Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Maybe I think too much

Jeff's mom was in town this weekend and, boy, we did a lot of things, even though she found time to take two naps during the 48 short hours of her visit. Perhaps well-timed naps are her secret to vacation stamina. I think I am ready for Sam's Mom to come visit again; she seems to operate at a more leisurely pace.

By the time Jeff, his mom, and I tucked into this tortilla salad on Sunday evening we had polished off two Nalgenes full of Chardonnay in Golden Gate Park, heard Emmylou Harris describe the blues she had as cowgirl, started a spontaneous sing-along on the N-Judah, accidentally met our neighbor's ex-boyfriend at Blackbird, and raided the Safeway nut bar after-hours for pumpkin seeds. Let me just say about this tortilla salad: I barely even remember eating it, let alone taking pictures of it. Although I do remember remarking that it felt great to be eating something so healthy and balanced in the condition that I was in. Luckily for my food blog, I had been in a much better condition to photograph our brunch on Saturday morning.

I have no idea how Eggs Benedict is a dish that is ever even made in a restaurant, let alone a brunch standard that on any given Sunday is slung by the thousands to hung-over customers the country around. I generally think of myself as a good cook and an organized menu planner, and this still took me two hours and pushed me right up against the limit of my kitchen abilities. No matter how much you plan ahead, there are still so many things that come together in the last 5 minutes of preparation: the potatoes, the stacking, the Hollandaise, the poached eggs, the fresh herbs. It's very intimidating, and Eggs Benedict can smell fear.

One thing that made the whole affair a lot easier was poaching the eggs the night before and then keeping them underwater in a shallow Pyrex dish overnight. Sure, I spent 45 minutes poaching eggs on a Friday night, but at least I didn't have to conquer the potatoes, the stacking, the fresh herbs, and the Hollandaise all while responding to the whims of a kitchen timer going off every 3 minutes and 40 seconds. So this is what our fridge looked like on Benedict Eve--you can see that poached eggs occupy most of the middle shelf.

And in the end, it was all worth it. The tomatoes and the basil managed to really cut through the rich layers of butter upon butter upon butter, bringing the whole affair together perfectly. Wow, I love the concentrated flavor of lightly-salted late-season tomatoes. They're on their way out, but I don't think I'll ever do Eggs Benedict again without some sort of vegetable element to it.

By the way, do you want to know how I poach an egg? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. I heat up a pan of water over medium heat--I always use the same 8-inch by 3-inch round pan but that's how I operate--and add a glug of white vinegar. When bubbles are just starting to form on the bottom, I turn the heat down to the lowest possible setting on my stove. I crack an egg into a little ramekin I bought at IKEA. Then I stir the water vigorously with a slotted spoon, dislodging the bubbles and making a whirlpool in the center. I slide the egg right into middle of the whirlpool. Any white that might normally fly away should coagulate because of the acidity and then get tied up in the middle of the whirlpool. I set the timer on the microwave for 3 minutes and 40 seconds. When it goes off, I take the egg out of the water with the slotted spoon. I either put it on top of my fried oatmeal, or I keep it in a cool water bath until I've finished poaching all the eggs I want to poach.

If I'm doing multiple eggs, I'll turn the heat back up to medium just until I see bubbles again, reduce the heat, stir, and repeat from there. When I'm ready to serve, I bring the water back up to the barely-bubbling temperature and reheat each poached egg for 20 seconds. If I'm only doing two eggs, say, one for my fried oatmeal and one for Jeff's fried oatmeal, I won't even bother with the water bath; I just let the first egg hang out in the spoon in between. I have tried poaching several eggs at the same time in a very wide pan and it just does not work for me. Why not? The most important thing about poaching eggs, other than using the freshest eggs possible, is temperature control--keeping the eggs going in hot 190-degree-F-ish water so that the whites fully coagulate while the yolks remain liquid, but also keeping the temperature low enough such that there are no bubbles around to break the eggs apart. When you poach multiple eggs at the same time, you give up that temperature control. The temperature of your water bath will drop a few degrees every time you add a cool egg to it, and there's no way you can regulate that accurately with your burner. It can turn Eggs Benedict into Acks Benedisaster! I say: just poach eggs one at a time.

Wow, there are a lot of things I think about I poach an egg. I am the Carrie Fisher of poached eggs.


Recipe roundup...

Tortilla salad adapted from Heidi Swanson on 101 Cookbooks. I texted Jeff from behind the Safeway nut bar and told him to roast the purple cauliflower briefly, because I do not dig raw cauliflower.

English muffin recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinarth, as reported on pete bakes! I smashed them down a lot as they were cooking because I have found in the past that they can be too puffy--this was a bad choice. Let them puff.

Hollandaise sauce after Michael Ruhlman's recipe in Ratio. An immersion blender is magical here.

Eggs poached in vinegared water for 3 minutes and 40 seconds.

To make breakfast potatoes, I tossed cubed potatoes with peanut oil and roasted them for 10-ish minutes at 400 F in a cast-iron skillet, then set them aside. When ready to serve, I heated them back up in the same skillet on the stovetop over medium heat, added a splash of olive oil, and tossed in some diced shallots and sweet peppers maybe two minutes before I was ready to serve.

How to assemble Eggs Benedict: Poach eggs well ahead of time and keep them in a cool water bath. Slice tomatoes into rounds and salt 30 minutes before serving. Fry canadian bacon in butter over low heat, fry english muffins in more butter over low heat, keep both warm. Get a water bath ready on the stove. Make Hollandaise. When ready to serve, chiffonade basil and chop parsley. Build stacks up from the bottom: english muffin, tomato, basil, bacon. Reheat eggs in barely simmering water for 20 seconds each and top the stacks one-by-one. Add the potatoes to the plates, and then top each stack with Hollandaise and parsley. Whew.

By the way, while enjoying these Eggs Benedict, we learned that this drag queen across the street wants you to vote for Ross Mirkarimi for sheriff.

1 comment:

  1. That's a good looking plate of Eggs Benedict!