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The Beaver method: poaching eggs

Scientists say* the main reason people leave their houses on Saturday morning is to go to a cafe and have someone make poached eggs for them. But why leave the house? How do pants improve the eating of eggs? Not at all I say.

The solution is to equip yourself with a simple and reliable method of poaching eggs. And it really isn’t that hard.

This method will work with regular store-bought eggs, but if you have your own chooks or glorious, fresh, bum-fruit from a friend this will be much easier. Do not however, even for a second, consider using anything less than free-range eggs; like “barn raised” or “caged bird” eggs. They are terrible and pretty much eliminate any value in poaching. By poaching your eggs you give them the most gentle cook available, perfectly displaying all the qualities of a good egg. Rich, slightly sticky, bright orange yolks and the silky, yet robust proteins in the white. Further, there are measurable differences between the quality of the eggs, all driven by the diet of the bird.

Birds raised in cages and barns are missing a vital component of their diet: chlorophyll (more like borophyll). Free-range and organic birds have access to open pasture, which brings a range of benefits, but mostly it gives them access to fresh green things and the delicious chlorophyll within. Given the choice, chooks will eat up to 10 per cent by mass as fresh greens, which they derive little energy from, but it “detoxifies” their bodies making for sweeter meat and healthier eggs. The reverse is that confinement-raised birds are fed foods with very calorific values, leading to the “wrong” types of fats.

Anyway, just get good eggs, it’s worth it.

And no I’m not giving you the recipe yet, there’s more lecturing to come.

Really, to supply yourself with the freshest, easiest poaching eggs available, you need to have your own chickens. I have a strong suspicion that backyard chooks are the most effective personal sustainability measure one can pursue. They turn food scraps into eggs, they provide manure for the garden and keep pests down. They are interesting to watch and can be personable and friendly with a little bit of attention. Kids love chooks. Adults like drinking while watching chooks. Their societal interactions are fascinating and dynamic, their everyday behaviour soothing in its repetition and tempo.

I have a dream where EVERYONE has access to chickens; rural dwellers, suburban enthusiasts and inner-city vertical-livers. Use your imagination; where could you put a chook pen? What about in the middle of the quiet roundabout in your cul-de-sac? Do you think you and your neighbours could handle half a dozen birds and 30 eggs a week? What about next to the laundry behind your flats? Do you think the old Greek couple downstairs who are growing peas on their balcony would be interested in a collective chook run? And don’t wait for so-called “permission”. What sort of cold-hearted fool would come and ask you to pull down a neat, well maintained chook run, full of healthy happy chickens, particularly if there’s a dozen of the best eggs available in it for them? Move beyond yarn-bombing and guerrilla-gardening; let’s see some subversive chook runs in our suburbs and cities!

Chooks 001

Okay then. The Recipe.

Aside from egg quality, the key to successful poaching is understanding how eggs cook. The theory is that the outer layers of protein cook first, forming a little bag for the rest of the egg to be contained within. So right at the start, when this bag is thinnest, is the critical period. Then, once neatly contained, the normal rules of heat-transfer apply, and the egg slowly cooks inwards. Unless you are some sort of heathen, you want the white cooked and the yolk runny.

Put on a saucepan of water, at least 5cm deep, and bring it to the boil. DO NOT ADD VINEGAR. Once it’s boiling, turn the heat down so that it is still being kept hot, but the physical rolling of bubbles has stopped. If you’re at sea-level this should mean the water is at about 99 degrees; deduct a few if you’re at higher altitude.

Crack an egg into a teacup with a handle. Now, here’s the crux. You want to slip the egg as gently as possible into the water. You want the leading edge of the egg to start to solidify as the egg goes in, and minimise the disturbance so that the very thin bag that is forming stays intact. I usually put the teacup into the water and very slowly pour the egg out. The key is to minimise the drop out of the cup, like slipping yourself into a dangerously hot bath. Turn the heat way down and put a lid on.

Put the toast on.

Get a slotted spoon.

After about a minute or so, give your egg a gentle poke with the spoon. As it cooks, the egg will wobble less and less. Poke it a few times to get a feel for how the cooking is progressing. As a rule of thumb it takes almost exactly the same length of time as cooking a piece of toast, but there are obviously some variables in there. Once it’s done, it should feel fairly firm, but with an obvious soft spot in the middle.

Use proper butter on your toast, serve the egg with the slotted spoon, add lots of salt and pepper. Saturday breakfast is go.

If you’re feeling super-fancy, why not add some delicious kale? We went through a month last year where about five days a week we were eating steamed kale on toast, with a poached egg, good balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. I could literally eat that every day.


*A scientist


Image by Seph Swain via Creative Commons Licence

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