Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Attempting The Perfectly Cooked Egg

The Perfectly Cooked Egg is not an abstraction.  It's real, and even you can do it.  Let me rephrase.  Even you can attempt it.  Cause that's what  it's all about.  The attempt.  And the eggs.  You could go buy a thermal immersion circulator to pull this off, but that's easy (and $400 +).  Granted, then you would own a thermal immersion circulator and that's pretty badass, so if you want to go that route, go right ahead.  I'll admit I'm jealous.

If you look up The Perfectly Cooked Egg in google, most of what you get is instruction on how to hardboil eggs correctly.  While that's fine, a hardboiled egg is in no way shape or form The Perfectly Cooked Egg.  (Can we agree to call it TPCE from know on?  Good.)

Now, if you want to really get into the science, you could go read some Harold McGee and learn all kinds of cool things you never knew about eggs and pretty much anything else you might want to eat.  Mr. McGee is a much better resource than I am, so I'm telling you, go read his stuff, not mine.

Ok, so you can't commit to the hardcore cooking science that Harold drops.  No problem.  Here's the basics.  Egg whites thicken at 145 F.  Egg yolks thicken at 150 F.  When I say thicken, what I'm really saying is they begin to coagulate.  The proteins solidify and shortly thereafter begin to get tough and/or rubbery.  The egg is no longer perfect.  For a well cooked egg (not well done, but cooked well), you should never raise the temperature above 150 F, less you start to coagulate the yolk.  Anything above that temperature is going to overcook the egg.   Notice I did not say that is TPCE.  For the TPCE, you must make sure that the temperature never exceeds 145 F.  But that is not all.  You have to make sure the temperature does exceed 140 F, lest you end up with TPUE (The Perfectly Uncooked Egg).

Sound easy?  Good.  Let's keep going.  Not only do you have to raise the temperature to between 140 and 145, you need to hold it there for an extended period of time.  45 minutes is about right, but go for 2 hours or more if you're feeling confident.  This ensures that the egg reaches this temperature all the way through, but does not exceed this temperature anywhere throughout (particularly on the outside - by the outside I mean the inside part of the egg nearest the shell, lest you were confused).  Raising the temp to 140 for 5 minutes will kill off any salmonella that might be lurking around.  (I should take a moment to state that I am by no means an expert and most of what I say has the potential to be patently false, but I'm going to say it anyway.  If you're worried about eating undercooked eggs, keep on enjoying your sulpherous green-yolked hard boiled eggs.)  Also at 140, one of the proteins in the egg white will begin to coagulate.  Though it is but a small portion of the overall white (let's call it 12% of the egg white protein...let's also assume that I'm wrong about that, but not by much.  It's not all that important anyway.  What is important is that...) this will bind the egg together into creamy custardy white.  The egg white won't fully coagulate until somewhere around 180 or so.  Test this if you must, but first ask yourself why.  This is not the important part.   

Now, this is the important part.  You might be wondering how to pull this off.  New York Wunderkind David Chang taught me this trick.  Not personally, mind you, but I did read his book.  Mr. Chang convinced me that I could attempt TPCE (though he neglected to call it TPCE, preferring to refer to it a slow poached egg).  Anyway, fill the biggest pot you have (or if you have an excessively large pot, a large pot that would be representative of the size of the largest pot most people might have...let's call it 6 quarts and use your best judgement) with water.  Place on the smallest burner you have and start heating.  Drop in a candy thermometer, and better yet, a thermal probe.  Wait until it gets to 140.  Fahrenheit.

Meanwhile get some eggs.  Fresh eggs.  Happy eggs.  Eggs that just got laid.  If you're going to go through the trouble to perfectly cook an egg, you want it to be a pretty good egg to start with.  Old eggs tend to have large air bubbles inside and have lost some of their moisture content.  Really old eggs will float.  This is a bad sign.  If you can get eggs from a friend, farmer, or your own chickens, do so.  Only go grocery store if you must. I should note that throughout this article I am referring to chicken eggs.  That's a good point to make, lest you try quail eggs or duck eggs and get a different result.  If you do try other eggs, let me know how it works.  I'd like to know.  Also, if you want to try an ostrich egg you will probably want to use the excessively large pot I said earlier was unnecessary and cook your egg for well beyond 45 minutes.  I'll say 3 hours.  But trust me, I have no idea what I'm talking about.  Anyway, you've got your eggs?  Good.  Take them out of the fridge and let them start to come up to room temperature so they don't go into shock when you put them in the water.

Once the water reaches temperature (140 remember), put something in the bottom to keep the eggs off of the bottom of the pot.  I rolled up an aluminum foil donut and placed a plate on top.  It worked great and held the eggs right in the middle of the pot.

This is it.  You've made it this far.  Now is the time on Sprocket's where we dance.

The water is hot, but not so hot that you can't put your hand in it to gently set the eggs down.  If you're more comfortable, use a spoon, just don't crack an egg.  The temp may drop slightly when you add the eggs (in the shell).  That's ok, let it come back up to temp.  Once it reaches 140 F start your timer for 45 minutes.  Do not let the water drop below 140.  Do not let the water exceed 145.  Control your burner.  Add an ice cube now and again if you need to.  Just keep it in control.  Aim for 143.  And don't overcompensate or you'll be chasing yourself every which way.  Just set it and monitor.  Only adjust if absolutely necessary.  Also, monitor the temp at the level the eggs are sitting in the pot.  The bottom of the pot is likely hotter than the point halfway up where your eggs should be sitting.

After 45 minutes you can safely remove the eggs.  Feel free to go longer.  As long as you maintain temp, there's really no harm, and what's your time really worth anyway?  Use immediately, or do like I did and place immediately into an ice water bath to cool rapidly.  Store in the ice water bath in the fridge for up to a day or two.

When you are ready to use, submerge the egg in very hot tap water for about 1 minute (if cooled...if using immediately you can skip this step).  This is where you get to show off.  Crack the shell.  Inside is a perfectly cooked egg.  Creamy white, completely liquid yolk.  Delicious.  Cracking an egg and opening it up to a find a poached egg is pretty cool.  Even cooler is cracking the egg tableside and dropping The Perfectly Cooked Egg right on top of your guests dish as the finishing touch.  

So now you've got The Perfectly Cooked Egg, or at least the best facsimile of one that you can obtain.  What the hell do you do with it?  Well, you can always just eat it.  Maybe a little bit of salt and pepper would go well.  Also, it's great for fried rice.  Along with the Banh Mi's I discussed previously, I served Jean-Georges Vongerichten's ginger garlic fried rice.  Basically, soften up some leeks in canola oil. Add cooked rice.  Rather than an egg over easy, I topped each with The Perfectly Cooked Egg.  Fried rice is better with a rich gooey yolk on it.   Sprinkle some crispy fried garlic and ginger on top and drizzle with a little soy sauce and sesame oil. 

Serve to friends and loved ones, or those that you wish to be friends and loved ones.  I'm sorry. I don't know what that means.  Just feed some nice people.

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