Monday, July 16, 2012

UnRecipe: Welcome to Egg-Thunderdome, Extra Bacon Please

"Two men enter. One man leaves." So sayeth the law of Thunderdome, a post-apocalyptic view of a savage future ruled by Tina Turner in a wicked chain mail evening gown with Aqua Net hair up to the heavens. And there's Mel "Mad Max" Gibson running around somewhere in all this, but when it comes to Thunderdome, it's all about Aunty Entity and her rag-tag band of pure crazytown. Dystopia met suburbia a few weeks ago when I made breakfast for a friend and created Egg Thunderdome, where many were sacrified in the almighty name of Breakfast. We don't need another hero, we just want some freakin' poached eggs.

Two eggs enter, one and a half left! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I had promised a homemade breakfast for a friend and she was good enough to make the trek out to Middle of Nowheresville Duvall. She was game to have anything, which meant a MacGyver-like meal of whatever the CSA box had delivered that week. I made a crazy vegetable hash of onions, rainbow chard, mushrooms and spinach. Not particularly inspired, but we both love our veggies and they were delicious with a roasted pepper sauce and some eggs. One notable ingredient I'd never worked with before were sunchokes, aka Jerusalem artichokes. They're funny little root vegetables, apparenty related to the daisy -- the plants bloom with a flower that looks just like a yellow daisy. They look like a cross between ginger and potatoes, stubby little root-knots that need a really good scrub to get the dirt off, and they can be eaten raw or cooked. The flavor is similar to an artichoke, sort of mossy and fresh, but with a root vegetable texture. I've had them sliced thin and fried, made into sunchoke chips, which are wonderful snacks. I didn't have any potatoes, so I used the sunchokes the way you would the typical tuber, cleaned, diced and pan-seared. They were mixed in with the vegetable hash and softened. In this mix, their flavor wasn't particularly pronounced, but I didn't have many sunchokes to work with. If I wind up with more than a handful, I'd definitely want to try something else, like maybe shredding them, forming into pancakes and frying them up. I think the artichoke flavor would be more noticeable and they would taste perfect with a lemon-herb aioli. But we'll save that thought for another meal -- Thunderdome waits for no one.

Breakfast hash with CSA goodness and sunchokes - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Stuff got Real when I was trying some different methods to poach eggs. I know poaching eggs isn't difficult, it's a basic cooking method everyone should probably know, and while I've done it in the traditional low simmering water with vinegar, my poached eggs always look like a righteous mess. I've tried steaming eggs in oiled ramekins, letting indirect heat do the poaching -- this works, but you get oddly perfect shaped egg-pucks, since they form to the shape of the little bowls they cooked in. I've tried methods using the microwave, but that feels like Egg Deer Hunter -- sometimes it's fine, but sometimes it's a catastrophic mess, and that's stressful.

The low-heat, slow cooking method of sous vide has of course been all the rage these last few years, and for good reason, you get some really tender results from low temperature cooking. I looked at an old copy of Lucky Peach, the magazine put out by Momofuku's resident food-wizard, David Chang. He had this lovely article about slow-poached eggs. He described cooking the eggs in their shells using indirect heat, either a funky balancing act using double bowls in simmering water, or a steam basket. I tried the steam basket method but to Chang's point, he said it's hard to control the heat of the water on the stove -- you need really consistent low heat, like 60-65 degrees, which is crazy-low. My burners kept on their lowest setting, even using the steam basket, still overcooked the eggs for the most part. This is where Thunderdome came in -- several eggs entered the metal realm of battle, and very few made it to the breakfast plate. Not that the overcooked eggs were thrown out -- it just meant we had a bunch of soft-boiled eggs for the week.

This was by no means a failure. We still enjoyed oddly-cooked eggs over our breakfast hash, the meal was toasted with some lovely bubbles. I went for a straight-up raw egg yolk over my hash because I'm gangstah that way and it looked pretty for the photo. Despite the less-than-perfect results, it still got me thinking of other ways to slow-poach eggs in the shell without having a sous vide cooker. Heaven knows I don't need another gadget in an already overstuffed kitchen. I'm thinking of doing this again using a crock pot set to low, filled with water and a steamer basket set inside with some eggs. The worst that happens is I wind up with more soft-boiled eggs, but if it works, I'll definitely post the results. Consider Egg Thunderdome a work in progress!

Celebrating Egg Thunderdome in style, with classy bubbles - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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