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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