Poached Scrambled Eggs

I love eggs. They've always been one of my favorite foods, and one of the first I learned to cook. I know many people who consider egg cookery to be as good an indicator of a cook's abilities as the oft-touted roast chicken. I say the egg wins. Few ingredients are so fundamental to so many aspects of cooking. A mastery over the egg gives you a mastery over countless other applications, from ice-cream, to omelets, to an array of sauces.

The first egg dish I ever learned to make, and still one of my favorites, is the simple scrambled egg sandwich. During the summers of my pre-teen years, I subsisted on scrambled egg sandwiches and oatmeal cookies. Those first forays into egg cookery were humble affairs. Eggs seasoned liberally with salt and pepper, slowly and gently scrambled so as to encourage large, loose curds, piled fluffily between slices of toasted bread, which I liberally slathered with mayo.

My wife is more of a fried egg person, as are my kids, so I end up cooking far more over-easy eggs these days. Still, every once in a while, the urge strikes me. It struck a few days ago.

Rather than go the usual, basic route, I decided to change things up, just a bit. First off, I had good, farm fresh eggs, so I decided to sacrifice one of them to a batch of homemade mayonnaise. If you've never made your own mayo, you're missing out. The entire Hellman's/Miracle Whip debate fades into meaninglessness in the presence of real mayonnaise. It's also ridiculously easy to prepare, and almost magical in its transformation.

I will admit I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to emulsification (among many, many other things); it just seems like magic. No matter how much I learn about the mechanics of emulsification (lecithin is amazing stuff), there's still a thrilling moment when the mixture changes color and texture, thickening and turning opaque, transforming from a collection of simple ingredients to a sauce that far exceeds the sum of its parts.

The basics of mayonnaise are just that. One egg, half an ounce or so of lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and a cup of good oil. The trick is all in the timing. Begin by combining everything but the oil in a large bowl, and stir just to combine. The next part is critical. Add just a few drops of oil and whisk briskly. Throughout the rest of the process, until you have mayonnaise, don't stop whisking.

Once those first few drops of oil are fully incorporated, add a few more. I'm convinced that it's not possible to do this too slowly. You can, of course, begin adding oil at a steadier, brisker pace, but I'm pretty sure you won't ever ruin mayonnaise by adding the oil too slowly. I generally take about a minute, maybe two, to whip up a batch of mayonnaise, if that's a helpful timing benchmark.

The risk of adding the oil too quickly is that you won't be able to separate the oil droplets from each-other sufficiently, and they will coalesce, breaking your emulsion. If this happens, you can save it by whisking your broken mayo with a bit of additional water or lemon juice, to re-establish the emulsion, then proceeding with the addition of oil.

Once I made my mayonnaise, I decided to change up the filling just a bit, too. I'd heard about an interesting technique for poached scrambled eggs, and decided to give it a try. It's a very simple proposition, and basically works exactly as it sounds. Bring a few inches of stock (use some flavorful liquid instead of water, as it will season the eggs as they cook) to a rolling boil in a sauce pan, swirl to create a gentle whirlpool, and slide in beaten egg. Put the lid on, count to 20, and remove from the heat. Drain the eggs in a fine mesh sieve, and press gently to remove excess liquid.

To plate, I served my poached scrambled eggs with homemade mayo and toasted triangles of pita bread. It was a slightly more elegant version of my childhood staple. The eggs were the lightest, most ethereal scrambled eggs I've ever had. The homemade mayo brought in a bright lemony kick and delicious green and fruity notes form the high quality olive oil I used to make it. Slight char and crunch on the pita rounded everything out nicely.

While the eggs had a lovely texture, I'm not entirely certain I preferred their flavor. They were actually very mild, aside from a gentle hint of savory depth from the stock. I plan on playing around with different poaching media, just to see if I can find the combination that serves this preparation best. In the meantime, I'm planning on making up a batch of deviled eggs, to use the rest of that gorgeous mayo.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall