The other day, a friend of mine was struck by the realization that chard, the worthy and often overlooked cousin of the execrable beet, had risen to the top of his personal vegetable food ranking. Having learned this fact about himself, he did what any self-respecting millennial (hah) would do: he posted said information on Twitter dot com.
It's a perfectly defensible position to hold. And it brought me back to the days when I tended a garden that produced heaping mounds of chard... the pre-fatherhood days when I actually had the time and energy to cook, photograph, and write about food. Caught up in reminiscence, I tweeted back to my friend a post I had written explaining how to transform a pile of chard -- stems and all -- into a light Spanish meal of vinegary chard paste smeared with white beans over toast.
It was a lovely online interaction about leafy vegetables. And then I got called out for being a terrible food blogger.
My serving recommendation for the chard paste over toast was to top the whole thing with a poached egg. In the post, I'd punted on proper egg-poaching technique, promising that I'd "get into another time because it's a drawn out and annoying topic." But I never revisited proper egg poachery. And I was shamed for breaking my promise.
@SimonMaloy link says you'll delve into proper poaching of an egg on another occasion but I FIND NO SUCH DELVING please help, wanna poach— Alan Pyke (@PykeA) March 24, 2015
Ensnared in a trap of my own making. The ignominy: she burns.
I have no excuse for not circling back to it. Ordinarily I'd blame the baby, and I would do so enthusiastically, but this was long before he made the scene. Also, I love eggs and take the cooking of them very seriously -- even when it takes me to some weird places. So, to make good on my years-old promise and to also make good on my slightly less stale commitment to post more content: here's how to poach a god damn egg.
Step 1: Buy Eggs
The best eggs for poaching are the eggs that have spent as little time as possible outside of the chicken. The albumin -- or "white" of the egg -- comes in two varieties: the thicker stuff that encases the yolk, and the thinner, runnier stuff that surrounds the thick albumin. Fresher eggs have more thick albumin, which is what you want.
At this point you may be asking: how do I know how fresh my eggs are? Ideally, you can go to a farmer's market and interrogate the egg farmer as to when his/her ova were laid. But if you're just picking up eggs at Safeway, there's a way to tell precisely when a carton of eggs was washed and packed. On the side of every carton from a USDA-inspected egg producer there is a three-digit number that will go from 001 to 365. This, as you may have guessed, corresponds to the day of the year the eggs were put in that carton. 001 is January 1, 032 is February 1, 365 is December 31, etc. That's a fairly strong indicator of how fresh those eggs are.
Step 2: Adios, Albumin
This step isn't strictly necessary, but if you're going for a poached egg that will impress the world with its shapeliness and smooth lines, then you should probably keep reading.
Get yourself a fine-mesh wire strainer and set it over a small bowl. Crack one of your super-fresh eggs into the strainer, and very gently swirl it around over the bowl to strain out the thin albumin. When an egg is dropped into simmering water, it's the thin albumen that instantly congeals into the unsightly, gossamer, spider-webbish strands that frustrate so many egg poachers. Straining it out does much to eliminate that problem.
Once you've strained your egg, gently pour it into another small bowl and set it aside.
Step 3: Water and Vinegar
Get a pot. It doesn't have to be huge, say 1 1/2 quarts or thereabout, and fill it roughly 3/4 of the way with water. Set it over high heat and bring it to a boil. Drop the heat down to low -- the water should be at the barest simmer, like hardly bubbling at all.
Into this lightly simmering water you want to pour two teaspoons of vinegar. I know there's a loud and stupid debate over whether vinegar actually does anything to help along the poaching process, but I'm generally agnostic on that front. I like it for the subtle flavoring, but also because the vinegar reacts with bicarbonate in the egg protein which forms little bubbles of carbon dioxide, which helps the egg stay buoyant and float to the surface as it cooks. That's what I read in a book, at least. A science book.
Any white vinegar will do. Red wine vinegar is stronger and will tint the water brown. Don't use balsamic, you dummy.
Step 4: Poach
Into your hardly simmering vinegar and water bath, gently slide your strained egg. You're free to try the vortex method -- swirling the simmering water to create a whirlpool that will hold the egg together with centrifugal force -- but be gentle. It's an egg, after all.
Depending on how well cooked you like your egg, it should sit in the water for 3-5 minutes. I generally shoot for 4 minutes and 15 seconds, which leaves whites that are ~98 percent coagulated, and a slightly thickened yolk that oozes triumphantly when pierced. Remove the eggs from the water using a slotted spoon and let them drain off any excess fluid.
All that remains is to eat your eggs. You can serve them over chard, or just eat them over toast. My favorite simple preparation is poached eggs over toast sprinkled with kosher salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika (I put that mess on everything).
That's it. Go forth and poach.