Sunday, January 18, 2009
The 65 degree oeuf.
Oeuf is French for egg, and when an egg tastes like this, you will think you are eating the finest in complicated French cooking. But really, this egg is perhaps one of the simplest culinary masterpieces you will ever achieve in your own kitchen. It's the 65 degree egg.
What is it about the egg that makes it so special? From a chef's standpoint, it can be hard to define. Eggs are inexpensive, simple, satisfying, full of protein, and fundamental to so many complex dishes. And that is where the science comes in. From the scientist's perspective, the fat and protein structure of the egg makes possible culinary magic in all types of dishes. The proteins in the whites help to raise a batter in baking, the yolk acts as an emulsifier in dressing. Together, the proteins help give texture, firmness, and structure to dishes. And better yet, on their own or dressed up with a few other ingredients, eggs can create an entire meal. Best of all, the egg is spectacular on its own with nothing more than seasoning. Especially when it is a 65 degree egg (or 149 degrees, in Fahrenheit).
This is little miracle arrived courtesy of a small aside in The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper cookbook. To my delight, the cookbook features an entire section on eggs. Sam and I were flipping through it yesterday afternoon looking for dinner recipes. I came across a sidebar describing the 65 degree egg. The dish was described so beautifully. As Lynn Rosetta Casper and Sally Swift describe, "It is like nothing you have ever tasted. The white is custard-y and the yolk is soft and yielding, basically melting in your mouth...You will be enchanted."
Credit for the creation goes to chemist and self-proclaimed molecular gastronomer Hervé This, who spent time researching hard boiled eggs. During his studies, he hearkened back to an old Jewish dish involving an egg baked for hours in a dying fire. This dish became the precursor to his 65 degree (Celsius) egg.
It sounded so special, and the instructions were so simple, we made it right then and there. We weren't even hungry... yet. We made our egg in the toaster oven. Our old gas oven won't hold a light below 250 degrees, and this recipe calls for only 149 degrees. It turns out the 150 is the minimum our toaster oven demands to remain powered, anything less and my little red light clicks off with the heat. But luckily, 150 degrees is just perfect for these divine little eggs. It's good to remember that Salmonella bites the dust at 140 degrees, so you will be safe with this egg, even if the texture is softer and silkier than any other egg you have tasted.
As you can see from the photo, I don't think our little oeufs came of of the shell as perfectly as the recipe intended, but it was our first try after all. And while it may not look entirely flawless, the taste was almost near perfection. It was as though we had done something complicated and difficult to the egg to achieve the texture. Truly, the whites were a custard, absolutely like what you would expect from a pots de creme or creme brule, but without the sugar. The yolk was pure silk, very smooth and lacking any graininess or stickiness. It was amazing, truly amazing.
The only downside to these eggs is that they are not quick enough for a simple breakfast. To enjoy this delight you must be thinking in advance, as they require a good two hours or more in the oven. But, the wait is worth it. The book suggests serving these next to a salad or with a bundle of asparagus. We ate ours alone, but I can also see it spread on toast with a sprinkle of chives and a bit of course chopped and fried panchetta for lunch, or served with a pasta that calls for a fried egg.
Any way you serve it, you will be amazed. And with such a simple, affordable ingredient, you can even stand to make it right now for snack in a few hours. Go ahead, be impulsive like we were and make the egg right now.
The 65 degree Egg
from the Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper
adapted from Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor
Ingredients: Eggs, as many as you would like to eat or serve immediately.
Instructions: Put a thermometer in the oven . Set the oven at just below 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally the oven will be at 149 degrees, but not lower. Give the oven 20 minutes to preheat. Put your eggs on the oven rack. Go do something else fun for a few hours. If the oven goes a few degrees over the temperature, don't worry. They can handle up to 10 degrees over 150, but they loose the custard-like texture with every degree over 150. After a few hours, take out the eggs. Gently crack the shell and ease out the egg, taking care not to puncture it.