Field Report:
Adventures of a Culinary Padawan
École des Techniques à la Cuisine
Lesson Six: Eggs


Dear Foodie Voyeur,

Some days, you look forward to something, and then it doesn't happen the way you expected. Today, the Jedi Master was away, and a member of the Jedi Council's administrative tier took over to substitute. I'd met him before, was pretty psyched for him to teach ... but his style was way too different, maybe I was too tired, my blood sugar was too low, it was too hot ... I don't know, but I got more and more upset as the night wore on. It's too bad, because I should have just taken some time out and calmed down, and now I'll need to write apology notes to the people I was bitchy to. Sigh.

Eggs seem to be simple enough things to cook, but like most things, they are easy to do badly. We boiled eggs for the salade niçoise last time, with pretty hard and fast rules for egg success. The French classify egg cookery as "in shell," "out of shell," and "mixed," or beaten -- mixing the eggs and yolks together.

In Shell
This is what you'd expect -- soft-boiled, hard-boiled, etc. All eggs smell overwhelmingly "rotten egg-y" if overcooked. When overheated, some sulfur and hydrogen components separate from the whitea (proteins contains both elements), resulting in hydrogen sulfide, the poisonous gas with the rotten egg smell. If overcooked, the sulfur combines with the iron found in the egg yolk to form iron sulfide; in that compound, the iron is in a "reduced" state (+2 charge rather than +3), which has a characteristic green color ("oxidized" iron is red, as in rust). [That wasn't part of the course ... it's the geeky chemist at work; whatever, I found it fascinating.] So if a custard or flan comes out smelling "eggy," that's what happened. Best to start over.

So time your eggs! 3 minutes for soft-boiled (coque), 5 minutes for medium (mollet -- soft, barely runny), and 10 to 12 minutes for hard-boiled (dur). Then serve them immediately (or they'll keep cooking), or shock them immediately in an ice bath. To make hard-boiled eggs easier to peel, crack them before shocking them. Older eggs peel more easily than fresh eggs.

By the way, there is apparently no credence to the myth that a fresh egg will sink in a bowl of salt water. Go figure. Why not? I wonder ... what about that airsac that gets bigger as the egg ages? Argh.

Out of Shell
The most elegant preparation is oeuf cocotte. Cream is reduced till it's a crème anglais texture -- which is exactly like melted vanilla ice cream! It's evaporated to half it's volume to "double cream" and then infused with herbs to flavor. Ramekins (about 3 oz in size) are coated with beurre au pomade -- softened to room temp, like an ointment or lotion -- a spoonful of cream placed at the bottom, and an egg is broken into another bowl (always do this, right?), then placed into the ramekin atop the cream. A couple of more spoonfuls are poured down the sides of the egg and then placed in a bain marie filled halfway up the sides of the ramekins with boiling water. Cook in a 350°F oven for 8 or so minutes (this will depend on the thickness of the ramekins), till the eggs are set. This means the whites are cooked and the yolk is soft and still runny.

In short order cooking, there is "over easy" and "sunny side up," and in French, these are poêle and au plat or miroir. The poêle is also the name of the pan these preparations are cooked in -- basically, an omelette pan. Butter is melted till it foams -- meaning the water in the butter has boiled out, leaving only the fat and milk solids -- and room temperature eggs are broken into a bowl. These are slid into the poêle and are cooked till the whites set. The heat should be low enough to not blister or boil the eggs. For au plat, serve like that. For miroir, place in a 350°F oven for about a minute or two till the top of the eggs dry out a bit and the surface becomes shiny. For poêle-style eggs, flip the eggs over with a silicon rubber scraper and cook for 10 seconds on the second side. Technically, oeufs au plat can be cooked in a pre-heated round oven-proof platter or casserole, and served in the platter.

