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A parlor trick, poached

Like any good magician, favorite uncle, or birthday-party clown, every cook has a trademark parlor trick: a sleight-of-hand something, a secret weapon guaranteed to amuse and delight even the most discerning of audiences. Take, for example, my friend Nicho, who slips a glug of Newman’s Own salad dressing into nearly everything vegetal that lands on his stovetop. Each time he sautés or stir-fries, he is met with murmurs of pleasure and full-mouthed praise, while his secret weapon sits in plain sight next to the stove, with no one the wiser. Then there’s Kate, number one spokeswoman for the School of Whipped Cream, able to convince even the most careful of dessert eaters to throw caution to the wind with a single seductive spoonful. And as for me, my parlor trick is a humble one, without celebrities or sex appeal, and conveniently packaged to fit in the palm of my hand. When in doubt, I put an egg on it.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes—or computer screen, as it were—of Orangette, chances are, it involves an egg. Within the four walls of my kitchen, I’ve found few things that do not stand to benefit from a broken eggshell or two, or a slow, sweet rivulet of runny yolk. Braised green cabbage is only the beginning. Those leeks going limp in the crisper drawer? I’m liable to slow-cook them with a pinch of sugar and fold them into a frittata. Those French fingerling potatoes, tossed with apple cider vinegar and olive oil? Why, I’ll wash them down with eggs à la française, softly scrambled in a saucepan. Those spears of roasted asparagus in the fridge? I’ll line them up like a raft on the still sea of a ceramic plate, and set a soft-boiled egg afloat on top. And when a loaf of something freshly baked follows me home, I treat it to breakfast, American-style: scrambled eggs, large-curded and lumpy like an old down pillow. My parlor trick is pretty predictable, but when I want to make something disappear, it works like a dream.

As I’ve recently discovered, I’m not the only one adept at this sleight of hand. In fact, it seems that “slip ‘em an egg” is one of the oldest tricks in the book. One recent evening, as I settled under the sheets with a new issue of Gourmet, my eye brushed against a recipe titled “Bouillabaisse of Peas,” a soup of sorts originally printed in 1967 and featuring not the seafood that one might expect, but a poached egg instead, perched atop a bowl of clear broth, potatoes, and peas.

The caption cutely explained that this was “an ancient Provençal way of dressing up little green peas”—or rather, as I read right through it, an ancient Provençal parlor trick. Boil a few herbs in a pot of plain water; add onions, garlic, peas, and potatoes; and sure, you’ve got something edible. But add a slice of oil-crisped toast and a poached egg, and you’ve got something eminently edible: earthy and soothing, a rich yolk running to meet sweet, garlicky broth, inviting slurps, burps, and other lapses in decorum. I’d swallow every trick in the book, if they all tasted like this.

Aromatic Broth with Peas, Potatoes, and a Poached Egg
Adapted from Gourmet, January 2006

This bare-bones beauty is very adaptable. It can easily be doubled to feed six, or, if you’re supping solo, you can make a full batch of broth, but prepare only one egg and one slice of bread. Stash leftover broth in the fridge for future meals, rewarming it gently while you toast a piece of bread and poach your egg.

For bouquet garni:
1 two-inch piece celery
1 small Turkish bay leaf
1 fresh thyme sprig, about 3 inches long
1 fresh Italian parsley sprig, about 3 inches long
4 black peppercorns
1/8 tsp slightly crushed fennel seeds

For broth:
2 cups water
2 Tbs good-quality olive oil
3 slices baguette, preferably day-old, each 1 inch thick
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
½ pound waxy potatoes, such as fingerling, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
5 ounces frozen peas (not thawed)
¾ tsp salt
A few grinds black pepper
3 large eggs, poached according to the directions here

First, make the bouquet garni. Cut a rectangle of cheesecloth measuring about 8” by 16.” Fold it in half to make a double-thick 8” square. Place the celery, bay leaf, thyme, parsley, peppercorns, and fennel seeds in the center; then gather the cheesecloth around the herbs like a little bag. Tie the mouth of the bag with cotton kitchen string, making sure that it is securely closed.

Place the bouquet garni in a medium saucepan with the water, and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat ½ Tbs oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the baguette slices, and toast, flipping once, until golden, a few minutes. Transfer the bread to a plate or cutting board. Add the remaining 1 ½ Tbs oil to the skillet, along with the onion. Cook the onion over medium heat, stirring regularly, until it softens and begins to look translucent. Add the potatoes, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes.
Add the garlic, peas, salt, pepper, and hot water with bouquet garni. Cover the skillet, and simmer the mixture until the potatoes are tender, about 7-10 minutes. Discard the bouquet garni.

