Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Under The Weather Breakfast
When I was a kid, as soon as mere mention of a sore throat was uttered by someone in the family, my mother would spring into action, and certain very specific steps were taken. First, you would immediately begin gargling with salt water. Second, sticky, stinky Vicks Vaporub was applied to upper lip and chest, and a humidifier was set up in the bedroom, sometimes with a stalk of eucalyptus leaves from the backyard.
And then came breakfast. You'd be sitting, curled up on the couch watching Saturday morning cartoons, when a loud whirring sound would come from the kitchen. Shortly after, Mom would scurry over with a glass of thick, pulpy, just-squeezed orange juice. If there was a limoo shirin in the house, you were extra lucky: its juice would be in there too, and you'd be advised harriedly to drink it fast before it turned bitter. Next came a glass of warm milk with plenty of honey, and a perfectly soft-boiled egg, with buttered toast to dip in the yolk, and a saltshaker close at hand to season each spoonful.
I've had more than my share of sniffly coughy days of late, and so I've tried to recreate this childhood breakfast for myself (no Vicks Vaporub, thanks). Granted, orange juice squeezed fresh by Mom has made way for orange juice squeezed almost as fresh by the kind people at Evolution (by the way, Evolution Juice, have I told you lately that I love you? Ahh, a story for another day...), and hot tea has replaced warm milk, but the centerpiece of it all, the soft-boiled egg, remains.
It turns out that a soft-boiled egg is not a simple thing. In Persian, they are called assali -- honey-like -- and my mother's were always just that. But she made it look deceptively effortless. Everyone seems to have a fool-proof formula for the perfect hard-boiled egg, and most of them are dead on, but ask about soft-boiled eggs, and even the for the most food-knowledgeable, hemming and hawing ensues.
So, I got my crack team on the job (get it? Crack team? Little egg humor for ya... Heh, I crack myself up. Whoa, crack myself up! I did it again! Anybody got a peanut?!), and the results were...well, disappointing. The first attempt, 5 minutes from start to finish, was horrendously undercooked: clear snotty whites. So, after opening it, I decided it was going back into the water. Of course this brought up the question of how to hold it upright and prevent water from getting into the opening. All good questions. I tried to constrain it by using a biscuit cutter/cuff thing, but it was not narrow enough, so I ended up with wispy poached egg whites all over the place. Sad sad days.
Next time around, I went for the following: cover and turn off heat at boil then wait 3 minutes. And, overcooked! My toasty soldiers balked at the solid, undippable yolk! I suspect that this had to do with the fact that I was cooking a half-dozen eggs, in a large pot of water, as I was going to hard-boil the rest for potato salad. My thinking is that because it took longer for the larger amount of water/eggs to come to a boil, the egg cooked longer than if it were boiling solo.
Recently I tried again, and friends, I'm happy to say the third time was the proverbial charm. Single egg, two-and-a-half minutes. Whites were solid but still jiggly, and yolk was perfectly golden, soft and dippable. At last, my soldiers, my sore throat, and I enjoyed a comforting breakfast, like honey.
Before the recipe, a couple more eggy notes:
- If all this soft-boiling talk makes you nervous, just go to Le Pain Quotidien and have them do it for you. Organic egg, perfectly cooked, fresh organic bread, latte in a little bowl, and the added joy of their hazelnut praline spread. Delight!
- And if you're a egg power-user, check out this fascinating article on molecular gastronomy's approach to egg cookery, which teaches us that if you bake an egg for an hour at 67C, you get a yolk you can mold like Play-Doh.
- And finally, I love egg. So will you. (Click the 'egg song' link.)
Soft Boiled Egg
I should disclaim, this recipe is not foolproof. It seems that a soft-boiled egg recipe is a personal thing: with so many variables -- stove hotness, pot thickness and heat capacity, pot width (which, of course affects the amount of water it takes to cover the egg), it takes a little experimenting, with your own equipment, to find your own perfect soft-boiled egg recipe. This is a good starting point though.
Place egg in a small pot and carefully add water to cover. Bring to a rolling boil, uncovered. Turn off heat, cover pot, and let egg sit for 2-1/2 minutes. Carefully remove egg from hot water with a slotted spoon.