Oeufs Pochés -- pocket or pouch eggs -- are poached eggs. Water is brought up to a boil, then the heat lowered and the water taken to a simmer. To help with coagulation, add 50 mL white vinegar per liter of water (though many recommend salt instead, but the Jedi Master said salt will break up the whites rather than set them). Break the room temperature eggs into individual bowls or cups. The eggs should be very fresh for poaching, with a yolk that is quite spherical and the whites not too liquidy. Place in the simmering water carefully and cook for about 3 minutes at a slow simmer. The white should firm up, but the yolk still be runny, though hot. When done, remove the egg with a skimmer and place in a cold water bath to set the egg and rinse off the vinegar flavor. Drain on paper towels and trim off the ragged edges, if desired. Reheat to serve in hot salted water. These can be made in advance and kept covered, refrigerated.

Mixed Eggs
Oeufs Brouillés are scrambled eggs, but French eggs tend to be runnier, to preserve the creaminess of the dish. American-style scrambled eggs tend to be rubbery and bouncy, often showing up in icky hard lumps. In a bowl, break room temperature eggs, then season with salt, pepper and 10 mL cream or milk per egg, and beat together lightly. Place butter in a hot russe or sautoir till foamed down, then pour the eggs in. Stir constantly while cooking, only until the eggs are set. Serve immediately.

This is essentially the same treatment for omelettes. For a flat omelette (plat), the eggs are left alone for a few seconds before slowly scrambling the eggs as for brouillés. Pull the sides in so that raw egg can get a chance to flow outwards to cook. When the omelette browns lightly, either flip it over or place in a hot oven for 10 seconds till it sets. Flip out on a plate to serve. For an Omelette Basquaise, use olive oil as the pan lubricant, and beat in a mixture of onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes cooked à

For a rolled Omelette Roulée add the eggs to the foaming butter, and stir continuously. Stop stirring when it's lightly set -- this is key to having a smooth omelette -- stirring too much makes for a lumpy one. In addition, watch the heat, because the classic preparation has absolutely no browning. (To have a runnier omelette baveuse, stop stirring sooner.) Holding the poêle underhanded near the base of the pan, tilt up and fold the top third over the middle. Tap the pan to roll the omelette down along the curved lip of the poêle; using a fork, shape the omelette if necessary and tip it out onto the plate. Place a towel over the omelette and shape it into an arc if desired. The omelette can be stuffed before folding with a pre-cooked filling, if desired. Place the filling in a thin line down the center of the omelette, perpendicular to the line of the handle. For an omelette au fromage, sprinkle grated or shredded cheese as the filling (usually gruyère).

Any of these preparations can be brushed with very soft butter to enrich and add a shine and extra flavor (lustrer).

Stuffed Egg
A stuffed egg is essentially a hard-boiled egg that is split. For Oeufs Farcis Chimay, the cooked yolk is removed and combined with Sauce Béchamel, finely chopped parsley, and duxelles (finely minced mushrooms cooked with shallots, butter and lemon juice), stuffed (farcir) back into the white, then the whole blanketed with Sauce Mornay, which is a Béchamel enriched with egg yolks and gruyère cheese. These are served three halves per person, and are broiled and garnished with parsley before serving. It's an elegant treatment, but I personally didn't think it was worth it ... the whites seemed to toughen, though it was undeniably delicious. (My personal recommendation for a delicious egg dish to impress, without too much effort -- the oeufs en cocotte, hands down. Gertrude Stein once said a woman or man who wished to convey their satisfaction the morning after could do so with eggs. A good night -- omelettes. A not-so-impressive night -- hard boiled eggs. There are, of course, many possibilities inbetween, or even beyond!)

The mushrooms can be peeled or not, and cut ciseler, then run through with a quick back-and-forth rocking motion of the knife to chop finely. The mushrooms tend to brown when cut, so sprinkle with lemon juice as they are chopped.

To add to my bad mood during the class, family meal was icky -- sauerkraut with chunks of sausage, bluefish ... and nothing seemed to go together! How disappointing! It was a bad karma day for me. :( However ... I did score two loaves of bread! The bread class was on their "German" section. The one with the shiso leaf has nuts in it.

With Love,
Susu, the Culinary Padawan

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