Monday, January 10, 2011

Perfect Poached Eggs: An Experiment (eggsperiment?)

I don't quite have a perfect way to make poached eggs.  Usually when I make poached eggs at home, they always come out irregular and imperfect.  It's purely aesthetic, they are still perfectly fine, they just don't look perfect, and sometimes that bothers me.

I have been reading the book Molecular Gastronomy:  Exploring the Science of Flavor by Hervé This and it sparked an idea in my head:  perhaps I could use the teachings from the book to help make a consistently visually perfect poached egg every time.  First off, the book is a great guide to some of the science behind cooking.  When I thought of the title "Molecular Gastronomy," I immediately assumed that it would about like thickening things with agar agar and making foams and shit.  The book is nothing like that though:  it's not a recipe book, it is an explanation of science - how cooking and chemistry work together, how we taste and how we sense food.

He explains in a chapter about hard boiled eggs that the proteins in the whites and the yolks denature (set) at different temperatures.  Whites denature at a temperature of 144º while yolks set at 154º.  In the case of hard boiled eggs, you could keep your eggs in water at a temperature of 154º and not overcook the yolks, which would lead to that sulfurous mealy mess that overcooked hard boiled eggs suffer from when they are cooking in boiling water for too long.

The purpose of my experiment was to get a perfect looking poached egg by using the shell to contain the poached whites before breaking the shell, thus resulting in a perfectly shaped poached egg.  I started by heating the water up to 140-145º and then submerging an egg in the water.  I let that sit for 20 minutes.  I don't know why I chose 20 minutes - I wanted to make sure that the whites had enough time to set, and I started with a cold egg, so I erred on the side of safety.  I guess that, in theory, you could leave it for a while as long as the temperature doesn't change, because the yolks would never get hot enough to set.  I don't know what that would do to the texture of the whites though - would they ever reach the rubber consistency if you keep them at a low temperature?

After 20 minutes, I removed the egg and the thermometer and turned the heat up to get the water to a slow boil.  I added about 1 tbsp of white vinegar, a standard addition for any poached egg recipe, just to make sure that the white set.  Then I cracked the egg into a shallow dish.  The white was partially set - like a gel.  The outside had been set enough that it didn't run, but it was still very very soft to the touch, which is what I really wanted.  I then poached the egg in the water as if I were poaching it normally.  When I dropped it into the water, it immediately coagulated and stayed together - promising!  No unpredictable spreading whatsoever.  I let it poach for about 3 minutes, which as it turns out, was a bit too long.  If 20 minutes allowed the full egg (white and yolk) to come up to a temperature nearing 144º, then there is no reason to put the egg in 212º water for more than just a minute or so.  Theoretically, the whites have probably fully denatured, and leaving it in for too long just raises the temperature of the yolk to the point where it begins to set.  At that point, I just want the second poach to fully solidify the outside of the whites, so it should really be almost like a blanch.

juuuuust a bit over...
One of the great things about this technique is that it can be prepped.  You could parcook the eggs in the shell, immediately rest them in ice water, and reserve them for later.  Then, when needed, you could just bring the second poach up to the boil and allow them to finish very quickly before serving.

In the end, I think that the experiment was a success and that the technique worked as I expected, although it's probably a bit overkill for Sunday brunch eggs benedict or whatever.  I will keep this one in my back pocket for times when the poached egg is the star of the dish and I want it to look perfect.  Next time I do it, however, I will make sure not to leave the egg in the second poach for longer than just a minute or so.

1 comment:

  1. brutal poached eggs - a vegetarian delight!

    love this post