Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Gamekeeper Turned Poacher

A couple of weeks ago I published the extraordinary Canadian embassy musk ox recipe. Ideal for anyone employed to manage stocks of big game, but for most of us not really an option for Sunday lunch. So I went hunting for an alternative - not in the arctic wastes armed with a shotgun, but around the web armed with a mouse - and found something equally interesting and a lot more practical. Not a recipe this time, but a feature on cooking technique.

What caught my eye was a blog posting about alternative approaches to poaching an egg as suggested by celebrity chefs Delia Smith and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and from a couple of bloggers including someone with the handle "Vash The Stampede". And it was Vash's contribution that really blew me away. I've worked in a few kitchens in my time but never, never have I seen anyone use this to poach an egg:

I emailed the author of the blog post, politely asking if I could link to his website and reproduce his photos with suitable attribution. I could see that several other website owners and bloggers had done the same and I suspected that few if any had sought permission. A few days later I was surprised, to say the least, when my polite request was curtly refused. I guess it takes all types to make a world. So I reproduced the egg poaching exercise myself, with a twist. I hope you enjoy my little effort. For the record, my photographs are freely available to anyone who publishes a link and/or credit to this post.

Much easier than preparing for a polar hunting expedition. I put a pan of water on the gas to boil and equipped myself with a cup, some clingfilm and eggs. Unlike the vortex method, no vinegar was needed. I looked forward to improving on this.

Getting the clingfilm into the cup wasn't easy because it sticks to the sides, but I got the hang of it eventually and successfully cracked my egg into the resulting clingfilm bag.

A chopstick provided a handy tool from which to suspend my egg parcel before dunking it in the boiling water for 3½ mins (the time depends on egg size and how well you like your egg cooked).

I remembered a tip from Hervé This and waggled the bag about in the water in order to ensure that the yolk remained centred.

Turning it out, the albumen stuck to the clingfilm like glue and the yolk flopped into the bowl. The result was an unmitigated disaster.


This time I scattered water into the bag before adding the egg. I reckoned this would create a boundary layer of steam to prevent sticking.

Here goes with the second attempt.
(Note to The Royal Society for the Protection of Goldfish - it's an egg, honest!)

I waggled the bag about again for 3½ minutes on my little wooden fishing rod.

And hey presto, something resembling a poached egg. It still stuck a bit, but it wasn't a bad effort.


Not satisfied, I thought I'd try one last go - this time using a little olive oil.

I spread the oil out all over the clingfilm and mopped up the excess with kitchen roll.

Egg number three was cracked into the fishing bag and dunked into the boiling water.

And this time, as soon as I started to open the bag the difference was obvious.

A beautifully formed poached egg. Of course a professional chef would trim off the bit at the top, but I thought it looked quite cool.

The proof of the egg is in the eating. Firm but moist albumen, with runny orange yolk just beginning to congeal on the outside. Perfect!

I'll leave you with the following questions:
  1. Do you ever poach eggs and, if so, what method do you use?
  2. Have you ever tried the clingfilm method and did it work for you?
  3. Do you think the clingfilm method could lead to health problems?
  4. Could this post possibly incite certain food bloggers (I think you know who we're talking about) to try poaching eggs in condoms?
Answers in a comment, please.


Richard said...

I do poach eggs - not very well usually, but better than the C&Z disaster! My usual route is to do them one at a time in a small pan - dropping the eggs into the vortex caused by swirling boiling water (with salt & a touch of vinegar) with a whisk.

I'm interested in the whole cling film thing - Gordon Ramsay uses it quite a bit from what I can see in a number of recipes, but the health risks do worry me. Last time I looked, the info on my cling film box was pretty sketchy...

I don't think I'll go for the whole condom thing for the time being ;)

Sophie said...

Love the photos - that one does look alarmingly like a goldfish!

I think I've seen the cling film trick used whereby you just make a fairly loose cling film parcel which unravels slowly as the egg cooks. It doesn't come out as neat as yours and you'd still need a slotted spoon, but there's no risk of sticking and the egg isn't in contact with the film for as long. I usually try putting my egg into a little shot glass or egg cup to get it into the water neatly...

Regarding the clingfilm, I imagine that microwave clingfilm would be the best bet as it is designed to be safe at very high temperatures

Alastair Vaan said...

Hi Trig, interesting post. Here's the gospel.

As you'll know chefs recommend breaking an egg into a lightly simmering vortex of acidulated water.

I recommend only one thing. Use absolutely fresh eggs. The kind of fresh you can only get from direct supply. I've stopped poaching anything over day two. I don't need vinegar at all, just a little swirl. (advantage of family with hens though)...

One thing about the cling film method is that it's not true poaching. The egg has no contact with water, and that will certainly have affected the texture.

As for cling film, I did some digging around a while ago, and the evidence is not that conclusive (not even the FSA really have a stand), but I don't use cling film any more in high temperature applications (I know chefs I've worked with use it for lining tart cases and all sorts). I reserve it for low-simmer poaching applications, preferably in environments where there's not much fat around. Make sure it's the good film, not that thin clingy stuff, which is full of the plasticisers everyone is worrying about.

