher the egg means there's more thick egg white to thin egg white ratio. The former is what will envelop around the yolk when you start poaching it and hold it together firmer.

Choose a pan that's deep enough to hold water at least a finger level more than the height of the egg. It should not be so deep that you're wasting time bringing the water to a boil or can't easily navigate a spoon around.

Fill water as per instructions above and add salt and sufficient vinegar. The salt will season the egg and the vinegar will help the white to coagulate (form) as soon as it hits the water.
Bring the water to a boil and reduce it to a gentle simmer. The water at this stage should be hot enough to coagulate the egg as it is dropped instead of just dispersing the egg as in an egg drop soup. Keeping it at a rolling boil however will cause the egg yolk to break from the excessive friction.

Break the eggs into small bowls first and then gently slide them into the simmering water. This is done because dropping the eggs directly from the shell often leads to the egg falling into the water at an irregular pace and without the smoothness that is required for proper results.
Have an ice bath (a bowl of water with ice in it) ready. The egg will take a few minutes to cook and the only way to know if it is perfectly done is through experience or by actually breaking into it (which is counter productive because you're losing the egg anyway). During this cooking process, make sure you control the temperature of the water to maintain it at that same simmer.

When the white is semi firm to touch but the yolk is still runny, carefully remove the poached egg from the simmering water with a spoon (preferably a slotted one) and gently place it into the ice bath. This chilling down step is crucial even if you are eating the poached egg right away because it stops the cooking that would cause the egg yolk to lose its runniness. It also washes the vinegary taste off the egg. Poached eggs can be refrigerated in ice water for up to 8 hours.

When it's time to serve, heat water to a simmer in the same pan, turn off the flame and carefully immerse the egg for about 30 seconds. Remove the poached egg from the water and use a paper towel or a clean cloth to dab the excess water from the egg. It can be eaten as is, over meats and salads, or in the classic style of Eggs Benedict with toasted English muffin, grilled ham and hollandaise sauce.

Poached Eggs

4 ea                                       Eggs, large fresh

as required                            Water

1 tsp/cup of water                 Vinegar

½ tsp/cup of water                Salt

as required                            Ice water

Start with a deep pan filled with water at least an inch above the size of an egg.

Add the salt and vinegar. Bring the water to a boil and reduce to a simmer.

Break the eggs into small individual cups or bowls and then slide them one by one into the simmering water in a single motion.

Allow the eggs to cook for a few minutes until the white is firm but the yolk is still runny inside.

Remove from the water and shock in an ice bath.

When ready to serve, reheat the poached eggs in hot water for about 30 seconds to a minute and serve hot.

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