Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The egg -- as you like it

What are your thoughts on 142F eggs?  Sometimes they are listed on restaurant menus as 61.1C eggs making them look even more scientific thanks to that decimal point.  Sometimes they are referred to as sous-vide eggs and sometimes as just slow poached.  Whatever they are called, they have a very characteristic texture: liquid yolk and opaque, but quivering white that barely holds its shape (no that's not it in the picture, in case you are wondering).  Most people I've met either love them or hate them.  The yolk is the easy part -- what's not to love in that rich golden liquid.  It's the white that is controversial.  One possible reaction is "Wow, this white is so tender, I feel like I am eating a cloud."  The other reaction is "I feel like I am eating barely congealed snot."

Since I was in the "barely congealed snot" camp for a few years, it never occurred to me to cook eggs at a precise temperature water bath at home (I like my yolk at 142F and my white at 150F).  But lately, I've been coming around on them.  Maybe you just need to go through a dozen eggs to gradually change the metaphor from snot to a cloud.  I have recently tried making 142F eggs at home using Kenji's method.  I kept them at 142F for 45 minutes using a beer cooler (a.k.a. ghetto sous-vide set up).  Tapped the dull end with a spoon, carefully peeled to make an opening slightly more than an inch in diameter, and poured out the egg into a bowl.  It was liquid enough to pour out, but solid enough to hold its shape.

While I was trying to decide whether the white bothered me or not, an idea occurred to me -- why don't I poach it?  I brought some water to a simmer and dropped in this quivering snot/cloud egg.  There was no need for vinegar, vortex, or any other trick to keep the white together.  It stayed together in a perfect little oval, and 2 minutes later, I removed a perfect poached egg.

Here are some advantages over traditional poached eggs:

  • Consistent perfection of shape
  • Liquid yolk and solid, but tender white
  • No need for vinegar (I don't like the flavor vinegar gives poached eggs)
  • No need for ice bath or rinsing
  • The 142F water bath can be done days in advance, minimizing the hassle the day of serving
Another idea of finishing these eggs is to turn them into eggs en cocotte (baked eggs in ramekins).  

  • Learn how to create a precise temperature water bath.  
  • Monitor the water to make sure you keep it at 142F for the whole 45 minutes.
  • Carefully place the eggs in the water bath using tongs or a basket so that they don't break.
  • If you are doing the water bath in advance, drain and cool the eggs, refrigerate until ready to use, then poach for 4 minutes (you need this longer poaching time since the eggs are cold).
  • Keep the egg carton -- it's handy for holding the eggs while cracking.
  • When cracking the eggs, pour them out into a shallow bowl before dropping them into the simmering water.  It's fine to put multiple eggs in one bowl.  This way you can remove any loose pieces of white and get them all into the simmering water at the same time.  


Molly said...

I have to admit, I've done very little cooking with eggs. I've never poached one or baked one, but your instructions make my near-future attempt much less frightening.

avis said...

What is the egg sitting on?

Helen said...

the egg is sitting on quinoa. I'll blog about it soon.

Anonymous said...

This is brilliant!

I tried this and screwed it up but was still very pleased with the results--I didn't follow the directions for a sous-vide setup and instead just tried to monitor the temperature of a pot of water on the stove. I think it went above 142 briefly (maybe as high as 150), so the yolk was more cooked than in your picture, but I loved it! and poaching it was so easy too!

Helen said...

I am so excited someone made these eggs! I often worry that when I talk about sous-vide style preparations everyone's eye glaze over.

To tell you the truth, I don't get out the beer cooler for these eggs either. I use a 4 quart pot on the stove top and monitor it closely with a thermometer. I now know how my burner and pot behave and have a pretty good idea how often I need to check the temperature and when to turn the burner on and off. If the water overheats, I throw in a few ice-cubes.

The reason I didn't suggest this method is that it's a little temperamental and requires paying close attention the first few times you do it. Don't sweat a few degrees here and there. You are no where near the danger zone of 40-131F and even if you overheat the yolks by a couple of degrees, they'll still be very yummy.