Pour a small ladleful of broth, potatoes, and peas into each of 3 bowls. Place 1 slice of toasted bread atop the broth and vegetables in each bowl, and place 1 egg atop each slice of bread. Divide the rest of the broth and vegetables among the bowls. Serve immediately, with additional salt and pepper for the eggs.

Yield: 3 servings


Blogger Tea said...

I was at the store yesterday and increased my purchase of half a dozen eggs to a full dozen, as I have been running out of them lately. I didn't know why but now I do--it's all the yummy recipes I've been making off Orangette!

This looks beautiful and sounds delicious. Glad I've got plenty of eggs on hand.

11:10 PM, March 21, 2006  
Anonymous Julie said...

Molly, this dish looks like a wonderful little "truc" in and of itself -- small effort, big flavor, yum! I can just imagine what it might be like when fresh English peas can be had from the farmers' market...

3:28 AM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous bea at La Tartine Gourmande said...

I am so much like you Molly. Eggs,eggs eggs (I always have more than 12) and I miss being able to get them fresh from my grand-mother's farm, still warm! (such a city girl now!)
Your pic, this yellow, I developed a craving for it because of it! Beautiful.

5:21 AM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger Norfolk Dumpling said...

I made eggs benedict (eggs on eggs!) last night, so this post was particularly appropriate. I just wish my poached eggs looked as professional as yours.

For the bouquet garni, I use the teabags you can buy for making DIY herbal/green teas (t-sacs, over here in Amsterdam). You just pop the flavorings in, fold them up, and drop them in -- they work like a charm and are easier and cheaper than cheesecloth.

5:36 AM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Luisa said...

Yay - eggs! Serendipity or something, to be posting about them on the same day ;) This soup sounds delicious and I have to point you, if you haven't been already pointed, in the direction of the soups with eggs in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook... scrumptious.

8:03 AM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger s'kat said...

Just a few short years ago, I ate eggs, but refused the yolk. Luckily, I've come past that little quirk, and incorporate eggs- and hopefully, their gooey, runny yolks- into as many meals as possible.

*sigh* peas, potatoes, and poached eggs- definately a few of my favourite things!

1:01 PM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger violet said...

i love eggs. a poached egg is truly a great compliment to any dish. especially an organic, free range egg whose yolk tastes of nothing but pure butter.

i love that characteristic "eggy" taste they add to custards and other desserts. soft boiled with just buttered toast points. and the splash of sunny yellow it can add to any dish. truly a stunning and unique savoury is an egg.

1:29 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous hag said...

I love this post...eggs are such a perfect little food and they make a simple dish a meal in a few short minutes. Though I have never tried them, don't you think a few poached quails eggs would look nice on this dish? Or is that just too darn fussy?

7:29 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous GoobernGrape said...

after digging through a few recent postings and links, i roasted slices of cauliflower, chick peas, red onion, and curry powder like you suggested. topping it with a poached egg made it a complete dish. it was beautiful and simple. thankfully im getting better at poaching.

also, a local PBS station recently aired a tribute/telethon for Julia Child's dvds. the omlette episode was incredibly informative and funny as hell. i used her lesson to make the Zuni Cookbook omlette with gruyere and mustard croutons. so easy, right out of the pan. topped with chives, i inhaled that thing.
the mustard croutons are the key.

not related, i just finished my first Barcelona bar. how dee do! an easy A+.
Fire bar is a close second. the Naga and Black Pearl are good, but not good enough to rate third or fourth.

10:06 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Clare said...

Just a question-do I poach the egg separately or in the broth? Thanks!

3:07 AM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger AnnieKNodes said...

Molly, you're the best! This recipe is perfect solution for the drudgery of what I call "Sprinter"-this chilly March time between winter and spring when the farmer's markets in my 'hood don't offer much more than root vegetables and some herbs.

10:11 AM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Tea, I know - if you add up all my various posts, I look like quite an egg pusher! You're a smart woman to stock up, my dear.

Julie, I'm a big fan of small effort and big flavors, and it sounds as though you are too! And with fresh English peas? I can't wait.

Bea, you know, now that I think of it, my whole "put an egg on it" obsession may be French in origin. How about a fried egg on top of a buckwheat galette, or the poached egg in a salade lyonnaise? You and your countrymen know how to do it right!

Norfolk Dumpling, if you'll believe it, I have never eaten eggs Benedict! I should be publicly shamed, I know. I've been meaning to go, though, to a greasy-spoonish breakfast spot in town called Glo's, which is rumored to have killer eggs Benny. Soon, soon, I tell myself. And as for the tea sachets, what a terrific suggestion! I can't believe I didn't think of it myself, actually, since I have a package of the things sitting right on the kitchen counter. Oof. Next time, I'll reach in that direction instead of for the cheesecloth...

