Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Poacher: Eggs & Rice

Last night I made what I consider to be a significant culinary achievement.

I poached three eggs. Successfully.

There was a fourth egg, the only casualty. But let me back up a little.

Normally, I am egg-wary. I love eggs. They are my vegetarian gray area (well, eggs, dairy, and honey! Oh, and gelatin - I can't give up Junior Mints, therefore I am not vegan). Side note - I find it ... odd ... when non-vegetarians will question or criticize my choice to eat eggs. Sometimes it's simply a matter of not immediately comprehending where and how I draw the line, which is totally fair. The eggs I eat are not fertilized and therefore were never going to be baby chickens. And, quite honestly, if I chose not to eat eggs, then my world of options for dining out would narrow exponentially, and my time spent in the kitchen (already significant!) would increase dramatically. No cake, no baked goods, no breakfast items. Plus, I'm becoming a believer that every little bit counts. It's not all or nothing. Every amount of animal and animal products that you can reduce from your diet will make an impact on the environment, factory farms and the industrialized food system, and the sustainability of our food sources. I don't begrudge anyone's food decisions. Food is deeply personal and I respect freedom of choice. I am also a champion for educating oneself about those food choices. But back to egg-wariness ...

There is a certain ick factor for me with eggs. They are on my line. Right on it. But they are also a great source of protein and they are tasty when cooked to my picky specifications. I like my eggs to be very, very dead. Cooked all the way through, no gooey bits. My husband has been known to request his fried egg ... a little less fried. For me, the fried egg needs to be OBVIOUSLY fried - browned and crisp. But for some reason I permit a certain amount of latitude to professional food establishments. I will eat huevos rancheros and eggs Benedict (poached eggs) and freshly whipped mayo (raw egg). I eschew classic Cesar salad, but only because of the anchovy, not the egg yolk. But I would never do these things at home! I can't even make mousse - too much potential for undercooked eggs (for mousse, you cook the mixture over a pot of simmering water, double-boiler style).

But last night I made great strides. I figured that I could have control over the done-ness of my eggs, and if I am able to eat them in their oozing form at a restaurant for brunch, why can't I do the same at home?

Guess what? I can.

The poaching process is fraught with anxiety. I read up on it before I attempted anything. I learned that there are multiple schools of thought on how to poach an egg: vortex method - create a spiraling vortex inside your pot and plop the egg into the chaos; vinegar method - add vinegar to the boiling water to discourage "flyaways"; silicone cup method - cook in a special silicone nest designed especially for eggs. I chose to go with the method featured in my recipe, "Poached Eggs Over Rice" by Heidi Swanson, which involved a ramekin, a strainer, and a slotted spoon. It worked decently well, though after the first egg I thought "Oh no, this isn't right, look how much egg I am losing." The dreaded FLYAWAYS. These are wisps of white that fly off the egg during the cooking, so many that the entire egg seems disintegrated. But when I pulled that first egg out of the water - ooo boy! It actually looked good. Diminutive, but good.

Here's what I did to poach the eggs - via Heidi Swanson, who got the original technique from Michael Ruhlman. I served the eggs atop a rice, chard, and tofu mix that came from the same recipe as Heidi Swanson's poached egg recommendations.

Poached Eggs
You repeat this method for each egg, so cook up as many as you like! Just make sure to do them one at a time.

Heat a wide pot of water until boiling, then reduce the heat to simmer. You definitely want to see activity in the pot, but no roiling bubbles.

Crack one egg gently into a small ramekin. Tip the egg into a fine mesh strainer to let some of the white seep away (most of it will remain intact). Slip the egg back into the ramekin.

Gently slip the egg from the ramekin into the simmering water. Sit back and watch the white turn opaque! Don't worry if you start to see clouds and stringy white bits - you will be fine. Unless your yolk starts to look naked and exposed, in which case you aren't doing as well as you might have hoped. I'm not expert enough yet to assess the hows and whys of the flyaways!

When your white is opaque, and maybe a little longer after you would think your egg is done (4 minutes?), scoop it out of pot with a slotted spoon and set aside until you have finished the remaining eggs.

Rice with Chard, Tofu, and Poached Eggs
Adapted from Heidi Swanson

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
crushed red pepper flakes
8 oz (1/2 a block) of extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 bunch of greens (I used Swiss chard)
2 to 3 cups pre-cooked whole grain rice (I used a wild/brown rice mix)
Flavorings: balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, maple syrup
Poached Eggs (see above)

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and salt to taste. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions begin to soften. Add the tofu and cook for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally and pressing to encourage browning. Stir in the garlic, then add the greens and a dash of salt, mixing thoroughly. Cook until the greens wilt and soften a little. Stir in the pre-cooked rice and heat through, about 2 minutes. Add dashes of any flavoring you prefer - I did about a tablespoon each of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and maple syrup. This gave a nice, savory tang to the dish. (Not essential, but good.)

Divide the rice mixture between bowls and top with a poached egg or two.


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