Culinary Cowgirl said...

I'm a poach-the-egg-directly-in-the-water type of girl. Some are pretty, some are not.

Love your attempts. I use cling film for poaching chicken (roulades) but have never tried it for eggs...bravo for sticking with it past the first attempt. I would have thrown my hands in the air!

Pille said...

Aidan, now, I haven't poached eggs in a cling film, and not sure I will any time soon (although your third attempt looks pretty good:) However, we've tried the "poached egg in oil" method from The Cook's Book - and really like that. I can't tell you the page no just now, as the book is at home, but it's worth looking up.

Trig said...

Richard - I would advise using more than just a touch of vinegar. I usually give it a good few glugs, even when I'm poaching eggs at home.

Sophie - That's exactly the right way to go about it professionally. You should always crack the egg into a ramekin or something along those lines first. If you try cracking the egg straight into the water you're likely to end up with bits of shell and more importantly the yolk won't be properly centralised as it falls in.

Alastair - See my note to Sophie regarding the ramekin. I used certified farm (Burford Brown) eggs. I'm no purist, and if I (as a trainee chef) couldn't tell the difference in texture I highly doubt that most people could.

Of course you're right about the safety issue in terms of the cling film. It's just a question of being sensible and not doing it too often. And nobody in a high risk group should eat eggs that aren't thoroughly cooked.

Every chef I've ever known or heard of uses cling film when blind baking tart cases and I haven't heard of any cling film related fatalities

Trig said...

Culinary cowgirl - I don't believe I didn't even think to mention to Alastair that chefs also use cling film to wrap roulades for poaching.

Pille - Of course it was only an experiment, and all in the name of fun. I normally poach my eggs using the standard vortex method, and without meaning to boast they usually come out perfect (except the first one)

Alastair Vaan said...

Hi Trig,

Burford brown eggs are indeed lovely, but you'll still be lucky to get them "fresh". Most eggs that hit retail in even the greatest shops are days old. I live and work in the countryside and my family raises chickens in their garden (which even city dwellers can manage, honest!). A new egg poaches perfectly without vinegar, or any other tinkering, and has better texture by far than even one poached a few days later. I use a ramekin to put eggs in, as it's easier to get the egg close to the surface of the water when it goes in, causing less disturbance, although when the egg is that fresh, the albumen is so much more robust.

The cling film question is an interesting one. The epidemiology of assessing cling film health impacts would be nigh on impossible. So you'll never hear of a cling film problem as such, but even the FSA admits there's something up, even if they don't really know what. I use foil for pastry (n.b. so does Ramsay and many other chefs ;-) as it allows even cooking of the overlap as well as the base, so there's less issue of the edges "browning out". As foil doesn't shrink when it's baked, it retains the pastry shape with less weight applied, aiding even cuisson. I made the transition to foil a couple of years ago. I've not looked back.

It's all down to personal choice at the end of the day. I've made a choice in my restaurant to use recyclable materials in as many applications as possible. Cling film is being phased out. I'll be happier when I can get corn based sous-vide bags though :-)

happy poaching.


Alastair Vaan said...

Btw, on the occasions that I make poached roulades, I use cling film. As the temperatures are much lower, I don't see such a problem. For comparison note how the cling film changes its characteristics when oven baked.

Anonymous said...

Used the bag method for years. For a twist use truffle oil and a touch of goose fat. Leave the egg in the bag in the fridge for 24 hours before poaching...heaven.
David in Perth Oz

Trig said...

Thanks for the tip, David.

Aussie Sensibility said...

I have finally managed to use the vortex method successfully thanks to all the tips posted on your site. However, I presume you can only poach one egg at a time with this method, i.e. you cannot put in a second egg until the first egg has cooked and been removed?

Trig said...

Aussie Sensibility - I certainly can't do more than one hen's egg at a time by vortex, but some very clever people might be able to. After all, lots of large things fly about in a whirlwind without bumping into eachother. The point about the clingfilm method is that it's a cheat - it produces an egg that's not technically poached but tastes like a poached egg. I now cook mine in their shells in a waterbath at 62C for half an hour or so, then crack them carefully and get excellent results.

Anonymous said...

I saw a TV chef put the egg still in its shell into the boiling water for 20 seconds and then crack it open and put it into the water. It just helped it hold together a bit and seemed to work. Haven't had a chance to try it yet though.

locoMango said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I saw another method used by (Aussie chef's name i can't recall - young blonde guy).. Anyway, he added cider vinegar to the water (lots of it), cracked the egg into a cup, boiled the water, and then slowly 'rolled' the egg into the water (as close as he could get the cup to the water) whilst it was still boiling. He did two eggs at the same time. No vortex - just kept the water boiling, rather than simmer. They both came out perfect balls of egg.

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