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FOOD FINDS: Want a better poached egg? The secret is all in when you crack the shell

06/22/2015 02:49 EDT | Updated 06/22/2016 05:59 EDT
COPENHAGEN - It took nearly 20,000 miles to discover this secret, but cracking the code of the perfect poached egg made every one of them worth it. And I'll save you the travel trouble.

I was on the tail end of a culinary circumnavigation of the globe. I was hungry and jetlagged and slowly eating my way through Copenhagen, home to some of the most innovative chefs in the world. Lunch on my second day in this almost painfully romantic and beautiful city was at Relae, a casual restaurant — and one of the world's top 50 — that specializes in no-fuss, organic food with big, bold flavours and beautiful (but unpretentious) platings.

The meal included a bend-the-mind sort of dessert — fantastically tart lemon sorbet topped with a warm poached egg. It sounds crazy, but it was right in every possible way.

Yet it wasn't the unusual combination that caught my attention (though I highly recommend you try that, too). It was the egg itself. From my seat at the bar overlooking the kitchen, I watched as the chefs cracked my poached egg onto the icy sorbet directly from the shell. Which is to say, the egg had been perfectly poached in the shell.

The soothing runniness of a warm poached egg is just this side of heaven, and it is something I have long worked to perfect. Yet despite my struggles, the crack-the-egg-into-simmering-water method — no matter how many tricks and tips I've employed — has never produced that Platonic ideal of a sumptuously smooth poached egg I desired.

This egg in this restaurant in this Danish city was that egg. And the chefs were kind enough to explain to me their trick.

And then I went to dinner at Amass, Matt Orlando's brilliant take on Nordic cuisine. And he served me yet another perfectly poached egg cracked directly from the shell, this time onto fermented grains. And like the folks at Relae, he and his team were happy to share their technique.

Frustratingly, it's a method that is hard to replicate at home. These folks use sous vide cookers (heaters that maintain set temperatures in bins of water to gently, slowly and uniformly cook food to within tenths of a degree). The technique actually was simple. Whole eggs get submerged in 145.5 F water for between 45 minutes to an hour. That's it.

Under these conditions, the whites are delicately cooked, while the yolks remain lusciously supple and runny.

Sadly, most of us don't have sous vide cookers at home. So I decided to hack the system for a home solution. And while this can be a bit fussy and certainly takes longer than traditional poaching methods, the result is vastly better than any poached egg you've ever made.

Also, these eggs are easily prepped ahead of time, then reheated when you wish to eat them. Simply follow the recipe, then plunge the poached eggs (in the shell) into a bowl of ice and water. When the eggs are cool, refrigerate for up to three days. When you want to serve the eggs, set them in a bowl of hot water for about 5 minutes to warm.

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PERFECTLY POACHED EGGS

You will need a digital thermometer for this recipe. They are inexpensive and widely available. This recipe produces a very delicate poached egg. For a firmer egg, increase cooking time to 45 to 50 minutes.

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 6

6 eggs

In a medium saucepan over the lowest possible heat, bring 6 cups of water to 145 F. On a gas stove, this should take 8 to 10 minutes. Lift the saucepan off the heat, then set a large skillet on the burner. Set the saucepan into the skillet. The skillet diffuses the direct heat of the burner, making it easier to maintain a consistent water temperature.

Carefully set the eggs into the water. Check the temperature. It should drop down to between 135 F to 138 F. Let the eggs cook in this manner for 40 minutes, checking the water temperature about every 5 to 10 minutes. The water temperature should slowly increase. If it gets above 145 F, add cool water 1/4 cup at a time to maintain 145 F.

After 40 to 45 minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs from the hot water. Run under cool water until easily handled. To serve, gently crack the shells and set the poached egg onto your desired dish.

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J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch . Email him at jhirsch@ap.org

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