This month the Daring Cooks challenge focused on the technique of poaching. Specific recipes were provided to poach an egg, or alternatively to poach a home-made pine nut and sundried tomato sausage.
Because Mrs. Monkeyshines won’t eat eggs in their native form and was also concerned about the calories contained in the vegan sausage (there are 909 calories in 135 g of pine nuts!), we started looking elsewhere.
The first task, of course, was to determine exactly what poaching is – yes, even though we disregarded the main portion of the challenge, we still were eager to carry it out exactly. Such is life in the Monkeyshines household. According to about.com:
Poaching, simmering and boiling are really three different stages of the same cooking method. Each of these methods describes cooking food by submerging it in hot water (or another waterlike liquid like stock). What defines each one is an approximate range of temperatures, which can be identified by observing how the water (or other cooking liquid) behaves. Each one — boiling, simmering and poaching — has certain telltale characteristics:
Poaching refers to cooking food in liquid that has a temperature ranging from 140°F to 180°F. Poaching is typically reserved for cooking very delicate items like eggs and fish. At poaching temperatures, the liquid won't be bubbling at all, though small bubbles may form at the bottom of the pot.
Simmering is distinguished by cooking temperatures that are a bit hotter than with poaching — from 180°F to 205°F. Here we will see bubbles forming and gently rising to the surface of the water, but the water is not yet at a full rolling boil.
Because it surrounds the food in water that stays at a fairly constant temperature, food that is simmered cooks very evenly. It's the standard method for preparing stocks and soups, starchy items such as potatoes or pastas, and many others. One of the downsides to simmering is that vitamins and other nutrients can be leached out of the food and into the cooking liquid. (we’re not 100% convinced here, as we usually cook our pasta at a healthy rolling boil..)
Boiling is the hottest of these three stages, where the water reaches its highest possible temperature of 212°F. It's actually the method that is least likely to be used in cooking. That's because the violent agitation caused by churning bubbles characteristic of a rolling boil will often damage the food.
Braising, for the curious, is when you first brown the item (usually meat), then cook it with some water, but not submerging it.
Lately we’d observed several references to poaching in olive oil, so we turned to the internet and found a recipe for Olive oil poached shrimp that apparently came from the show Top Chef.
Olive oil poached shrimp, cucumber and poblano pepper salad, avocado and risotto with chestnuts and bacon.
The poached shrimp were a revelation. It seemed impossible that cooking them in the oil that was just warm could possibly work, but it did. in just 7 minutes we had perfectly cooked shrimp that tasted exactly like, well, shrimp. When we’ve sautéed them in the past it seems that shrimp always develop little hard bits or slightly off flavor. We’ll absolutely use this technique in the future when cooking shrimp.
However, the recipe as a whole was a serious pain in the *ahem* – and was frightfully expensive as it called for an entire bottle of oil to poach 8 shrimp. (we poached 12 shrimp in about 2/3 of our bottle of oil and it was fine, but still.. ) The cucumber and poblano pepper salad was surprisingly tasty, but could have been made much more simply. Also, we infused the oil with crushed red peppers and coriander seeds, but did not detect any of their flavors in the shrimp (though that was really just fine, flavorwise).
Buoyed by our success at poaching, and having quite a bit of olive oil leftover, we tried another recipe – this time poaching artichokes that were miraculously still appearing at the farmer’s market, despite it being the dead of winter here. Again, the poached items were perfectly tender and flavorful and on the whole this recipe was much more successful (meaning worth the effort), so we’ll share it with you.
Herb and Lemon Poached Baby Artichokes
adapted from Food and Wine
12 baby artichokes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 cup olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
2 sage leaves
4 bay leaves, preferably fresh
Lemon Zest for garnish (optional)
- Pour the olive oil and the white wine, onion, coriander seeds, peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, sage and bay leaves into a deep non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat, then reduce the heat to low. Try to maintain a steady temperature of 140-160 degrees F.
- While the oil is heating, prepare the artichokes by slicing off the top half of the leaves, trimming off the stem, and paring off all outer, tough leaves. As you finish each one, place it in the oil. While this means that some are cooked longer than others, it works out OK in the end since you’re cooking at such a low temperature.
- Cover and cook until the artichokes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Let the artichokes cool in the cooking liquid for 30 minutes.
Poaching the Artichokes
- Transfer the artichokes to a work surface; discard the cooking liquid. Cut the artichokes in half lengthwise and arrange them on a platter. Garnish with long strips of lemon zest if desired (we really liked this addition to the recipe and used a zester to produce the strips) and serve warm or at room temperature.
Now for the poaching experiment that didn't go to plan... We recently obtained a beautiful white truffle and wanted to make a dish that would showcase its unique flavor, so we kept it simple - homemade pasta tossed in a little butter with shaved truffle and parmesan cheese. During a trip to Piemonte (Italy) a few years ago, I learned that truffles and eggs are a mysteriously magical combination so I decided to add a poached egg to my dish. (Mrs. Monkeyshines still won’t try even a truffled egg, so just a single poached egg was involved). But what an egg! - this egg had been sitting in the same box as the truffle and was just bursting with truffle aroma.
I followed the challenge recipe - water temperature no higher than 180F, cook for 3 1/2 minutes - and all looked good until I came to remove the egg from the water. I scooped it up with a slotted spoon, only to find that the white drained away through the slots...
Here is all that was left of my beautiful truffle-infused egg. Not quite sure what went wrong, except maybe it wasn't cooked enough?
I made the best of the situation and at least had the remains of the egg with my truffled pasta, which was still very tasty:
Blog checking line: Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.
Check out the many marvelous creations that the other daring cooks created this month too.