Poaching from the Pros: A home cook’s quest to master the fried poached egg

For a video on how to make fried poached eggs click here.

I have this charming (to me)/annoying (to everyone else) personality quirk: If someone can do something, then I’m positive I can do it too. Which is why it is vitally important that you never, ever tell me you need your oil changed. Or a tooth removed.

Consequently, I usually order restaurant entrées with tricky preparations, just to see if I can duplicate them. So when I saw a menu item titled Fried Poached Egg Over Baby Greens, I was hooked. A fried poached egg? Isn’t that the apex of an Eat Rite slider? Was this white-linen establishment pandering to closet junk-food junkies like me? Were eggs becoming the newest old favorite food trend?

No. Yes. And yes.

At first glance, the dish was disarmingly humble. A modest bed of greens. A drizzle of vinaigrette. And, perched in the center, a perfectly fried orb. Fueled by curiosity and a Martini, I dove into the egg. A yellow-orange stream of sunshine burst forth. The yolk was hot and gooey, gliding over the greens like a second dressing. Its soft texture and custardy taste softened the bitter lettuce. And the crust – ah, the crust was the hero of the story. Solid. Peppery. And fried, so it was just a little bit naughty. Simple, and simply delicious.

I had to make it myself. Furthermore (Martini talking), I would do so for company. Why bother cooking unless you have an audience of admirers?

I stocked up on eggs and started to re-create the recipe. The greens were a given, but how should I poach the egg? Normally, I’m Team Swirling Vortex. But my dinner guests would revolt if I served One. Egg. At. A. Time.

The answer came in Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant while on a trip to London. He serves a not-fried poached egg over potatoes. (I told you eggs were trendy.) Now, poached eggs will never win a beauty contest. But these arrived perfectly round and dumpling-like. The server explained that the eggs are boiled in plastic wrap, which preserves the puffy shape. Brilliant! Added bonus: I could poach several eggs at once.
Next I had to replicate that perfect golden color. Thinking that the choice of breadcrumbs would make a difference, I experimented with panko, white, whole wheat and rye.

Panko was certainly the quickest and easiest to work with, but the eggs turned out bland and anemic-looking. Ditto for breadcrumbs made from white sandwich bread. Eggs rolled in rye breadcrumbs looked better, but the strong rye taste overwhelmed the egg. Breadcrumbs made from whole-wheat sandwich bread earned the highest marks for their mild taste and pretty tan color. But no matter how finely I processed them, I couldn’t get the breadcrumbs to uniformly cover the egg.

As so often happens, my friend Sheila saved the day. She suggested dredging the egg in flour first, then the breadcrumbs. I added an egg white wash to hold the layers together, and the result was an even, beautifully colored coating.

Poaching, check. Frying, check. But how long should I do each? Armed with eggs, canola oil and a stopwatch, I poached and fried in 5-second increments, trying to get the perfect balance of hot yolk to crisp crust.
It soon became apparent that the starting temperature of the egg was the critical factor. A cold egg had to be cooked longer, yielding rubbery whites, overcooked yolks and burned crusts. But – pay attention, this is the key to the whole shebang – an egg that is brought to room temperature before poaching and again before frying will give you beautiful results every time.

Now that you know the secret, creating this intriguing salad is really pretty easy. You can even poach the eggs the night before your party and save the frying until just before you serve. It’s a fun, delicious dish that will truly impress.