Sunday, September 12, 2010

With a simple egg

My relationship with eggs has always been tumultuous. It's a love-hate thing that goes on for years and years. We've had our good times (my mom's sunny side up eggs with French fries), our bad times (plain omelettes) and our really bad times (food poisoning).

Like in all good love-hate relationships, there is also the element of surprise—an unexpected, and hopefully positive, discovery about your frenemy. In this relationship, the surprise came when I finally decided to eat poached eggs.

This blog is sometimes all about my late discoveries of food that people have been eating for decades and sometimes even hundreds of years. I'm a bit stubborn when it comes to tasting certain foods or dishes but when I finally do, one of two things can happen. Either confirm the fact that a little stubbornness is, after all, good or prove that I'm quite insane for not trying something for so long.

The latter applies in this circumstance. Why has my dislike for eggs kept me from trying this? Why don't people who regularly eat poached eggs shout it from the rooftops so the rest of us can hear? Poached eggs are delicious. And no, I haven't been living under a rock; it's just that we Greeks don't eat poached eggs. It's just not in our food culture.

But I think I'm getting carried away. Ok listen, it's an egg. We're not talking about a revolutionary flavor here. It's not like I'm suggesting the sixth basic taste* has been discovered. But for an egg skeptic like me, that was a breaking point. I can now safely say that I have a thing for eggs. Poached that is.

You take an egg, a simple chicken egg, and you drop it inside a pan filled with barely simmering water. The gentle swaying of the egg white that dances inside the scalding hot water looks like a ballerina twirling around in her tutu. The yolk disappears inside its white blanket and then, as you take it out of the water, it wobbles like a wonderfully set panacotta.

And what if that poached egg is being placed on top of something even more exciting like French toast or if you're feeling a little fancy 'pain perdu'? And what if that 'pain perdu' had been covered in parmesan and had been baked in the oven? And what if someone (uh, me) had the brilliant idea of adding some slices of prosciutto to the whole thing? Well, then you'd be in food heaven, wouldn't you?

Tasting the ultimate breakfast, brunch or even dinner—that's what this is. A complete meal, a unique dish with its own star—the poached egg. When you slice it open with a knife, the runny yolk reveals itself, oozing out like lava running down a snow peaked mountain. Its velvety texture is reminiscent of a perfectly cooked fried egg but without the oiliness. There's another texture to it, an airy, light quality that balances immaculately with the French toast, the prosciutto, the parmesan, the rocket. That's the beauty of the poached egg.

Do not tell me that you don't want to rush to your kitchen and make one right now. I wouldn't believe you.

Baked Savory Parmesan French Toast with Poached Eggs, Prosciutto and Rocket Salad
Adapted from Gourmet

The day before I made this dish I had baked two loaves of dense, crusty white bread with cornmeal. It was the perfect kind of bread for this dish. You can also use French baguette or country-style bread with thick crust and dense texture. Make sure that the bread is a bit stale (bought/made the previous day). If it is too fresh it will disintegrate when soaked in the custard.

There are many ways to poach an egg, like in plastic wrap or in special egg poachers, but the traditional, old-fashioned way and my own personal favorite is the one I'm describing below.

The first time you poach an egg it might not be a pretty sight but you'll get there. When I first tried it, it looked like an egg massacre. With a little persistence and a little patience you'll be poaching eggs in no time. I haven't been doing it long myself but I think I'm on the right path. If I can do it, you can too!

If you're having this dish for breakfast or brunch, accompany it with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

Yield: 4 servings

1-2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened, for greasing the baking dish
4 slices white crusty bread with dense texture (10 cm x 7 cm slices** with 2.5 cm thickness)
5 medium-sized eggs, at room temperature
235 ml (1 cup) whole milk
35 g (½ cup) parmesan cheese, grated
1 Tbsp and 2 tsp white wine vinegar
8 slices of prosciutto di Parma
45 g (about 2 cups) rocket leaves
1 Tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper


Prepare the French toast
Butter the bottom of a shallow baking dish or tray and arrange the bread slices in one layer inside the dish.
In a medium-sized bowl, add 1 egg, the milk, ¼ tsp salt and ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper. Whisk everything together until combined.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Pour mixture over the bread slices and press lightly with your fingers to help bread absorb the custard. Then turn the slices around and press lightly again. Sprinkle them with the grated parmesan and let stand for around 20 minutes until the custard is absorbed by the bread. (Don't worry if there are a couple of tablespoons of custard that the bread slices didn't absorb).
Bake the bread slices on the lower rack of the oven for 18-20 minutes or until the bread has puffed up and become golden brown.

How to poach the eggs
In the meantime start poaching the eggs.

Make sure you use fresh eggs since the egg white of fresh eggs tends to cling more strongly to the yolk. Also, it is best that your eggs are at room temperature rather than cold (from the fridge) because they will need less time to cook.

