soft poached eggs

Poached eggs with smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce

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If you asked ten people what Eggs Benedict was, I am sure nine and a half of them would tell you it was poached eggs sitting on smoked salmon with hollandaise sauce.

Which is what happens when restaurants (and some food writers) are sloppy with their naming. A similar situation exists with Eggs Florentine.

Nevertheless, I just love eating this, whatever it is called.

4 thick slices of sourdough bread
Olive oil
1 clove of garlic (optional)
A generous quantity of smoked salmon
8 poached eggs (these can be poached in advance and reheated, as they would be in a restaurant situation)
Hollandaise sauce
Cayenne pepper (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A sprig of dill or tarragon, to garnish

Brush both sides of the sourdough slices with a little olive oil and place under a hot grill for 1 – 2 minutes each side, until crisp and golden. Rub one side of each slice with the garlic clove.

Top each slice of sourdough with a generous quantity of smoked salmon, top the smoked salmon with 2 reheated and well-drained poached eggs. Spoon hollandaise sauce over the eggs.

Sprinkle with a little cayenne pepper if using, then season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Garnish with a sprig of dill or tarragon and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Variation: Cook some spinach in a little butter to wilt, then chop finely. Transfer the spinach to a sieve and, using the back of a spoon, press out as much water as possible. Season the spinach with salt and freshly ground pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Top each slice of sourdough with the spinach, add the smoked salmon, the poached eggs, then the hollandaise sauce. Garnish as above.

Soft poached eggs

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“Good poached eggs are one of the joys of this life, but a properly poached egg is a rare thing. Even after thirty-something years of marriage, I cannot get used to eggs poached in an egg poacher. Nanya poached eggs to perfection, and the only other person I have known since to do this, was Peter Maloney. Not to mention the fact that eggs cooked this way do not leave that impossible-to-get-off albumen deposit on the egg poacher.”

I wrote the above about six years ago, and despite thinking I had the art of egg poaching down to a fine art, I still didn’t really. I have bought egg timers, experimented with eggs poached in cling wrap (!) and usually resorted to the good old egg poacher.

Yesterday, however, Dad returned from a trip to the Whitsundays fishing on South Pacific 11 with Ron Jenyns, Bobby Douglas and numerous other reprobates. Ron’s resident chef, Brett, served perfect soft poached eggs to at least twelve people for breakfast every morning. When everybody except Bobby and Dad went collecting those horrible black-lip oysters that grow in the Whitsundays, they cornered Brett and asked him to teach them to poach the perfect egg. This morning I was presented with two on toast. And they were perfect.   

Brett’s theory is that it is the vinegar that is added to the poaching water that sets the albumen (the white).  The problem with most people is that they simply don’t add enough vinegar so the white floats around in a most unappetizing fashion. He uses 1 part vinegar to 15 parts water. If you think that is a lot, he says that most restaurants use 1 part vinegar to 7 parts water. Use the cheapest vinegar you can buy. The one he uses in the one I use for cleaning windows.

Heat a large saucepan (forget the frying pan – you should have at least 10 cm of water to poach the eggs in. Work out just how much water you have used and do your sums. You’ll soon get used to using the right amount of vinegar.

Bring the water/vinegar to the boil. Break the eggs straight into the water (none of this ‘break it into a cup and slide it into the water first’!) The eggs will sink like stones so slide a spoon under each egg to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Then turn down the heat until the water is barely moving.

Once the eggs are in and not sticking, increase the heat to a gentle simmer. When they rise to the surface of the water, they are done and should be removed immediately to drain.

Note:  Eggs can be poached up to 24 hours in advance. Slip eggs into a bowl of iced water to cool quickly and not cook further.  Cover the bowl and store in the refrigerator. Reheat eggs by carefully lifting them from the water and sliding them into a pot of gently simmering water. Allow 1 minute to heat through, remove and drain well on absorbent paper.