to swirl or not to swirl

Along with roast chicken and a hearty ragu, a poached egg is one of the those things any aspiring cook should know how to make. It’s versatile, quick, nutritious, delicious, equally satisfying for a crowd or for one, and a great way to make a meal out of almost anything (and nothing).

I must admit that I did not learn how to poach an egg until recently, when I decided once and for all to put a stop to this nonsense. I don’t know why my poached egg trials in the past had failed so miserably, but a few youtube videos and consecutive practice runs later, I was golden. Heat some water until small bubbles form on the bottom of the pan, toss in a capful of vinegar and a pinch of salt if you wish, carefully drop in the egg, pull it out ~3 minutes later, shock and hold it in ice water if saving for later or dry it on a paper towel before it graces your plate of whatever it is that will instantly become a gazillion times more sexy topped with those dainty whites and irresistible egg yolk.

One small trick involves swirling the water before dropping the egg in, so as to create a vortex which reportedly encourages the egg whites to wrap around the yolk during the initial critical period in which the shape of the poached egg is established (instead of disintegrating into smithereens).

I was curious whether this technique really made poaching more effective, so naturally, I performed a side-by-side analysis. Here are the results:

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CSCA class #2: l’oeufs

I recently embarked on a 6-week basic skills course at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. The first day of class was an introduction to knife skills. After discussing types of knives and how to properly hold one, we went to house on a crate of produce — which included leeks, bell peppers, carrots, zucchini, herbs, shallots, garlic, and of course, onions — and potatoes, since our instructor was keen on making some french fries. In the end, the sundry assemblage of vegetables of assorted shapes and sizes were tossed together with some tomato sauce and pasta for our group dinner.

Class #2, eggs began with a lecture that sort of devolved as everyone’s impatience filled the room. Or maybe just mine :). Soon enough, we divvied up the menu and got crackin’. I tackled a soufflé and a Basque dish of slow scrambled eggs, onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Among the other dishes: quiches, eggs benedict, deviled eggs, frittatas, and a chocolate custard for dessert. It’s impossible not to learn how to make classic egg dishes without making a mother sauce or two: here, we made hollandaise for the eggs benedict and a béchamel base for the soufflés. The students who drew the deviled eggs made mayo from scratch as well, even though Escoffier has deemed mayo’s maternal instincts lacking. Classroom instruction is pretty relaxed, a bit too breezy for my tastes. But the instructor excels at offering encouragement in the kitchen and positive feedback on our dishes, and he keeps everything light-hearted and enjoyable, which is probably more important for beginners than elaborating on an egg’s coagulating properties.

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Dinner with leftovers: spinach and goat cheese frittata

You can’t really go wrong with frittatas. They can be eaten any time of the day, at any temperature, anywhere (tableside, at a picnic, grabbed on the go). They can be made in under 20 minutes, making them ideal for a quick but substantial snack or mid-week meal. They’re invaluable for emptying your fridge and making use of unloved, wilting, on the brink of being trashed vegetables. A kitchen sink kind of frittata is not hard to imagine and, with the right amount of seasoning, would be amply satisfying. Though they may be brethren, omelets and scrambled eggs are nowhere near as versatile.  Or pretty.

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Recipe after the jump!