eggs, Quick Meals, Random Thoughts, Science

Çılbır.

I’m just going to come out and say it. I love eggs. As a kid, I used to go crazy for soft boiled eggs – with salt straight from the shaker – and sunny side up eggs. My dad is a terrific egg cook and liked to scramble eggs for us, adding just a dash of soy sauce for savor, or a drizzle over the sunny side ups. When I cooked eggs on weekends – usually getting up and heading downstairs to watch cartoons before anyone else was around – I liked to scramble up to half a dozen eggs, throwing in a slice of American cheese per egg and a few grinds of black pepper, and eat them with multiple slices of buttered toast, while sitting on the kitchen counter next to the toaster. Good times.

I’m not putting away six eggs at a time any more – or doing a lot of the things you can get away with as a kid, to be frank – but I would if I could. I love eggs. Hen’s eggs, duck eggs, quail eggs – they’re all good. Soft-boiled, hard-boiled, sunny-side up, over-easy, low temperature, poached, tortilla … All good.

Eggs are endlessly adaptable because, among living foods, they possess a unique physical structure. Egg yolks contain cholesterol, fat, and lecithin, which permits them to emulsify liquids, as in aïoli or mayonnaise. Egg white albumin contains about forty different proteins, and the long protein strands denature on cooking and aeration, causing them to solidify. This characteristic permits egg whites to lend structure to dishes, whether they’re the main ingredient, as in meringues, or the silent partner, as in quenelles.

Egg yolk and white solidify at different temperatures, yielding the classic poached or sunny-side up egg with a runny yolk. For me, those are the best ways to eat eggs – I like that perfectly cooked white and the rich, decadent, warm yolk, as good as any sauce or salad dressing. For me, the absolute best flavor with poached or fried eggs is brown butter, spooned over the eggs while still bubbling hot. In Turkey, there’s an egg dish called çılbır, involving poached eggs, served on yoghurt, with paprika butter spooned over all. You wouldn’t think that eggs and yoghurt would be good together, but they are. Good for breakfast, dinner, any time.

Modern çılbır

Modern Çılbır

This is an updated çılbır, featuring less yoghurt and combining dried mint with the traditional paprika. That combination, added to sizzling butter, is a classic Turkish finish for the tiny meat dumplings called manti. Use dried mint, not fresh. To facilitate eating every last bit of the brown butter and runny egg yolk, I have served it on toast.

Now, about poaching. Most recipes call for adding some distilled white vinegar to the poaching water for the eggs. The science behind that instruction is sound – acid causes egg albumen (the white) to coagulate, resulting in a more reliable poached egg. I don’t use vinegar, because I don’t like the faint pickled taste it imparts to the egg and the slight skin that forms on the surface. And anyway, if you maintain an appropriate water temperature, you don’t need the vinegar at all. Poach the egg any way you can, and use vinegar if you like, but I’ll give my instructions below.

Instead of poaching the egg conventionally, you can cook it @ 62C/143.5F in an immersion circulator for an hour. Start the eggs at room temperature, not cold. This yields a less firm white than conventional poaching, but it’s completely set and the yolk will be runny. If you want, you can increase the temperature to as much as 64C/147F for something closer to a soft-boiled egg.

4 eggs
4 slices rustic white bread, sliced 3/8″
1/2 tsp Hungarian paprika
1/2 tsp dried mint leaves
1/4 c unsalted butter
sea salt
drained house-made yoghurt, or Greek yoghurt

Toast the bread on both sides under a broiler or in a toaster. For a tighter presentation, use a 3″ biscuit cutter or ring mold to cut the bread into circles first. [In the photos, I dispensed with this step.] Save the outer portion of the bread for eggs in a hole or for use as croutons or breadcrumbs (you can store them in a ziploc bag in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for weeks).

Heat unsalted butter in a small saucepan; when foamy, add paprika and crushed mint leaves. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, poach the eggs or controlled temperature cook @ 62C for an hour. To poach eggs my way, bring a small saucepot of water, filled about 2″ deep, to the point that steam rises from the surface but the water is not visibly bubbling. Crack each egg directly into the water, or into a small prep bowl – those tiny glass bowls that hold about 1/3 cup are perfect – and pour it into the water. Don’t cook more than two at a time. Using a slotted spoon or a wire skimmer, such as one might use for frying, turn the egg from underneath, taking care not to disturb the water too much. You can form the egg into a fairly nice sphere if you turn it every 10-15 seconds. Don’t raise the heat. As long as the water is steaming on the surface, it’s definitely hot enough to poach. Continue poaching until the white is no longer clear and lift it out with the slotted spoon/wire skimmer.

