Saturday, 12 March 2011

Is that a poached egg, or are you just pleased to see me?

There is a scene in Season 5 of the US television show 24 where everyone has been sacked from the anti-terrorist agency due to an evil conspiracy. It is about 2am, no-one has eaten or slept (as usual), and the computer expert Chloe has to hide out at the home of the piercingly blue-eyed silver fox Bill Buchanan in order to continue their unauthorised world-saving activities.

Bill's home looks cosy and full of books. He has removed his tie and undone the top button of his shirt. In my dreams, I am Chloe, and in these dreams I imagine that when I have finished my complicated satellite tracking I adjourn to Bill's kitchen to find that he has prepared me the perfect poached egg on a slice of toast.

Bill has not made something too over-the-top. His poached egg is a tacit demonstration that he could cook more elaborate things perfectly well, though he does not need to show this now. Not everyone can poach an egg properly. He is playing a subtle game, and it makes him irresistible.

I'm going to leave things there for now, to save us embarrassment. (And also because I have given a good deal more thought in this fantasy to the quality of the imaginary egg than I have to any imaginary sex. If you are looking for cheap thrills, you have come to the wrong blog.)

For me, a poached egg is just about the perfect meal, and it is what I have almost every time I eat alone. There are a variety of different approaches - Jill Dupleix piles hers on a bed of lemony courgettes; Bill Granger has eggs benedict with hollandaise sauce and a slice of ham. So when I was sent a copy of the new book Cookery School to review, the first recipe I tried was the one with the poached egg.

Cookery School is the official tie-in cookbook to Channel 4’s Cookery School daily series, with recipes by Richard Corrigan. (I must admit I haven’t watched it. Far too many series of 24 have been made to give me time to watch cookery programmes.)

Richard Corrigan's egg comes on red onions, red wine and balsamic vinegar, with herb butter on top. Be warned - if you are used to a familiar egg with a few asparagus spears to dip, then Corrigan's version is a little bit like being hit in the jaw by your own egg. (In a good way.) It is a sit-up-and-take-notice egg. It is not the egg that Bill Buchanan would make.

Cookery School separates recipes into different ability levels - basic, intermediate and advanced. The poached egg is in 'Basic', but don't let that fool you - the recipe still takes four different pans. Working your way through the recipes, the ultimate aim of the book is to make you cook like a Michelin-starred chef.

The book includes step-by-step photographs which demystify quite a few cooking processes -  including preparing scallops, boning a fish, preparing ravioli and making a proper custard. What I do like very much about this book is that it is neither too patronising nor too showy - whilst assuming you have the confidence to cook oysters, it does not assume you can cook a poached egg, and provides some rather fine instructions.

Poached eggs aren't rocket science, but not everyone knows how. Just look at the success of poach pods. (Bill Buchanan certainly would not use poach pods.) Most of us have gaps in our cookery skills - I can happily joint a chicken, but I'd never been told before that you should fry a pork chop propped up on the fat for a minute or two. Turns out it really makes a difference.

Later in the week I treated myself and Mr Coffee to pork chops with an apple and grain mustard sauce with colcannon. This was a beautiful, subtle and delicious meal, which we followed up with the fine apple tart with maple and pecan.

The tart was from the Advanced section, but was actually very easy to make, with a few simple ingredients, and was utterly gorgeous. It had that "I made my own apple tart - what of it?" insouciance that you are looking for when you want to show off without trying to look as if you are showing off.

Just the kind of dessert, in fact, that Bill Buchanan might make for me.

 Clockwise from top - fine apple tart with maple and pecan, 
pork chops with an apple and grain mustard sauce with colcannon, 
sticky red onions with a poached egg and herb butter.
Images from the book.

Cookery School is published by Michael Joseph Hardback.


  1. I will happily stick my hand up and admit that I cannot poach an egg. But my husband can so I just let him do it!

    And I can make verrrrrry good bread.

  2. know I'm just playin' witcha.

  3. I am crap at poaching eggs. Even Elizabeth David has failed to help me. Lack of practice is mainly to blame though. I've cracked hollandaise so really I should master the egg too.

  4. I cannot poach an egg, but I still shudder at the sight of the silicone poaching pods!

    My husband has mastered Eggs Benedict...his hollandaise sauce is perfection, but I hate cleaning out the pan that he used to poach the eggs!

  5. Would the fantasy stand up to an alteration in the kind of egg that was being served? I'll take it as written that Bill Buchanan could not get away with a scrambled egg, but would a brusque and forthright fried egg suffice? An omelette seems acceptable, and perhaps a boiled egg could make it through if taken as an aesthetic rather than a culinary statement (the lean perfection of ovoid protein...)

