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Poached Eggs with Sautéed Mushrooms, Jalapeño and Olives drizzled with Truffle oil

Introduction:

I am going to show you how you can put together a stunning breakfast in 10 minutes; 15 minutes if you want to take your time. This was not planned but a breakfast borne from gut instinct and using the method of produce, technique and harmony.

Sometimes it is necessary to remove the shackles of conservatism in the kitchen and just open yourself up to a challenge. Let that gut instinct take over once in a while – and start by seeing what’s in the fridge. It is fair to say that if all that it contains is ‘one dried potato’ (Faithless fans will get this reference) then there will be little for the gut to react to. But a few edible items can lead to some great possibilities. Remember, select the produce, choose a technique and then find some harmony.

This breakfast dish is a result of just that. The produce that inspired it were the Swiss brown mushrooms, Kalamata olives and the jalapeño pepper that was sat there on its lonesome looking up at me for a bit of ‘arriba, andale, andale, yiihah’. The technique chosen was a simple sautéing in a little butter and oil. The harmony came from the adding of onion to the sautéed mushrooms, pepper and olives; serving it on poached eggs and a slice of toasted framer’s rye cob; and the drizzle of truffle oil to bring it all together. And all done in 10 minutes.

 

Serves: 1   |   Preparation: 2-3 minutes   | Cooking time: 6-7 minutes

 

Ingredients:

2 litres Hot tap water | For poaching the eggs.
2 tsp. White vinegar| For poaching the eggs.
2 large  Free range eggs | The fresher the better and the less stringiness they will produce in the hot water.
1 tbsp. Olive oil |
15g Butter |
6 Swiss brown mushrooms |
1 Jalapeño pepper |
6 Kalamata olives | Freshly pitted. If they have been pitted for some time they tend to go a little limp.
½ Red onion |
A slice or 2 Good bread | I used a locally made farmers rye cob.
10g Butter | To finish off the mushrooms.
A drizzle Truffle oil |

 

Method:

First thing; put the grill on for the toast (unless using a toaster), put a pan of hot tap water with the vinegar on high heat (cover it to bring it to the boil quicker) and put a small sautéing pan on medium heat.

Add the olive oil and butter to the small sautéing pan. Wipe the mushrooms with damp kitchen roll to remove any erroneous dirt (washing removes flavour and nutrients, so best avoided). Slice the mushrooms, jalapeño pepper and onion and when the butter starts to foam add them to the pan and sauté for about a minute, tossing the pan frequently.

The water should now be boiling. Turn down to a rolling simmer, stir the water gently so that it swirls. Add each egg gently to the water and set a timer for 3½ minutes.

Put the bread under the hot grill to toast, keeping an eye on it. When done cut it and place it on the serving plate.

Put a lid on the sauté pan and over low heat cook the mushrooms for a further 3 minutes. Remove the lid, turn the heat to medium, add the olives and a little more butter, and toss and cook for a minute.

After 3½ minutes individually remove the eggs from the pan using a slotted spoon. Allow each egg to drain and then carefully place kitchen towel under the spoon to soak up any excess water. Place the eggs on the toast.

Remove the mushroom and olives from the heat and drizzle over some truffle oil (or a little olive oil if you don’t have truffle oil) and season with black pepper (there should be enough salt from the olives).

Gently place the mushroom mix over the poached eggs and eat immediately.

 

Notes:

  • For 2 or more serves just increase the ingredients proportionally.

The Amazing Mirepoix

How can three humble vegetables have such a profound effect on European cookery? They form a mirepoix in France, a soffrito in Italy or a sofregit in Spain and have chiselled their way onto the tablets of command when it comes to culinary flavour and versatility.

So what are they? Let’s focus on France and the mirepoix (\mir-ˈpwä\)(it is the title of the post so seems logical enough). Traditionally in France, and I say traditionally as it is claimed that this culinary preparation was used in the 18th century by the cook Duc de Levis-Mirepoix, a French field marshal and ambassador of Louis XV, it consists of celery, carrot and onion. That’s it the humble carrot, celery stick and onion; and all in all they contribute wonderful flavours to meat, game and fish, as well as form the aromatic flavours of many sauces. In some meat dishes it is traditional to add raw ham or lean bacon to the mirepoix.

 

Why do these three vegetables work together so well? Well first off I thought we should take a gander at them separately:

Carrot: Carrots are manifest in two major cultivated forms; the purplish eastern anthocyanin carrot developed in central Asia and the Western carotene carrot. Of the Western varieties, the most familiar is the orange one that was allegedly developed in Holland – but not the reason why the Dutch football team wear orange. The orange carrot contains the highest level of beta-carotene (provitamin A) of any other vegetable. Beta-carotene is a terpene and it is this component that provides carrots with their piny, woody and citrusy flavours; a commonality with celery.