Blot dry the poached egg using a kitchen towel and place on toast. Drizzle with paprika-mint brown butter. Season with sea salt. Spoon yoghurt over top.

A perfectly poached egg.

Poached eggs/brown butter/fried sage

4 eggs
4 slices white bread or brioche
dozen sage leaves
1/4 c unsalted butter
sea salt
optional: black truffle

Cut a 3″ circle from slice of bread with biscuit cutter or ring mold; toast both sides of the rounds under a broiler or in a toaster. Save the outer portion of the bread for eggs in a hole or for use as croutons or breadcrumbs (you can store them in a ziploc bag in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for weeks).

Heat unsalted butter in a small saucepan; when foamy, add sage leaves and fry until crisp.

Meanwhile, poach the eggs according to the instructions above, or controlled temperature cook @ 62C for an hour.

Blot dry the poached egg using a kitchen towel and place on toast rounds. Drizzle with brown butter. Season with sea salt and fried sage; shave just a little black truffle over if you’re using it.

Poached egg, toast, sage brown butter.

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Beef, Pork Products, Quick Meals, Sandwich

Burgermeister meisterburger.

I have standards, sometimes set by long-ago dining experiences. The patty melt, for example. When I was in high school, I waited tables at the Woolworth’s Coffee Shop in the Brookfield Square Mall, your basic diner with sandwiches, pie, soups and burgers. The best of these was the patty melt. Served in a brown skillet plate, atop a pile of crisp, salty fries, the Woolworth’s patty melt boasted melted American cheese, a tangle of sweet, golden onion, and, most importantly, buttery griddled rye. For me, it was a perfect sandwich, and today, if I order a patty melt, I expect it to taste like that.

The problem with maintaining standards is that, inevitably, someone will disappoint you. Last weekend, in the Los Angeles area, I had a terrible patty melt. Let me count the ways in which the Kobe burger failed to meet my expectations. First of all, no way was that Kobe beef. Second, even if it was Kobe, they killed it, cooking the burger to a charred, dried out puck. Third, I think they cooked it on the flattop right after cooking my mom’s swordfish, because it came with an odd, fishy aroma. Fourth (yes – I have a lot of complaints about this burger), I couldn’t taste the few strings of caramelized onion through the burnt, fishy lump of meat. And finally, the bread. Marble rye could’ve been a cute twist, but patty melts need to be buttered and then griddled on the flattop. What you’re looking for, see, is a grilled cheese on rye, essentially, but with a burger and some caramelized onions in between. What I got was rye bread, too dry to be fresh, not dry enough to have been toasted. And no butter. Expectations not met.

I couldn’t eat it. Once we returned from LA, all I could think about was that total failure burger.

Having read too many gross stories about commercially-available ground beef, I always grind my own meat. As an added bonus, I get to choose the cuts and season them before grinding for perfect salt integration. For the burgers we eat at home, I use a blend of short rib, brisket, and tri-tip (if I can get it – otherwise, I just use any sirloin I can get). It’s kind of a fat bomb, but we only eat burgers at home maybe two or three times a year. If you don’t grind the meat yourself, substitute 1 1/2 lbs of any high quality fresh-ground beef – meaning that the butcher or market grinds the meat from whole cuts in-house. You will notice from the pictures that the burgers are not medium-rare. This is because my husband dislikes the thick medium-rare burger, preferring instead a fully cooked but very thin patty, such as you might get at In ‘N’ Out Burger. You can suit yourself, but if you want to cook the thin patties, each one should be 2 oz, and you can double them up on your burger.

Patty melt

Now and then I encounter attempts to fancy up a perfectly good burger with artisanal cheese. For purposes of the patty melt, that’s wrong. The cheese you want is American, which melts evenly and provides a mildly tangy, salty quality that doesn’t compete with the meat. Blue cheeses take you into Spotted Pig territory, which is great and all, but this is a patty melt. Cheddar just isn’t salty enough and melts into a greasy, sweaty-looking blob. Swiss, even though traditional, poses the same problem. And with the holes in the cheese, you don’t get perfect burger coverage.

1/2 lb beef short rib (boneless)
1/2 lb beef brisket
1/2 lb bottom sirloin (or other sirloin)
kosher salt
12 slices American cheese
2 large red onions, sliced into 1/4″ rings
12 slices rye bread
unsalted butter, softened

Cut the beef into 1″ cubes and spread evenly on a sheet pan. Season with 1/2 tsp kosher salt per pound of meat. If you have to use a table salt, cut this quantity in half. Freeze the meat until firm (about 30 minutes) and pass through a grinder with a medium die.

