***Before attempting, please read the disclaimer (addendum) below.***
Recipe #57: Cling wrap poached eggs. From the time I breakfasted on them at Yellow Food Store & Bistro, I filed cling-wrapped and poached eggs in my mind under “future foodly challenges”. This challenge was realised about two weeks ago, when I decided to give them a go — mind you, in spite of my affable dining partner’s claim to being a champion egg-poacher [translation: I was under some pressure to perform].
I vaguely recalled seeing something about eggs being poached this way on a MasterChef episode but I wasn’t really paying attention, as I was cooking dinner at the time. So I set to work with a small teacup and a long roll of plastic wrap.
The method. I started by tearing off a square of cling wrap (~30cm x 30cm) and placing it over the cup so that it had only a shallow bow over the cup and the plastic was sealed to the cup edges. I then broke an egg into this meniscus and quickly gathered up the sides of the cling wrap, trapping as little air as possible; as I did this, I started to twist the cling wrap where the egg stopped. Once I had twisted the cling wrap until I could twist no more, I tied it.
[I tried to trap as little air as possible because I had a theory: my theory was that, even considering the fact that cling wrap is not air-tight and hot water would soften the wrap (thus enabling it to expand), trapped air could expand in the boiling water and potentially cause the cling wrap to pop, thereby releasing the egg prematurely and causing culinary catastrophe. After the event, I did what I should have done and I read up about what I should do — and I found sites that told me to trap a little air, while others warned against it. I am of the opinion that it’s totally up to you; I am just letting you know what worked for me and why I did it that way. In a very long-winded way. Sorry about that.]
Meanwhile, back at the ranch… I placed the wrapped eggs in near-boiling water.
I could have poached all four eggs at once, but I was nervous. Rightly so, as it turned out. I realised as soon as I began to cut the first plastic package open that the eggs would have to be in for longer than the usual 3 minutes. I found that leaving the eggs in for around 4 minutes in sub-boiling water provided for ideal settage [and, yes, “settage” is a real word; English is a living language].
It seems like a lot of work. Why would you do this? Following The Reveal, I noticed why you would choose to cook eggs this way as opposed to traditionally poaching: no mess. You don’t have to trim wispy bits of eggwhite or mop up water before serving; there is no added salt, vinegar. It is a very pure way to enjoy an egg.
To serve. I sawed a mostly defrosted Turkish bread roll into soldiers and buttered each side (with Lurpak spreadable), then I fried them.
At the same time, I took the leaves from a bunch of beetroot, washed and roughly cut them; once the bread was golden on both sides, I laid the cut leaves in the hot pan, sprinkled over some sea salt, and turned them quickly. I positioned the wilted leaves over the toasted bread.
I felt that the ensemble was in need of tomato-ey goodness and, as I had leftover bolognese sauce from the night before, I blended the bolognese with about 200mL tomato sugo (puree). This resulted in a beautifully rich but non-vegan tomato sauce, which I painted across the plate with a dessert spoon.
After poising the eggs atop the wilted leaves, I drizzled over a little olive oil, cracked some pepper and added a square of Persian feta to the side.
Phew-fully, breakfast was delicious, balanced and aesthetically pleasing. How could I have ever doubted myself?
And a good breakfast was had by all.
Addendum of 24 July 2012 [links updated 18 June 2018]: Although my cling-wrap poached eggs look impressive, I have filed this recipe under “do not try this at home” since unearthing some of the perils of heating/storing food in plastics. Because this post remains popular, I feel compelled to share a safety warning.
Cling wrap can be made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC > catering/commercial rolls) or low density polyethylene (LDPE; most supermarket brands). PVC is known to leach endocrine-disrupting phthalates and BPA when heated, deteriorating, or in contact with particular types of food. LDPE is currently considered to be safer, however, with most plastics (even BPA-free) now proven to leach dangerous chemicals with heat and degradation, I suspect that no flexible plastics are safe to use for eggs, wrapping hot food or microwaving — in spite of the “food safe” and “microwave safe” claims these products make.
So how do you make many perfect poached eggs at one time without cling film? Buy large, very fresh, organic, free range eggs from a supplier you trust, crack them into a saucepan of just-boiling water, scoop them out of the water after precisely 3 minutes, and you will have perfect eggs every time — without having to resort to vinegar, swirling water or cling wrap. These are happy eggs indeed.