Growing up, my favorite breakfast was poached eggs on buttery toast. My mom had this nifty pan designed to hold little cups suspended above boiling water; it transformed eggs into perfectly shaped domes in mere minutes. So imagine my surprise when I began eating poached eggs elsewhere. At my first New York diner, I was presented with two eggs bobbing, raw and gelatinous, in a puddle of lukewarm water. Another time, at a fashionable brunch spot, I was served eggs as firm as those decorated for Easter. These experiences convinced me of two things: My mom’s pan was a very effective modern convenience intended to replace a more traditional technique I wasn’t aware of, and most people who were aware of this more traditional technique didn’t get it. But a trip to Paris can teach a person many things; for me, it was how to properly poach an egg. Ordering my favorite salad (a salade Lyonnaise) at my favorite brasserie (Chez Georges on rue du Mail), I was faced with an egg slightly ragged around the edges, its wiggly whites blanketing a yolk that spilled out and lay sleepily over the frisée, like a satin coat tossed on a velvet couch. It was a cook’s aha moment. Now I’m torn. I love the organic shape and the tender consistency of an egg made the traditional way, but there’s something equally perfect about those little white domes. Served on a bed of tangled frisée, dressed in a warm pancetta-infused vinaigrette—both will do the trick alongside a really great pizza.

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Ingredients

  • 4 cups torn frisée
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta, cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, plus ½ teaspoon for poaching
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup crumbled Roquefort, Stilton, or other good blue cheese

Method

Put the frisée in a large salad bowl and set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the pancetta and cook slowly until it’s crisp all over, 10 minutes or more. Add the shallot and cook until softened, another minute or two. Add the 3 tablespoons vinegar and the mustard and bring just to a boil, stirring. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, set a medium saucepan of water over medium-high heat and add the ½ teaspoon vinegar. Once the water reaches a boil, reduce the heat so it barely holds a simmer and just bubbles gently. Break one of the eggs into a small bowl, being careful not to break the yolk, and slip it into the water, then do the same with the other eggs. Cook the eggs just until the white is set and the yolk has filmed over, 3 to 5 minutes depending on how solid you like your poached egg. Remove each egg with a slotted spoon and allow the water to drain off for a couple of seconds.

If necessary, gently reheat the dressing, then pour it over the greens, add the blue cheese, toss, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Top each portion with an egg and serve immediately.

A trip to Paris can teach a person many things; for me, it was how to properly poach an egg.

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