I showed a photo of a gooey, poached egg like this once to a friend who thought it was “obscene.” So if this offends, then my apologizes. But having seen many eggs cooked like this growing up, it calls to mind only the homiest, cleanest of thoughts to me.
Like this one: I’m standing by the kitchen counter after having an afternoon snack, and my mom is scraping at the bottom of yesterday’s pot of white rice. Heating it on the stove with a second’s spurt of sink water, she turns the grains into a quick porridge. Then she takes an egg and cracks it in a hot pan with a pool of sizzling oil. Less than a minute later, the fried egg gets piled on top of the soupy rice, and splashed with a little soy sauce. “What do you call that?” I’d ask. “Nothing,” she’d reply. “Just what you eat when there’s nothing to eat.”
I don’t think the free-range, small-time chicken farmers from whom I purchase eggs at the Greenmarket today would appreciate their eggs being referred to as “nothing.” But it’s this sensibility — scraping from the bottom of the bowl, making a small meal out of nothing — that I’ve been cooking with a lot lately. Contrary to my mother’s opinion, it’s the egg that makes it “something.”
I had a bunch of salad greens that needed to be eaten before they wilted. Among them was peppercress, a zesty, crispy-stemmed spring green that tastes a little like arugula, but perhaps sweeter. Long and delicate, the strands were beginning to get tangled — a sign of their softening up. I had so much left that it seemed fit to feast on, at once. I don’t know about you, but I need a little something else in my salad, even if it’s just a snack. (Served alongside a hearty meal is fine, though.)
It’s not that I had no other options or funds that prevented me from simply buying something else to buffer a salad with. But a soft-cooked egg is my one-step solution. It just makes everything better, more complete.
curried potatoes and beet greens with poached egg
instant ramen with an egg dropped in
a fried egg on top of Korean veggie pancakes
Knowing how to cook an egg perfectly — that is, to your liking — is indicative of one’s overall comfort and skill in the kitchen, I think. There’s a certain satisfaction when it’s done just right, and since it’s only one tiny egg, this is achieved in so short a time. It’s like instant gratification. My old roommate would often say that she “just can’t cook eggs.” Her mother couldn’t cook eggs, either, so she reasoned. There is a lot to be mystified by eggs (and clearly I’m just beginning to learn the intricacies, given a recent Easter eggsperiment), as well as endless applications for them (souffles, French omelets, still have not mastered). But on days when I can’t see much else around to eat — some leftovers, or an otherwise dull dish — a simple poached egg is enough to keep me afloat. And since it requires only one pot, some water and a couple minutes, it’s also the quickest and easiest way I can think of to cook the little bugger. Here’s how I do it, below.
Peppercress and Poached Egg Salad with Truffle Oil and Balsamic Vinegar
(makes one serving)
about 2 cups fresh peppercress (or a combination of peppercress and mesclun greens)
1 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoons white truffle oil
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 fresh egg*
*I find that the fresher the egg, the better the whites hold together when cooking. If you have less fresh eggs or aren’t sure, you can add a couple teaspoons of vinegar (any kind) to the boiling water, which will help it hold.
Bring a small saucepan of water at least three inches deep to boil. Reduce heat so that the water is just barely bubbling, very slowly. Crack the egg into a small bowl. Holding the bowl close to the surface of the water, slip the egg into the water swiftly. Cover the pot and turn off the heat. 2 minutes is when I like to remove my egg with a slotted spoon from the water. Set a timer if needed and do not open the lid until the 2 minutes are up.
Meanwhile, drizzle the salad greens with the Balsamic vinegar and truffle oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss.
Carefully remove the egg with a slotted spoon from the water and let excess water drip off. Top the salad with the egg, a twist of black pepper if desired, and serve immediately.
(for 1 serving)
1 egg (at $4/dozen): $0.33
2 cups mixed peppercress and mesclun greens (at $4/quarter lb): $2.00
1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar: $0.10
1 teaspoons white truffle oil: $0.25
Three brownie points: It’s not much for a meal, but as a side salad, it has several virtues. The minimal douse of oil and vinegar takes into account the runny egg yolk that will coat the greens, too. It’s rich in flavor albeit cholesterol, but one egg has as much as six grams of protein. Plus, when poached there’s no other fats used to cook it, one of the reasons it’s my preferred method of the moment. Peppercress, if you can find this delightful green while it’s young and tender (try Union Square Greenmaret, or take a foraging tour with Wildman Steve Brill, as he calls it “poor man’s pepper“), is similar to watercress, and as such is rife with leafy-green nutrients like Vitamin K and detoxing benefits.
Eight maple leaves: You could always skip the drizzle of oil and vinegar and have the egg yolk go solo as dressing for the salad. Then all you’d really have on your plate are two items that were locally produced and purchased from small farms at the Greenmarket. (But I think the hint of truffle and tartness of Balsamic vinegar too irrestible for that.)