Forget the chicken versus egg debate. The real question is: Why do we limit the poached egg's potential to eggs Benedict or its siblings Florentine, Mornay and Oscar?
There's so much more poached egg eating beyond Benedict, says cookbook author Michael Ruhlman.
"The poached egg is one of the simplest, most versatile of all egg preparations," writes Ruhlman, in "Egg," his latest book. "There's pretty much no dish that can't be improved by the addition of a poached egg."
From taste to texture, "the poached egg is a really remarkable ingredient on every level," said Ruhlman, during a phone chat from his Cleveland home. "It's delicious warm. It's delicious hot. It's always enriching.
"The yolk is like a ready-made sauce," he added. "And the breaking of the yolk is visually dramatic. ... It adds multiple elements to a dish where a carrot is just a carrot."
Sure, tinted hard-cooked eggs star at many Easter celebrations. But poached eggs deserve a place at the holiday brunch table because, well, who wants to fuss with peeling all those decorated eggs? And besides, poached eggs give the cook more options for creative brunch dishes.
Perch them atop mushrooms sauteed with fresh herbs. Try an alternative to corned beef hash, perhaps the potato-beet pairing here. And because eggs can be poached in a sauce or broth just as they can in simmering water, consider this tomato-based sauce from Ruhlman's "Egg." Or try an interpretation of a classic garlicky Provencal soup.
Eggs in puttanesca sauce
In "Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient" (Little, Brown and Co., $40), author Michael Ruhlman serves these sauce-cooked poached eggs atop angel hair pasta. But for brunch, we like it served over slices of crusty bread.
1. Chop 1 Spanish onion into small dice. Roughly chop 4 cloves garlic. Cook in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, seasoning with 1 teaspoon salt. When tender and translucent, add 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, stirring to coat with olive oil. Add 1/2 to 1 cup dry red wine; heat to a simmer. Puree 1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes. Add to skillet along with 1 bay leaf or 2 teaspoons dried oregano (or both). Heat to a simmer. Reduce heat to low; cook until sauce is thickened, about 1 hour. Sauce can be prepared ahead and refrigerated up to 3 days.
2. Remove and discard bay leaf. Add 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce or 4 anchovies, roughly chopped, plus 1/2 cup chopped, pitted Kalamata olives and 2 tablespoons capers. Bring to a full simmer over medium heat, then turn heat to low. Lower 4 eggs into the sauce with a ladle, one at a time, making a small well in the sauce with the ladle to contain it. Cover pan. Cook until whites are set, 3 to 6 minutes. Serve sauce over slices of crusty bread, topped with a poached egg.
Makes: 4 servings
Two potato and beet hash
Adapted from "The New Way to Cook Light," by Cooking Light magazine (Oxmoor House, $34.95).
Saute 1 cup finely chopped onion in a skillet in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 2 cups peeled, cubed Yukon gold potatoes and 2 cups peeled, cubed sweet potatoes. Add 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, 3 cloves garlic, minced; cook until tender, about 25 minutes. Add 1 cup cubed cooked beets and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper; cook 10 minutes. Meanwhile, poach 4 eggs. Divide hash among four plates; top with a poached egg. Sprinkle with more sage if you like. Serve with frisee or curly endive salad dressed with a Dijon vinaigrette.
Makes: 4 servings
Save-your-life garlic soup
Adapted from "One Good Dish" by David Tanis (Artisan, $25.95).
Roughly chop about 16 medium peeled cloves garlic (2 heads). In a heavy pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and 12 fresh sage leaves; let sizzle without browning, 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add 6 cups water. Heat to a boil, then lower to a brisk simmer. Cook 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Ladle an inch of soup into a skillet; bring to a brisk simmer over medium heat. Add 4 eggs, one at a time, to pan. Poach, about 3 minutes. To serve, place a toasted thick baguette slice in a bowl. Top with a poached egg. Ladle soup atop. Sprinkle with parsley or chives.
Makes: 4 servings
How to poach eggs
A poached egg should be warm, have a liquid yolk, a fully cooked white and a neat, oval appearance.
1. Heat about 3 inches of water to a boil in a saucepan, then turn down the heat. The water's surface should be relatively calm, with just a few bubbles at the pan's sides of the pan and none rising from the center bottom.
2. Crack an egg into the poaching liquid. If you've never done this before, crack the egg into a small bowl, then slide the egg into the pan. Don't poke the egg. Don't swirl the water.
3. After about 3 minutes, use a slotted spoon to gently lift the egg from the liquid. The white should be firm, not jiggly. The yolk should remain liquid. Blot liquid from the egg's top carefully with a clean towel. Set the bowl of the slotted spoon on the towel to get it dry as possible. Serve.
Eggs can be poached hours or a day in advance. Dip in ice water to stop cooking. Drain then refrigerate in a covered container. To serve, repoach eggs just to warm through, about 1 minute.
Adapted from James P. DeWan's Prep School column.