Luisa, I expect nothing less from you, ma cherie. I've said it before, but you are a woman of excellent taste - in eggs and otherwise! And as for the Zuni cookbook, yes, I actually had those soups bookmarked! Now I'll really have to hurry up and try them...

S'kat, I went through a bit of a yolk-phobic stage as well and, like you, am now happily recovered. I'm proud to be pro-egg, no matter what the anti-egg movement might say!

Violet, you summed it up beautifully. And a soft boiled egg with buttered toast points? I'll take one right now.

Hag, poached quail eggs would certainly be lovely to look at, if a little fussy. Aside from their beauty, though, I wonder if they might be a little less satisfying when it comes to the eating. Even if you used, say, two of them per dish, it still might not compare to the big, oozy yolk and generous white of a chicken egg. If you give it a go, please report back!

GooberNGrape, you've certainly been eating well! That roasted cauliflower number with curry, chickpeas, red onion, and a poached egg is one of my favorite fallback dishes. [In case anyone is looking for it, click here.]
And as for the omelette with mustard croutons, that's another Zuni recipe that I've long had bookmarked. Must. Make. It. Soon! And for dessert, perhaps some squares from a Barcelona bar?

Clare, that's a good question. I'm glad you asked. The original recipe calls for the egg to be poached in the skillet of broth and vegetables, but I prefer to poach it in a separate skillet. I find that the broth-and-vegetables skillet is a little too crowded to allow for a prettily poached egg (or three), and anyway, I worry about the broth being clouded by the white foam that sometimes appears when I poach eggs. So, all told, I'd go with a separate skillet. The poaching method I use is described in full detail here, which is also linked from the recipe above.

AnnieKNodes, I love the idea of "Sprinter." Now, if only it would sprint on by a little faster!

10:58 AM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger cyn the win said...

My mom used to call me the "egg machine" as a kid because I could never get enough "huevos rancheros" or "chorizo con huevo." As a kid I even remember making my own egg nog for breakfast sometimes--egg, milk, vanilla, sugar. Yum.

I have hooked my kids on eggs now, but they like to pick out the yolk when I give 'em boiled eggs. I hardly let them do this if I can help it. Savages!

And yes, I do have high cholesterol. It's genetic, but still, I don't like it. I'll never give up eggs.....Never

2:14 PM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Kitchen Queen said...

I hope you don't mind, but I liked your idea of a secret weapon so much that I blogged mine and asked other people to share theirs too. I figure it's a great way to learn some new ideas. Thank you so much for the inspiration!

7:14 PM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Cyn, you were a smart kid, you egg machine, you! Homemade egg nog? Abundant huevos rancheros? It took me a good twenty years to discover the joys of this stuff. You were way ahead of the curve...

And Kitchen Queen, I don't mind at all! In fact, I'm honored. That's a great idea, and I hope that other people will add their two cents! Thank you.

9:19 PM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Lynn D. said...

I just made the most perfect poached egg--in the microwave! I heated water in a cup by hitting beverage, then added a touch of vinegar and an egg that had been cracked into a custard cup. Back into the microwave on high for one minute. It was a perfect oval shape. Could have maybe gone for only 45 seconds. Then I looked up a recipe which said to cover it and poke pinholes in the yolk and white.


I didn't bother and it was the most perfect poached egg I've ever made. Now to experiment with more than one egg.

12:54 PM, March 24, 2006  
Blogger tara said...

Molly, you always seem to capture the time of year perfectly! I've been obsessed with peas as of late, and here you are crowning them with that glorious poached egg! I have to admit, soft yolks are something I came to enjoy later in life ... when I was little my father had to squish my fried eggs so much (to make sure they were cooked through) that my family dubbed them "sat upon." I would love to try this recipe with asparagus as well - another one of my springtime obsessions.

5:07 PM, March 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder of the great way to use eggs to make anything better. Here's my tip: a 1/8 cup of brown butter. Makes anything (steamed cabbage, chard and pasta, etc. etc.) heavenly.

6:11 PM, March 27, 2006  
Anonymous keiko said...

Oh Molly, I can have this everyday, looks so comforting...