    Thinking about French toast is what troubles me. At heart it's just eggy bread. But it's French! That has to count for something.

  6. Laura - good choice of husband. But he needs to clean his own pans.

    Unsuitableforadults - no! God no! Are you insane? No man seduces a woman with a fried egg.

  7. 1) I have never seen one episode of 24
    2) I have never eaten a poached egg
    3) I love this post.
    4) I wouldn't know where to start boning a chicken.
    5) I'm going to try that thing about cooking pork chops on their side first.
    6) I'm rambling... I must go to bed now.

  8. A list of eggs in order of favourite-ness:

    1) scrambled - the absolute best way to eat eggs
    2) omelette - with cheese please
    3) poached - but only if they've been properly drained
    4) boiled - very under rated in my opinion
    5) baked - with lovely things added

    I don't have a very high opinion of fried.

  9. I'm with you 100% - poached egg is my solitary meal of choice ...

    Poached egg on top of welsh rarebit (a buck rarebit) is my abolute love ... popping the egg yolk into that cheesy toasty joy ... mmmm

    ... if I didn't have such a stinking cold I'd go make one right now ...

  10. I never had had a poached egg until my son learnt to talk and requested an egg 'like grandpa makes them'. So now I wave pans and simmering water and eggs around in the kitchen without really knowing what I am doing, but son has never complained. So far.
    I am patiently waiting for the day he'll take over and be boss of the poached egg.

  11. See, now making poached eggs seems a bit circus-ish and sciencey to me. Addition of vinegar, creation of whilpool in pan, crazily fast addition of egg to whirlpool whilst it is still whirling, inevitable disappointment when egg does not do its own wrappy crafts and just ends up a blobby mess. If Professor Brian Cox made me one and talked about Jupiter's moons whilst he did so though, I swear I would fall down in a swoon.

    I spied PBC on a bookcover in a shop over your shoulder yesterday. I retained my poise. Just.

    I DO like a poachy egg with hollandaise and ham and a muffin though, Bill-style. Not that I've made that. Ever. I had it at a lovely caff once.

  12. I have a husband who does poached eggs too. I love them: cannot do them. I have tried, adn I think the problem is to do with the speed of the boil or something, but I usually end up with something akin to scrambled poached eggs. Bad.

    Also: you do WHAT with a pork chop?! how do you get it to balance like that?!

  13. Helen I had to hold it there. It was quite a commitment. No pain, no gain though, right?

  14. Aaahhhh - the love of a poached egg.

    I cannont I'm afraid, but then I don't try very hard. Though when I do it has to be on lightly toasted sourdough bread with wild mushrooms that have been warmed and tossed in garlic butter with my poached egg balanced on top - delicious!

  15. You could, in fact, seduce my husband with a fried egg. But it would have to have been fried for a minimum of 8 minutes. He likes eggs you could knock nails in with. So no point making poached eggs for him - complete waste of effort.

  16. I've missed this Channel four programme. But you did give me a flash of nostalgia remembering student days eating poached eggs a sone of my flatmates arrived at uni with an egg poaching pan. She would sprinkle a little paprika on the eggs.
    And BTW Thank you for the comments you left. I am glad you are enjoying my MM March. I have to admit to beginning to flag a little at the half way point.

  17. I have never ever watched 24, but it's an appealing fantasy. Okay, I'll look into it.

  18. I *could* poach my own egg quite competently, but I just prefer to eat poached eggs cooked by someone else, preferably a trained professional working nearby to an excellent barista.

  19. For the perfect poached egg:

    Use a small pan, with no more than 3 inches of water in it

    Bring the water to a good boil (not a gentle simmer)

    Add some wine vinegar (not too much - you don't want the eggs to taste of vinegar)

    Use the freshest eggs that you can

    Break the egg into a small dish - a ramekin is perfect - and then take it to the pan, lower it as close to the surface of the water as you can get it, and gently tip the egg in

    Then turn the heat down and simmer for 3 minutes, for a soft poach

  20. I have only just discovered 24- I am so incredibly backward. I started at series 7 because I started watching it on Sky Atlantic, it's insanely addictive

    I could be seduced with really good eggs benedict... if they came with champagne

  21. Poached egg is to me as dead fox is to you...unless I have had complete control of it and its almost rock solid except for a teeny bit of runny yolk in the centre.
    One atom of runny white........and its in the bin.

  22. I have never, ever eaten a poached egg. Or a fried egg. I can't. I am 49 years old and they make me sick to contemplate. The other day in Costa Rica, my gallo pinto (beans and rice) came topped with a fried egg. I thought I would suck it up and try it, but then when I cut into the thing and the yolk ran out...oh no.

    Boiled eggs are also out of bounds. Scrambled, oddly enough, at times. Go figure.


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