Delicious drama

How to make any dish more delicious? Add a poached egg. I’m serious, poached eggs are not just for breakfast anymore; beautiful, perfectly cooked eggs are stepping out in some swank dishes. It’s not a new idea; in classic French cuisine, poached eggs are often eaten as a memorable first course for dinner.

Eggs in all formats are essential in cooking, whether as a starring player or in a supporting role as a binder or the base for a sauce, and their rich flavor and unique consistency make eggs a wonderful complement to meat, fish, pasta, potatoes, rice, vegetables, bread and salad. What sets a poached egg apart is the drama: A diner plunges a fork into a runny yolk that oozes over a dish’s other ingredients. The clinging yellow liquid then creates an instant creamy sauce.

Try adding eggs to all kinds of dishes, from risotto to steak. Red or white pasta sauces are enhanced with a poached egg on top, as are artichoke hearts or crab cakes. (Go all out by garnishing the latter with a butter-based sauce, such as hollandaise or beurre blanc.) A warm egg on top of a cold salad is an especially good combination. The classic salad Lyonnaise combines crispy bacon, frisée and poached eggs dressed with a simple vinaigrette.

Traditionally, the eggs topping vegetables are either hard-boiled or in an emulsified sauce such as hollandaise, but using a poached egg instead is a nice twist. A visually stunning side dish is spinach or other greens (Swiss chard, beet or collard greens) sautéed with a little onion. Spoon the greens onto the plate, make a divot with the back of a spoon, then place a poached egg in the center. Not only does the green-white-yellow ring look lovely, the instant egg “sauce” on the greens tastes delicious.

The trick lies in using perfectly poached eggs. How to poach an egg? No, you do not need any fancy equipment; all you need is a fry pan, a slotted spoon and a tea towel. Fill the pan with 2 to 3 inches of water – enough to cover the eggs completely – and add some salt and about a tablespoon of vinegar to the water. (The vinegar helps to hold the egg together.) Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Poaching requires low, gentle cooking; plunking the eggs into boiling water will only result in rubbery, overcooked eggs. Use the spoon to gently swirl the water; if the water is moving, the eggs will not stick to the bottom of the pan. Carefully crack the eggs (without breaking the yolk) into the water – if you crack the egg into a small dish, you can very easily slide the egg into the water. Be sure to add the eggs one by one, so that they do not all stick together.

Poach the eggs for three or four minutes, until the white is set but the yolk is still runny. Remove them with a slotted spoon and dry on a towel. Use scissors to trim off any excess strands of egg white. Serve immediately, although, at this point, the eggs can be refrigerated and then reheated for later service. To reheat a poached egg, drop it into simmering water until it is thoroughly heated, about 30 seconds. Place on top of any food, and a ho-hum dinner has drama.

For a really wonderful presentation, try the French style of poaching eggs in red wine. The burgundy-colored eggs look fabulous, and they taste much better with a glass of wine than with a cup of coffee.