Shiftwork Bites: Adventures in Bunn-Poaching

Last weekend, my business unit moved across downtown to a new office. We actually have a lot more space in our new digs, including the kitchen. Unfortunately, I was on night-shift the day they moved everything out, including my meager Batterie de Cuisine. Shiftwork Bites is a study in making do, though, so I took it as a challenge, deciding to make something work regardless of my complete lack of cutlery, cookware, or heating elements.

For the past few months, I've been experimenting off and on with various methods for poaching eggs using only equipment found in most office kitchenettes. I've had some disastrous results, and some encouraging results. Some of the most promising techniques I've tried involve ceramic coffee mugs and a Bunn industrial coffee brewer.

Egg whites begin to coagulate at about 63 Celsius, with the yolk coagulating a few degrees higher. A circulating water bath set at 63 will take about 90 minutes to properly cook an egg so that the white is set but tender, and the yolk is hot and runny. An industrial brewer brews and holds at a temperature short of a boil, but not much. Average temps seem to run around 90 Celsius. My exceedingly unscientific experiments have yielded promising results with hold times of around 45 minutes at that temperature.

When I got to the office, I realized that the moving crew had taken the ceramic mugs I'd been using. Thinking quickly, I "brewed" a couple of carafes of water and set them on the heating elements. Three room temperature eggs went into each, and I set a timer for 45 minutes. When the timer went off, I retrieved my eggs carefully, and cracked one. It was perfectly cooked, had I been going for hard-boiled. I've narrowed the possible causes of failure down to a combination of cooking vessel and egg temperature.

As I said, my methods have been less than scientific, and I haven't made a habit of following a strict set of procedures. Many of my previous experiments had involved eggs at varying temperatures, ranging from room temperature to straight out of the refrigerator. I think my more successful attempts started with colder eggs.

Then there's the issue of the vessel. The ceramic mugs likely distributed the heat much more evenly and gently, while the glass carafes likely created hotter zones at the point nearest the heating element, where the eggs sat. Thus, eggs whose internal temperatures greatly exceeded my target temperature of 63, likely approaching greater than 70 Celsius.

Instead of putting beautifully poached eggs on top of steamed asparagus (microwaved for 45 seconds between two moistened paper towels, then set aside to finish steaming gently), allowing the runny yolk to sauce the vegetables, I had to make do with what I had. I separated the boiled eggs into yolk and white, chopped them finely with a plastic knife, and used them to garnish the asparagus. A couple of slices of coppa - microwaved for 40 seconds to render the fat and crisp the meat - went on each plate, along with a handful of Marcona almonds for salt and crunch, and a nice squeeze of lemon juice to add a bright acid note. It wasn't what I'd planned, but it was delicious. Now, it's back to the drawing board for Bunn-poached eggs.

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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