Celebrate the elegant egg
Some of the most practical lessons we learned in last month’s cooking classes were how to handle eggs. We spent two hours creating an impressive breakfast array: vegetable frittata, tender scones and (much to my amazement) poached eggs. When our instructor, Culinary Institute of America-trained Chef Noelle Barille, told us we couldn’t leave the ship until we’d perfectly poached an egg, we thought we’d have to extend our vacation. However, her meticulous preparation and clear instructions made it impossible to fail.
Perhaps to build our confidence or maybe to have us enjoy a mid-morning snack, she began with lemon scones. Before we broke a single egg into the sifted flour, we were warned to work gently, as any rough-handled dough would come out of the oven looking more like a bumpy pancake than a delicate teatime treat.
While the scones baked, filling the room with a tempting aroma, we assembled a flavorful frittata. Chopping onions and zucchini gave us the chance to practice our newly acquired knife skills. Although our dice was not quite as uniform as the ideal, the vegetables added balanced color and texture to the dish. One surprising ingredient was milk-soaked bread: the sodden cubes melted into the beaten eggs, creating a silky richness.
Just as the scones were ready, the frittatas came out of the oven and we took a break to sample our success. With hints of mint and savory onion, the frittata was puffed and golden (and gone in a flash). We tasted the positive results of our careful ministrations to the scones - the dough had risen nicely into a flaky, lemon-laced pastry (which also vanished quickly).
To give us something to serve with our poached eggs, Chef Noelle had us prepare a hash of white and sweet potatoes. The key to the uniform dice is to cut the potatoes into a large cube when you peel off their skins. Next, slice off one-eighth-inch-thick squares from one face of the cube, julienne these into matchsticks and then cut them crosswise into a brunoise or one-eighth-inch cubes. Because all the pieces are the same small size, cooking time is much faster than you would expect for potato.
With hash waiting on the back burner, everyone placed their saucepan of water on the stove to boil. At the first signs of a simmer, we all poured in the secret ingredient: vinegar. By lowering the pH of the water, vinegar will help set the protein in the egg whites before they have a chance to straggle into tentacles or adhere to the bottom of the pot.
At Chef Noelle’s signal, we slid our eggs into the simmering water at the same time and she started the three-minute, 30-second countdown (the only time she permitted a cell phone in the room). As you can see from the before and after photos, the white never strayed far from the yolk and gradually cooked into a soft pillow. Slotted spoons in hand, we dipped in to collect our eggs at the exact moment, blotted them gently and plated them with the hash.
I’ve tried all sorts of gadgets to poach eggs, from Teflon-lined saucers to silicon cups, but this was a revelation. For Jack, it was an enormous relief - no more Sunday mornings spent scrubbing egg-white concrete from the poaching pan. Once we returned home, I learned a few more keys to success through the mis-poaching of several eggs.
Make sure the egg is fresh, no more than four days from the chicken. You can tell its freshness by how the cracked egg looks on a plate - the yolk stays in the center, slightly lifted by the surrounding white. You can tell its staleness by how the egg resembles silly string when poaching is attempted; the proteins have already broken down too much to ever collect around the yolk. The proper ratio for the secret ingredient is about five ounces of white vinegar to one gallon of water. Finally, don’t salt the poaching water; save the seasonings for the finished product to avoid the risk of overwhelming the delicate, elegant egg.
1 1/2 C flour
2 T sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 C melted, cooled butter
1 large egg, separated
1/4 C half and half
1/2 t grated lemon zest
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper; set aside. Sift the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Form a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add the butter and egg yolk; stir into the flour to make a coarse meal. Add the half and half and lemon zest; mix just until combined.
Turn dough out onto a flat surface and pat into a slightly mounded circle. Place the formed dough into prepared baking pan and cut into wedges. Separate the wedges until they are at least one-half inch apart. Brush the tops of the scones with egg white and dust with granulated sugar (if desired). Bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Yield: 8 small scones.
4 slices cubed white bread
1 C milk
1 T olive oil
1/4 C diced onion
1 small zucchini
1 1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese
1 T minced parsley
1 T minced mint
Preheat oven to 325 F. Soak the bread in the milk for about 20 minutes. Drizzle the oil in an 8-inch skillet and heat over medium. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. Slice the zucchini lengthwise and then crosswise into half-circles. Stir the zucchini into the skillet and cook for about 4 minutes on medium low. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Using your hands, lift bread from the milk and squeeze out excess; discard milk and add bread to eggs. Using a spatula, transfer the onion and zucchini to the bowl along with cheese and herbs. Stir until combined and pour entire mixture into the same skillet. Cook over low heat until the eggs start to set. Remove skillet to the oven until eggs are cooked through but not hard, about 10 minutes.
1 gallon water
5 oz white vinegar
6 fresh eggs
Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add vinegar and reduce the heat to keep the water just at a simmer.
Crack the eggs into separate ramekins or cups. Gently slide each egg into the water. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the whites are set and opaque. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon to paper towels; blot gently to remove excess water. Serve with hash and toast points.
1 sweet potato
1 white potato
1/2 red pepper
1 small onion
1 T olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
Trim vegetables and cut into 1/8-inch dice. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium low. Add potatoes in a single layer and cook until starting to brown. Flip potatoes; add onion and pepper. Cook, shaking skillet to prevent sticking, until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Yield: 2 to 3 servings.
All recipes courtesy of Oceania Cruises Bon Appétit Culinary Center aboard Marina.