Crack one egg in a small container such as a ramekin or a small bowl. This way if your egg yolk breaks, you can replace the egg easily than if you had cracked the egg directly into the simmering water.
Fill a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan with water, at least 5 cm deep and up to 7, and bring to a bare simmer over medium-high heat. If the water comes to the boil instead, lower the heat and wait for it to reach a steady bare simmer. (If you add the egg to the water when it's boiling then the egg will disintegrate). You don't want any kind of bubbles coming up to the surface of the water. You want to see tiny bubbles at the bottom of the pan. Adjust the heat accordingly.

Add 1 Tbsp of the white wine vinegar to the water (this will help the egg white to congeal more easily). Create a whirlpool by swirling the water with the help of a slotted spoon or spatula (this will help the egg stay together as the white will wrap around the yolk, hopefully!). Slide the egg inside the water, right in the middle of the whirlpool (not when it spins too fast because it might break up the egg, but when it calms down a bit) and as close to the surface as you can possibly can. Using your slotted spoon, gently guide the egg whites toward the yolk (don't move the spoon around too quickly in the water cause you'll break up the egg). Do not panic if the egg white spreads out a bit like an octopus' tentacles, it is normal.
In case the egg gets stuck at the bottom of the pan, slide your spoon gently under the egg and tug it. Do this when the egg has slightly set (after 40-50 seconds).

A medium-sized egg at room temperature will take 2 ½ - 3 minutes to cook (for runny yolks with firm whites). Adjust the cooking time depending on how you prefer to have your eggs.
Once the egg is cooked, remove it from the water with a slotted spoon and place it on folded kitchen paper to drain. Don't place it immediately on top of the French toast because it will become soggy. Before adding it to your dish, you may want to trim the egg into shape using kitchen scissors or a knife.

Poach the rest three eggs in the same manner.

If you want to prepare many eggs for a large number of people or if you just want to poach your eggs in advance (let's say the night before for the following morning) then once the eggs are cooked, put them in a bowl filled with iced water and some ice cubes. This will stop the cooking process thus avoiding overcooked eggs. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and at this point you can keep your poached eggs for 24 hours. To serve them, place them in hot water (not boiling water) for about 40 seconds in order to reheat them.

Serve the dish
Toss the rocket leaves with the olive oil and 2 tsp of white wine vinegar. Place a piece of French toast on each of four plates. Add a poached egg on top and place two slices of prosciutto on each plate. Divide the rocket salad among the four plates. Season the eggs with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.

*The five basic tastes are: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami. The word umami is Japanese and it means "good flavor". The umami taste has been discovered in 1908 by Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese scientist and is defined as a savory, meaty or brothy taste found in foods like meat, parmesan cheese, mushrooms, soy sauce, green tea and others, that is imparted by glutamate (an amino acid). In the '80s, various studies proved that umami constituted a legitimate fifth basic taste.
A further two distinct tastes have been proposed to exist by scientists. The "fat" taste and the "metallic" (or "calcium") taste. According to findings, it appears that people who are highly sensitive to the taste of fat, tend to eat less of it.

**In case your bread slices are smaller, you can use two slices per person.


  1. I drool every bit more with each photo and description. Sounds like your relationship with the egg has taken an extremely positive turn!

  2. OMG poached eggs are amazing no matter what. But on top of a cheese covered piece of toast with prosciutto? A little piece of heaven! It looks SO delicious!

    I just posted about baking an egg in a tomato and it was pretty awesome too!


  3. I have always loved eggs, they are so easy when I'm desperate for a quick meal. I went out for breakfast this morning and had poached eggs with beans and mushrooms. It was not too bad but I think prosciutto would have been a vast improvement to the dish!!

  4. Your essay and lovely photographs remind me that when I was a schoolboy I'd walk home for lunch, and sometimes my mother made Eggs Florentine; I don't think I've had them since then, half a century ago. She would put a bottle-cap of vinegar in the poaching water, "to keep the whites from scattering", she said. I don't know if it works, but I continue to add it because I like the slight tang it gives the eggs and the bright scent it gives the kitchen. Time to go poach!

  5. Your photos are so scrumptious that I'm afraid you've ruined every non-egg breakfast I'll ever have for the rest of my life.

    Oh, God above, if heaven has a taste
    it must be an egg with butter and salt,
    and after the egg is there anything in
    the world lovelier than fresh warm
    bread and a mug of sweet golden tea?

    —Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes (1996)

  6. I think we just found what we are having for supper tonight! I also just baked some homemade white bread for my Mom's cookbook project - and this will be the perfect way to use it!

    I have always been a big fan of poached eggs. When we were kids, the first "real" food we were allowed to eat after tummy trouble was a poached egg on a baked potato (hold the skin). As an adult, when feeling nostalgic, I add butter, salt, pepper and Parmesan and I have a great comfort food meal. Thanks again, Magda - I really love reading your blog and seeing your stunning photography! David

  7. your photos of runny egg yokes are serious food porn for me. i love all kinds of food, but a well cooked, salty, yokey egg... oof. get's me every time!
    this is a great recipe - thanks for sharing!

