25 January 2012

Cooking eggs the Heston way - eventually!

Fair makes my mouth water ..
Because it's currently Farmhouse Breakfast Week, here's another treatise on the subject of breakfast.

Those of us who are based in the U.K. will know the t.v. programme to which the title of this blog post refers.  However, for those who aren't as familiar with our t.v. scheduling, it refers to Heston Blumenthal's latest t.v. series "How to cook like Heston" in which he shares some of his techniques.

The first programme was about eggs, the second was beef, then chocolate and this week's is all about chicken.

Now I have a long-standing passion for the humble egg.  Quite apart from the belief that you'll never go hungry all the time you've an egg in the house, I have to admit that it's tricky to keep an egg in this house because no sooner have they arrived than they are eaten - in one form or another.

We were watching Masterchef on t.v. last night and one of the contestants moved a tray of eggs from point A to point B - and I thought "phwooaaar!", much in the same way as you would if you'd spotted a juicy steak, or a delicious oozy pudding.  So, you can see, an appreciation of the many forms of egg is fairly fundamental to my being.

I was recently lucky enough to receive a copy of Michel Roux's cook book, "Eggs", as one of the runners up in a competition held by the lovely Clarence Court eggs.  In this book, he details just about every method of cooking eggs known to man - including the good old boiled egg.  His method was well known and is how, ordinarily, I would cook a boiled egg.

In cold water, ready to go!
Heston's method, however, is somewhat different.  He recommends that you place the eggs in the smallest pan available and only add enough cold water to cover them.

Boiling!  Quick .....

Then put the lid on the pan and place over the highest heat possible.  When the water comes to the boil, remove the pan from the heat and wait for 6 minutes.

..... remove it from the heat and now, wait.
After the time has elapsed, remove the lid and carefully remove each egg.

By all accounts, this method of cooking an egg will result in a less rubbery, more tender egg white - and a beautifully soft yolk - owing to the gentleness with which it has been cooked.

Ever the optimist and ever keen to improve my own techniques, this just had to be tested.

~cries~  No soft anything, here!

All I can say, is that Heston's cooker must be a darned sight better at getting the water to boil than ever mine is, because my first attempt was solidly hard boiled.  Nonetheless it was edible, however I couldn't detect any difference in the egg white.

Forlornly waiting for the perfect egg ...
Never one to give up after a first attempt, my second egg I left for just 5 minutes, instead of the recommended 6.

Aha!  This produced a fairly soft yolk - one which wouldn't have been out of place inside a Scotch Egg, but not really dipping material.  The jury is out as regards the texture of the egg white, as we couldn't really tell any difference.

The third and final attempt was left for 4½ minutes, which produced the perfect dippable yolk inside soft egg white.  I have got to admit, however, that I am still not seeing the promised difference in texture where the white is concerned.  If there is one, it has to be so minimal that as an egg lover - and as such, I really don't mind how my eggs arrive - it is "beyond my ken", as they say in Scotland.

That's the one!  Perfect!

Having conquered the Heston boiled egg, I then turned my attention to the interesting method he employed for cooking scrambled eggs.

Before I get into that, however, I must tell you about the yawning chasm of divide between scrambled egg methods that occurs in our house.  Hubby is wedded to the Escoffier method - that of lots of butter, in a pan, low heat, lots of stirring.  I, however, have evolved into scrambling my eggs in the microwave.  ~cue mass sharp intake of breath~  I know, I know, it's not the best way of doing it - but I have a well developed method that I have passed on to son & heir that is not only fairly safe (no hot cooker tops on which to burn himself or set fire to the daily newspaper) but can (I admit, the results are slightly random) result in lovely creamy eggs.  Or what I used to THINK were lovely creamy eggs - right up until I sampled scrambled eggs the Heston way.

Now I can't imagine cooking my scrambled eggs this way every day - because it takes patience and patience is at a bit of a premium, most mornings (hence the microwave method!).  However, on a morning when I'm craving a bit of indulgence, or have someone who needs a little "pampering on toast" for breakfast - this is definitely going to be right up there.

Heston (as one would expect) totally pushes the boat out on the indulgence side of things, using butter, whole milk and double cream - then finishing off with brown butter and sherry vinegar.

I however, whilst erring on the side of weight-gain caution, just went for the butter.

Nearly! Nearly there!
Heston's method involves placing a bowl above a saucepan of simmering water, then melting the butter and adding the lightly beaten eggs.

As with the boiled egg method, this method is all about being gentle and not scaring the egg into tightening up and becoming tough, but warming it through gently and cajoling it into forming a scramble.  So don't - for a second - think this is going to be done swiftly.  I would recommend you grab a chair.

Make sure you have your toast ready for the moment when the egg finally submits to the heat and, with an almost audible sigh, scrambles.  You don't want to have to leave it congealing in its bowl, while you rush around toasting bread.

Happy sigh - now THAT's what I'm talking about!

The end result - placed on top of some delicious home-made, toasted soda bread - is so deliciously creamy that it truly is the definition of Greg Wallace's favourite word, "unctuous".  Far better than the dictionary definition, that of "having an oily or soapy feel".  To my mind, the milk and cream just aren't necessary as the egg itself forms so beautifully smoothly that the creaminess is all there.  Mind you, as I say, I didn't try the eggs with the cream - maybe it'd pass from sublime to "totally off the scale".  Hmmmn, maybe I'll give it a go, the next time I've some cream sitting looking for a home to go to!



  1. Well hats off to Heston, and you for giving it a go, but my boiling and scrambling remain thoroughly lo-tech and without sherry vinegar.

    I wish I could poach an egg though, mine are either rubbery from being made in slots in a poaching pan, or just freehand slop. A friend who runs a cafe tells me he's sick of poaching eggs, every breakfast ordered comes with the request for poached eggs as no-one seems able to cook them at home themselves. He was so sick of poaching eggs he was considering taking them off the menu. (He's a bit like that, stop offering someone that sells well as he's bored of making it.)

  2. Ah! Well, I have discovered something when it comes to poaching eggs. It is utterly pointless trying to poach an egg "freehand" in water, unless it is almost as fresh as when it fell out of the hen. If you can get your eggs that fresh, then boil up your water, add a little splosh of white wine vinegar, crack the egg into a ramekin or cup and slide it into the water. After 3-4 mins (depending on size) pull it out with a slotted spoon and slide onto kitchen paper, where you can tidy up the edges if you so require. Then plop it onto some toast and you're there. Old eggs just become one with the water, I find. Hopeless!


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