next door

21 Sep

Five years as a pastry chef and I never learned how to poach an egg properly. It never came up. I liked crispy-fried eggs for my breakfast, when I wasn’t eating croissants at work.

And then I landed in a new place, a mixture of happenstance and good friends, and poached eggs were on the menu. On everything. My failure rate was high, in the beginning. I looked at every ‘easiest / best poached egg technique’ on the internet and I ate the disastrous ones for breakfast and lunch and snacks. I felt like Frances the badger when she is ‘Tired…of…jam.‘ And finally a friend, a French-trained chef, walked me through it. I had everything backwards. It was supposed to be the deepest pot in the kitchen, whole cups of vinegar and a light smattering of bubbles, like expensive fizzy water. The finished egg should feel like the fleshy part at the crease of a bent elbow. The chasm between reading about something and experiencing it is vast.

In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the sushi chef’s apprentice explains that it was ten years of prep work, massaging the octopus to make it tender, before he was allowed to make omelettes. And it was two hundred failed omelettes – failed in that they did not meet Jiro’s high standards – before he made one that was worthy of a nod of approval. The apprentice cried with relief, pride.

I haven’t signed up for any classes this autumn. Last year it was illustration, before that bread, and Japanese. I like the discomfort of the steep slope on a new learning curve. This year I am working on my eggs. I still mess a few up, and still eat those ones for lunch. The rest are good.

And I get the best coffee as a reward.

5 Responses to “next door”

  1. the Author September 21, 2017 at 2:43 pm #

    Reblogged this on Wag 'n Bietjie.

  2. Sarah muston September 21, 2017 at 8:33 pm #

    Can you please share the method with us !
    I have never mastered it either ! And I love a poached egg and fresh asparagus!
    Glad you are happy !
    Sarah

    • Frances September 28, 2017 at 4:26 am #

      I will do my best! But as I said, I struggled when only reading instructions as opposed to watching.

      For 30+ eggs I fill a large, deep pot to the brim (6litres) and do them 4-6 at a time. For making a couple at home, a small pot (2litres) will do but it should be as deep and full as possible, so the egg falls through the water and almost stops before it hits the bottom.

      Add 150g white vinegar per litre. Bring it to just before a boil, with lots of little bubbles rising, like sparkling water. Or champagne!

      Crack your eggs (preferably very fresh) on the counter and open the shell right over the surface of the water, almost touching. Let it drop in. Depending on the size of the pan you can add a few more at the same time, but it is best to do the first egg on its own as a test: is the water the right temperature? enough vinegar? how long does it take?

      If everything is right, the egg will drop almost to the base of the pan, then the tail of the egg will lift towards the surface, letting the yolk hang underneath. Like a little water balloon. Keep an eye on them, swirl the water a bit if the eggs are bunching together but no need to make a whirlpool. The water should never boil, so be ready to turn down the heat if needed.

      We get medium eggs that take 4 minutes, or 4 minutes 30 seconds.

      When the timer goes, pull the egg up to the surface with a slotted spoon and press with a finger. It should be a bit like bread dough, springy, not too delicate, not set firm. Let it drop back into the water if not done. If you are happy, scoop it out, cutting off the trailing ends on the side of the pot as you go. The rest should be really smooth and round, just like a balloon.

      If making ahead of time, drop the egg straight into ice water. This way you can fail as many as you like to get a few perfect ones for later. Reheat the same way, for 2-3 minutes.

      If eating immediately, pop it on a paper towel to absorb some of the water, clean off any tails or strings, and then onto your asparagus!

  3. Bill Sewell September 22, 2017 at 1:00 pm #

    Hi Frances – is that the cafe you’re cooking in (the one with the coffee link)? Sounds good – I want to go there…Bill

    • Frances September 27, 2017 at 7:48 pm #

      It is indeed! Please come visit!

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