Up until a few short years ago, my interest in poached eggs hovered between mild to non-existant. Growing up, there were two variations of eggs on rotation in our household – scrambled and omelette – and the idea of a jiggly or, lord forbid, runny yolk was something my kid sensitivities couldn’t quite handle. I expected my egg yolks to be cooked practically into oblivion, always mixed with the whites (no hard-boiled here) and doused with a generous squeeze of Heinz ketchup.
Things are very different now. If I were able to hop into a time machine, I would tell my kid-self that a) runny yolks are great; b) ketchup should be reserved for hot-dogs; and c) The Barenaked Ladies are not the coolest band on Earth (except, maybe, when they did that cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time“. For that one my adult-self will make a valid exception).
With eggs, the game-changing moment happened shortly after the end of a five-year relationship, when I started to dine on my own again. The specifics are a bit fuzzy, but I remember it being brunch, on a weekend, at this place. I don’t think there was anything particularly special about these eggs – they were served on English muffin, with Mornay sauce (maybe some spinach, à la Florentine?) – but for some reason that was the moment I understood why people were into poached eggs. It was the first time I was able to appreciate their rich and oozy centres, that splash of bright yellow that flows in unruly swirls all over the plate, before being mopped up with a wedge of bread.
It’s strange how that happens – when something that used to send shivers down your spine suddenly becomes good. I hesitate to admit it, but I suspect that part of this shift in taste was a happy by-product of a larger effort to etch out out a new side of myself post-split. It goes without saying that eating a poached egg is not an earth-shattering, epic, Gloria Steinem-esque affirmation of independence. But at the time, it felt like a small gesture, a nudge towards new things. He hated poached eggs, so we never ate them at home, and I had pretty much given up on them at some point between the time my musical preferences gravitated from Paula Abdul to Steven Page.
Post-split felt like the perfect time to give poached eggs another go.
Since that pivotal moment, I’ve eaten my way through many plates of Benedict and Florentine – out at brunch, or over at friends’ houses. But until this past weekend, I’d never been able to make a decent one myself. The water wouldn’t be hot enough. Or it would be too hot. Or I would attempt the vortex method, watching passively, with mouth agape, as each egg got sucked into the water tornado, only to swiftly fall apart into a holy mess of stringy egg whites.
That is, until I listened to the Spilled Milk podcast on poached eggs last week.
The hosts of Spilled Milk – Molly Wizenberg and Matthew Amster-Burton – have easily become the Paula Abdul and Steven Page of my adult life. I look forward to listening to their podcasts the same way I used to look forward to slipping “Forever Your Girl” or “Gordon” into my Walkman. Spilled Milk makes me giggle in public, by myself, in the company of strangers. Once I tried so hard to told back laughter I snorted latte out my nose on a metro car full of people. I am willing to put my dignity on the line to listen to them discuss the merits of sour candy and the perils of eating rhubarb.
This nerd crush runs deep, people.
The episode on poached eggs addressed their apprehensions of the poaching process. Hearing them confess their struggles not only made me feel less ashamed of my ineptitude, but also assuaged my fears of making another batch of egg-streaked vinegar-water. Emboldened, I went digging for a recipe on Molly’s site Orangette and came across one for “Turkish Poached Eggs with Yogurt and Spicy Sage Butter”.
What you get is a couple of pillowy poached eggs on a layer of garlicky yogurt, drizzled with a toasty sage-paprika butter. Everything about this was right. Everything.
Please poach this egg.
Turkish Poached Eggs with Yogurt and Spicy Sage Butter (serves 2) – from Orangette
½ cup plain Greek yogurt (full-fat)
½ garlic clove, crushed in a mortar and pestle (or with a garlic press)
⅛ cup (¼ stick) butter
6 fresh sage leaves
¼ tsp sweet paprika
¼ tsp dried crushed red pepper
1 tbsp white vinegar
Bread for serving
*The fresher the egg, the better. If in doubt, try the sink/float test: if an egg submerged in water sinks, it is very fresh; if it floats, it’s generally not. I award you double-extra nerd points if you were just about to get up and test all the eggs in your fridge.
Blend the yogurt and crushed garlic in a small bowl; season with salt. Divide the mixture between four plates, dropping a dollop in the centre of the plate and spreading it out with the back of a spoon to form a large, thin circle.
Melt the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the sage, paprika, and red pepper, and stir just until the butter sizzles. Be careful not to let the butter burn or get too coloured. Remove it from the heat, and season to taste with salt.
Fill a large skillet about two-thirds full with water, to a depth of about 2 inches. Add about a tablespoon of white vinegar, and bring it to a slow simmer over medium-high heat. Once you see several little bubbles along the bottom of the pan and the surface of the water is gently bubbling (not a rolling boil), your water is ready. While you wait for the water to heat up, prepare a medium bowl with warm water and set it aside.
Crack an egg into a heatproof cup or ramekin. Holding the cup upright, lower the base into the water, and then, slowly and gently, twist your wrist to turn the egg out into the water. Allow the first egg to settle a bit before adding a second one. Depending on the size of your skillet, you can poach 2-3 eggs at a time. Given that this recipe includes 4 eggs, I did it in 2 batches.
Cook each egg for 2-3 minutes total, until the white is opaque. Lift each egg out with a slotted spoon. Slide the egg into the bowl of warm water that you have set aside to keep them warm while you finish up the other eggs, make toast, etc.
When you are ready to serve, remove the eggs from the water with the slotted spoon, gently shake off any water, and place two eggs atop the yogurt on each of the four plates. Spoon the paprika-butter over the eggs and yogurt. Serve with bread, toasted or plain.