Butter each slice of bread on one side.

Place a skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add a knob of butter. Add the onion and cook until translucent and soft with deep golden brown edges. Season with a little salt and set aside.

Form the meat into six patties, 4 oz each. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, film with oil. Fry the burgers on one side until browned, and flip with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook to the desired doneness, topping with a slice of cheese. Alternatively, you can grill the burger, but you usually wouldn’t grill a patty melt.

In a second skillet, place the bread, butter side down, topped with a slice of cheese. Place the cooked burgers on top of the cheese, top with a generous quantity of onion, and top with the second slice of buttered rye, butter side-up. Press down with the spatula. When the bread is golden brown on the skillet side, flip the sandwich over and cook until the other slice of bread is golden brown. Slice in half and serve.

Patty melt.

Korean BBQ burger

There’s nothing like the savory, mildly sweet, smoky taste of galbi, the Korean dish of beef short ribs, marinated and grilled. It’s often served as ssam – a wrapped food – with a lettuce leaf and a smear of gochujang, the spicy red pepper bean paste, and assorted side dishes like kimchi. I thought it might be delicious to incorporate these flavors into a burger, especially one using ground short rib.

Instead of a big dab of gochujang, this burger features a spicy mayonnaise. I make my own, but you can substitute a good quality jarred mayonnaise, such as Hellman’s or Duke’s.

1/2 lb beef short rib (boneless)
1/2 lb beef brisket
1/2 lb bottom sirloin (or other sirloin)
kosher salt
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
clove garlic
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
large pinch sugar
butter lettuce or crisphead lettuce (like iceberg)
1 c baechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi), chopped coarsely
1/2 c mayonnaise
1 tbsp gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
6 burger buns

Combine the mayonnaise and gochujang in a small bowl. Cover and keep refrigerated. Rub a separate small bowl with the garlic clove and, in the bowl, combine the soy, sesame oil, white pepper, and sugar.

Cut the beef into 1″ cubes and spread evenly on a sheet pan. Season with 1/2 tsp kosher salt per pound of meat. If you have to use a table salt, cut this quantity in half. Freeze the meat until firm (about 30 minutes) and pass through a grinder with a medium die.

Split the buns and place, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Place under a hot broiler until lightly toasted on the cut side. Remove and set aside.

Form the meat into six patties, 4 oz each. Brush each very lightly with the sesame-soy mixture. Sesame oil has a strong taste, so more is not better in this situation. When I say lightly, I mean lightly. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, film with oil. Fry the burgers on one side until browned, and flip with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook to the desired doneness. Alternatively, you can grill the burger.

Spread gochujang mayonnaise on the cut side of each bun. Top the bottom halves with lettuce. Place the burger on top and top with kimchi. Serve immediately.

Korean BBQ burger

Sausage burger

While I’ve got you here, let me share another burger favorite. This one features pork, the king of meats, and Italian flavors. The bitterness of the radicchio cuts right through the fattiness of the sausage, and the mushrooms and Parmigiano cheese turn this sandwich into an umami festival. Combine caramelized onion for sweetness and pickled onion for acidity and you’ve got a perfect bite.

1 1/2 lbs sausage, from this recipe
10 oz white button mushrooms, sliced thinly (1/8″ or so)
unsalted butter
salt (truffle salt is especially good) and pepper
1/4 c dry white wine
radicchio leaves, washed and dried
12 paper-thin slices Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 oz Fontina Val d’Aosta, in 12 slices
Pickled onion, from this recipe
Dijon mustard
6 burger buns

Split the buns and place, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Place under a hot broiler until lightly toasted on the cut side. Remove and set aside.

Place skillet on high heat and, when hot, add about 2 tbsp butter. Add mushrooms and saute until they have given up their liquid and reabsorbed it; add wine. Cook, stirring from time to time, until all liquid is absorbed. Once liquid is absorbed, cook, stirring infrequently, until mushrooms are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper.

Form the meat into six patties. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, film with oil. Fry the burgers on one side until browned, and flip with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook through completely, topping with a slice of cheese. Don’t overcook them, though – they need to be moist.

Spread the bottom halves of each bun with mustard and top with radicchio. Place the burger on top and top with sauteed mushrooms and pickled onion. Serve immediately.

Sausage burger

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