Poached Egg Bruschetta w Shallot Vinaigrette

This is a weekend brunch favorite in the Lowe + Helzer household and it has guided my education in the art of the poach. At long last, revealed below is my technique for the perfect poach. The recipe is adapted from Alice Waters’ In The Green Kitchen. The primary difference is that in her version the vinaigrette involves macerated tomatoes and halved garlic cloves which are removed before serving. I do that sometimes when tomatoes are in season. But on a normal basis, even if my kitchen is low on everything, I’ve got the makings for this brunch poach. And it’s super tasty.

Vinaigrette:
If you’ve ever had dinner at our place, you’ve had a variation on this dressing recipe. It’s the Lowe + Helzer House Vinaigrette and we literally make it every night. I love it. You can use more or less vinegar, just depends how strong your vinegars are and how you like it. I do 1:1 ratio olive oil to vinegar; Paul does more of a 2:1 ratio. I am a fan of using multiple vinegars, some combos work better than others. You can use different vinegars, balsamic and red wine vinegar go well together if you like it a little sweeter. Rice vinegar is really nice on its own – that’s the Schwartz version I grew up with. Oh I should also add that in the Helzer household, salad dressing is made in the bottom of the salad bowl, then after the lettuce is washed, it goes into the bowl on top of the dressing and then it is fatigue‘d so the dressing coats the salad. Is that too much detail?

Mix together:
1/4 – 1/2 minced shallot
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. red wine vinegar
1 tbs. sherry vinegar
1 tsp. nutritional yeast
salt and pepper to taste

Poach Method:
I’m not sure there is one magic bullet technique, but here’s what I’ve found works for me – fresh fresh fresh eggs are best. We have the pleasure of purchasing our eggs most often from the local farm, Gospel Flat, so they are crazy fresh. Another important variable, regardless of freshness, is temperature. Because the temperature tends to be cool here in Bolinas, and because we spent time in France and were enchanted by the way folks do it there, we leave our eggs out of the fridge, so they are always at room temp. If you keep them in the fridge, it’ll help to take them out an hour before you’re going to poach.  I’ve experimented with the tornado technique – the theory being that it helps the egg hold together – but I find that truly fresh eggs hold together naturally, so there’s no real need for the spin cycle.

Boil enough water to cover an egg, shell and all, say 2-3 inches.
Add a dash of salt to the water as well as a dash of vinegar. Red wine or sherry vinegars work great. I use the less expensive stuff for this.
Now take a small strainer, like a tea strainer and crack your egg into it. You’ll notice the sack and then there’s some extra bits of the white, those will drip through, giving you fewer flyaways in your poach. Let it strain for minute but don’t let it sit for too long, otherwise, it’ll get a bit stuck.
You want your water to be just below boiling, where it’s sort of got a wave of heat movement but it’s not bubbling.
Drop your egg into the water. It’ll just drop to the bottom and sit.
Once it’s got a bit of white to it, I usually give it a little nudge so it doesn’t stick to the bottom. A gentle tornado around the egg works here so that you don’t break the white sack or the yolk. It’s fragile!
Use a slotted spoon to check it every so often. You can tell if the white looks like it’s too runny inside. You want the white to be soft but not liquid-y. And the yolk to be super soft. Give it a soft touch and you’ll know when it’s done.

Poached Egg Bruschetta w Shallot Vinaigrette:
Toast up some good bread – a nice baguette or a slice of a wonderful country loaf. (Locally, we are big fans of Brickmaiden, made in Pt. Reyes.)
Pour a few spoons of vinaigrette over the bread
Place your poached eggs atop
Season with a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel and Pepper, another splash of vinaigrette if you’d like
Garnish with a sprig of greens or parsley
It’s really nice served with a small green salad too. Enjoy!

French Baguettes

My guy, Paul, is a lover of bread. In particular, he loves a good baguette. Through him, I have been initiated into a life of baguette enthusiasm.  A good baguette is dark and crusty on the outside, fluffy and light on the inside. That seems simple enough, most baguettes should fit that description vaguely, but there is a scale within that description. In France we found that the artisanal handmade loaves are usually best and everything else is, well, not best.

In France, bakeries prepare baguettes and other breads daily, usually preparing a morning batch and an evening batch in order to provide the freshest loaves all day long. In order to stock the shelves with the freshest breads when the shop opens at 6a, Boulanger William Courderot begins his day at 1am. When we arrived to meet him at 5am, he was well into his daily routine. Each day, Courderot rolls out 600 traditional baguettes and each day they fly off the shelf.

There are many types of baguettes. The hand rolled ones are usually called tradition or l’ancienne, they are made in the old French way. You can literally taste the love with which they are made. This is why I advise you to steer clear of the standard machine made baguettes! They are usually lighter in color, less crispy. They are longer and more uniform, there is no trace of flour on the finished crust, and they are maybe 10 cents cheaper. I’m not sure why anybody buys them.

In the states, it’s getting more and more possible to find quality bread but it’s still always fun to see what you can do yourself. When we were in France, I made a pact to learn how to make a good baguette by baking them daily. But after a couple of sad attempts, I gave in to the fact that everywhere I looked I saw perfect baguettes for €1 or less. I was in the land of incredible baguettes and I wasn’t about to waste time and empty calories on bad ones! It takes a lot of patience to come up with a method that works for you in your setting. It’s tough for a recipe to account for the moisture or dryness of the air in your environment. Consumer ovens just don’t get as hot as industrial ones. But have no fear, Julia Child is here! Julia offers a thorough recipe with helpful pictures in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, and you can see her recipe sans photos here.

One useful tip I can offer to fresh bread lovers: the best way to keep baguettes and other breads fresh and tasty is to wrap them in aluminum foil and freeze. If you have a big country loaf, cut it into smaller more manageable meal-size pieces and wrap each piece separately. When you want to eat some bread, place it in the oven or toaster oven at 350°F for about 10-15 minutes. When you can easily squeeze the baguette in your hand (with a glove of course), remove the foil, turn off the oven and put the bread back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so to crisp it up. Enjoy!

William Courderot’s French Baguette

Ingredients

1 kg farine / ~7 cups flour

650 g eau / ~3 cups water

20 g sel / ~3.5 tsp salt

20 g levure / ~5 tsp yeast

Method

Mix all ingredients in kitchenaid or cuisinart mixer until smooth. Let rest for an hour and a half.

Flour prep area and separate dough into three equal pieces. Generously flour a linen cloth. Gently fold the dough over itself and roll while pushing the dough outwards until it becomes a long snake. Notice how little Courderot handles the dough as he forms it into baguettes. Don’t handle the dough more than you have to. Place the baguettes on your floured linen cloth, cradling each loaf in fabric so they don’t touch one another. Leave to rest for one hour.

Preheat oven to 550°F (or as high as your oven will go).

Use a new razor blade or very sharp knife to score the bread with evenly distributed diagonal marks, about 4-5 scores per loaf. Fill a cast iron pan with ice water and place it on the bottom rack of your oven. This helps keep a good amount of moisture in the oven while the bread bakes. Place the baguettes in the oven for 20-30minutes or until they are crusty and brown. When they’re done, let them cool on a rack for 10 minutes or so before you break bread.