  8. I am not crazy about eggs either but I love this! and enjoyed reading your post about your history with eggs.

  9. How cool is the internet?! Worlds apart we are thinking the same sort of thing around the same time. Egg sceptic here as well, and this weekend I had poached eggs again (probably around the 10th time in my life, as they are not standard in my culture either, or at least not in my upbringing!) when I decided once and for all: not too crazy about eggs, but the poached egg rocks my world. In a very delicate way...

  10. As you probably recently read, I am terrified of making poached eggs (and was of making omelettes, because to be good they have to be made the right way...runny, not raw, fluffy, not dry. I finally learned). I swore in my post I would try poached eggs next. Maybe with your lovely tutorial I will work up the courage. I love them so...

  11. I love how excited you are over poached eggs. I have never cooked one, myself. I'm not even sure that I've ever eaten one. I do remember when I was much much younger, seeing my mother make poached eggs. I find her quiet revolutionary now. I should drop what I'm doing, rush home and make a poached egg.

  12. Waouh, Magda, your poached eggs and french toast look scrumptious! Great tutorials too. Wether my eggskeptic dutchie like it or not, I know what there's gonna be on the menu for the next sunday brunch! If you felt like to experiment further with your frenemies, I can highly recommand 'Oeuf-cocotte' (oven baked eggs with a little creme fraiche and whatever fits your mood ranging from fresh herbs, braised greens, cheese or smoked salmon). It is my secret eggskeptic weapon! I think you'd like it. Cheers, M.

  13. oh, yes, praise for the poached egg--simple, pure food, especially when gleaned from a farmer you know. I have a friend who wished for me to post an egg poaching tutorial---instead, I shall send her to your marvelous blog! Nancy

  14. Belinda — it sure has!

    Sues — thanks

    deb — eggs are indeed the ideal quick meal. Any time of the day.

    Mark — such beautiful memories. your mother was so right about the vinegar. Wise woman!

    High Plains — love the quote!

    David — thank you. Sounds like your bread is just perfect for this dish!

    devon — thanks!

    taste of beirut — thank you

    madelief — happy to meet another egg skeptic :) What a simple poached egg can do huh?

    nuts about — you must try them! I hope this will be helpful

    Tracy — my mom never made poached eggs. She told me the other day, after reading my post, that she has actually never tried poached eggs so you're not alone. You have to try them. They're so delicious

    kitchen diaries — thank you! I hope you convince your Dutchie to try poached eggs. He sure doesn't know what he's missing :)

    Nancy — thank you so much :)

  15. @mykitchendiaries: true, so true! the Oeuf en cocote is also legendary!
    I put snippets of prosciutto on top!

  16. Hmm... runny yolk! I love it. It's not simple to make a perfect poached egg :)

  17. Oh Magda,
    I just found your blog through your comment on my blog. What a treat! Eggs are without a doubt my favorite food and poached is waaaaay up there in the preparation spectrum. I used to always poach my eggs back in NYC! Then frenchie got me addicted to soft-boiled eggs. [large egg placed in water at a rolling boil for 4.5-5 minutes, pulled out and into a cool bath, so it's cool enough to handle] I put it in an egg cup for buttery toast dippies or I peel the whole thing and "crack" it over roasted asparagus and sprinkle with parmesan and truffle oil.

    I think soft-boiled should also help you overcome your eggy fears.


    ps see my blog for the answer to your question.

  18. Ellie — thanks :)

    Anna — soft boiled eggs were my childhood nightmare. I can now handle them. I have to try them over roasted asparagus for sure! That and oeuf cocotte are on my egg to-do list ;)

  19. Magda - these were delicious! Honestly, we were so stuffed on Sunday evening from eating our way through my blog recipe that we held off till last evening to make the savory French toasts! Thanks again! David

  20. David — that's great. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

  21. Magda,

    Alas, I have yet to visit Greece but have always wanted to. It will happen one day, I assure you! I imagine it will be one of those places where I cannot decide which is best - the food, the beauty or the people. But perhaps they are all rolled into one - we shall call it, "Greece."

    My cookbook project is a compilation of my mother's favorite recipes. I did a cookbook for her when she died 22 years ago, and it was a simple, photocopied version that I gave to my father and brothers for Christmas that year. Now, with the ability to use photo books to make albums, I have revisited the cookbook and am making and testing each recipe, and photographing many for this new version. Nit a serious undertaking, really.

    For that, I am collaborating with Mark (my partner) and we are working on a food history project - about where the foods we eat come from and how they got to us. He, being the historian, is writing - I will do the photography and recipes. BIG project and quite fun.

    Off to get my cocoa ready to send me on my day.


  22. David — that is so sweet, making a cookbook out of your mother's favorite recipes. Such an interesting project and even more exciting that your partner is involved in it as well. Good luck with it and I would love to see it when it's finished.

  23. Magda – I will keep you posted! I am making four recipes this weekend to photograph and then only three thereafter! Then come the final edits!

    Can't wait to see what you are cooking this weekend!


  24. My relationship with eggs has always been love love love. I guess I'm lucky. And poached, well, they are high on my list of favorite ways to eat an egg. I didn't know that you didn't know how lovely a poached egg could be or I would have shouted from the rooftops, for you. Enjoy those poached eggs!