2:22 AM, March 29, 2006  
Anonymous GoobernGrape said...

im sure San Francisco has nothing on Seattle when it comes to rain but i think today is the 28th day of rain this month. this recipe sure was handy.
just want to thank you Molly for showing a nice take-- vegetarian, no less-- at a traditional dish like bouillabaisse. i added a few other things on hand to (attempt to) make it more like the original version, except the shell/fish.
i adapted your adaptation.
used mostly leftover vegetable broth (not homemade), the rest was water, little garlic, little chili flakes, added pinch of saffron (which ive been looking for an excuse to use), couple tablespoons of white wine, and a handful of chopped parsley stirred in to finish. potatoes and peas are so good together.
the fennel in the bouquet is right on-- it adds a great springy layer to the broth.
i grated the last of some Montasio over the warm croutons.
and the egg! the yolk makes a kind of emulsion with the broth. as someone mentioned previously, it brings the dish together. parlour trickery and all. i had good luck poaching off heat. about 3 minutes for a runny yolk.


2:30 PM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger Tea said...

PS. Molly, did you know that Petaluma celebrates "Butter and Egg Days" each April? It's been going on since the early 1900s, when the town of was called "Egg Basket to the World," due to the local chicken ranching. I'll see what I can do about getting you nominated for "Egg Princess.":-)

1:04 AM, April 01, 2006  
Anonymous D.R., Madrid Spain said...

That photo is just fantastic.

Have you read the little article in this weeks Sunday NY Times,(April 2, 2006) Julie Powel writes about comfort food and a garlic soup with a hunk of toasted bagette and a poached egg on top is front and center in her piece...I read it and immedietly thought of your blog...maybe she did too....

6:36 AM, April 02, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Goodness! Look who's gotten horribly behind in replying to her very generous commenters! Sheesh.

Lynn D., what a tricky trick! Thank you for the tip! I'll have to give the ole microwave a go myself...

Tara, you are most certainly the queen of peas! I wish you lived a little closer, so that we could get together for a seasonal blowout of spring pea soup, pea and ricotta crostini, and broth with peas, potatoes, and a poached egg. I'd even throw in a "sat upon" egg to sweeten the deal. What do you say?

Amen to that, Anonymous. And thank you. Brown butter is one of the best parlor tricks around.

Keiko, I did have it every day - for three days, at least! And what dreamy days those were...

GooberNGrape, your adaptation sounds incredible! I'm honored to have served as a springboard for anything involving saffron, white wine, and Montasio. When are you starting a food blog, hmm? Inquiring minds want to read...

Tea, I knew that Petaluma was famed for its chickens, but I had no idea that it had such a thing as a "Butter and Egg Day." Oh MAN. I want to be the "Egg Princess"! Petaluma, I'm your woman!

D.R., thank you. I did see that piece - what a funny coincidence!

11:42 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger Helena said...

Molly, your blog is AWESOME. You're a lovely writer and you have a gift for creating vivid characters--butter-loving gay husband Jimmy being my favorite. Congrats on a great blog and on your engagement.

1:31 PM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Aww, thank you, Helena! Hopefully Jimmy will make a reappearance soon. It's high time for another 9 am Sunday breakfast! A few strategic phone calls are in order...

3:35 PM, April 06, 2006  
Anonymous Nathan said...

What a boiling pot of serendipity the internet can be. I happened upon Orangette after looking for some alternate ways of poaching eggs only to discover this wonderful site after catching the rather curious title.

Nonetheless in the short time I've flicked through this site I've become very enamoured with what Molly has been doing here and will definately be hanging around for more delicious ideas (this broth in particular has my mouth watering).

Anyway this discussion of eggs reminded me of an incredibly decadent egg I had last week that I simply had to share. While I have no actual recipe to divulge (I was eating at a somewhat prestigious Melbourne restaurant and they aren't given to spilling their secrets ;)) the concept is easy enough to understand and anyone with a bit of cullinary nouse could whip up a dish of similar flavour.

Picture this being brought out on a large, gleaming white, shallow bowl...

One large perfectly poached egg sitting amidst a rich creamy truffle flavoured white sauce with some thin truffle slices topped by shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. Of course such a creation wouldn't be complete with out a hint of freshly cracked black pepper to top it off.

I don't think I've ever eaten an egg quite like it.

Truffles are far too expensive for every day eating of course but I can imagine a slightly less rich field mushroom variant going down an absolute treat.

5:40 PM, October 23, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Welcome, Nathan - and wow! That poached egg with truffle sauce sounds absolutely sensational. I might have to try to work up something similar with one of our local wild mushrooms...

11:05 PM, October 24, 2006  
Blogger JacquelineC said...

Molly - I had to post on my poached egg frisee salad experience. I also pay homage to you and the chewy cocoa cookie recipe I added orange flower water to...thank you!

Eggs in Asian noodle dishes are often just cooked - in the hot broth. Same yummy enriching eggy goodness. What writer hasn't found the fried egg sandwich the perfect snack late in the wee hours?

11:20 PM, December 03, 2007  

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