Celery: Something I only learnt recently is that celery, the aromatic stalk vegetable, is derived from the carrot family, which explains the reason why there is an affinity between it and carrot. Celery was apparently cultivated in the 15th century and was deemed a delicacy well into the 19th century. It has a very distinct aroma due to components called phthalides, which are also resident in walnuts. If you have looked in to flavour pairing you will probably know of the affinity celery and walnuts have – Waldorf salad is a classic. Terpenes are also present in celery, giving it distinctly subtle notes of pine and citrus.

Onion: As we know onions, from the genus Allium of which there are about 500 varieties, are eye stingers (lachrymatory) and mouth burners. In the humble onion there are sulphur based compounds. As a defence mechanism, when the cells containing these compounds are damaged e.g. by cutting, enzymes are released that break down these sulphur compounds in to chemicals that are irritating and strong smelling. The flavours in onions, in particular the strength in raw onions, is dependent on how much of the cell structure is broken. For example, the mouth burning sensation and flavour will be greater in onions pounded in a mortar and pestle than those that have been roughly chopped.

 

So, what happens when these three aromatics are cooked together?

The method of cooking has a significant bearing on the final flavour. A mirepoix is meant to be cooked on a low heat and in oil. This method helps to sweat or sweeten the vegetables (according to Raymond Blanc there is no French equivalent for the word sweeten). Heating the onion in this way allows the sulphur compounds to break down gently, which produces a series of softer, sweeter flavours. When heating carrots the cell walls break down causing the release of sugars, giving that sweet flavour that slow-cooked carrots are renowned for. Heating celery this way seems to tone down the flavours in to something more delicate. The gentle heating also prevents any of the three vegetables from browning (also known as the Maillard reaction). This browning produces caramelised flavours which are not required for a mirepoix where the end product requires subtlety.

 

How to Prepare: When food is prepared, the finer the pieces are cut the greater the exposed surface area is and therefore the more flavour that can be imparted. With that said a mirepoix should comprise of finely chopped vegetables. Being small pieces also allows the heat to penetrate through the vegetables also causing them to release those wonderful flavours. If your mirepoix is to be eaten (as opposed to being a basis of a strained sauce) then it is necessary to have the vegetables finely chopped so that they break down sufficiently enough not to impart an unpleasant texture, for example in Bolognese. In terms of proportions it is common to use 1 onion to 1 large carrot to 1 stick of celery, but of course this can be varied.

 

What do I use mirepoix in? A cracking Bolognese has to start with this magical mix as well as a luscious lasagne (not quite sure if lasagne is luscious, but it sounded good). I also use it in my smoked Pea and Ham Soup, and in sauces, such as a red wine reduction (where the mirepoix is discarded), tomato based pasta sauces, and one-pot wonders. It’s a wonderful blend of chemistry, and flavour and aroma science, and one that should be part of any cook’s armoury.

Taking a Recipe with a Pinch of Salt

During this wonderful journey of learning to cook there’s one thing that I have learnt – not all recipes work. In fact, I have been tearing out my hair over the years wondering why the results I have are nothing like the photograph in the recipe, and certainly nothing like the descriptions and ramblings the chef uses to introduce the dish. There was a saying that an old professor of Chemistry used to deliver at least once per week in his organic lectures: if it’s biology it breathes, if it’s physics it moves, and if it’s chemistry it doesn’t work. After a semester of fervent rib tickling with this gem of comedy genius I realised that there indeed may be some truth to it. Effectively, cooking is edible chemistry, and I know from my chemist days that to replicate an experimental result required the exact materials, ambient conditions, processes and energy (such as stirring or heating). Bearing this in mind, in a cooking context all these same principles apply.

Let’s take a really simple example. I want a soft boiled egg – nice and oozy yolk, with the white cooked properly. You are provided with one recipe that says place eggs in cold water, bring to the boil and then boil for three and a half minutes, after which immediately run the eggs under cold water for 20 seconds, and then serve. What could possibly go wrong? First off the egg type; is it small, medium small, medium, medium large, large or dinosaur? Is the egg free range, organic or from a caged bird?(Please whatever you do, if you are not already doing it, use free range eggs – the taste and texture is infinitely better). Is the egg at room temperature or cold straight from the fridge? How many eggs are you cooking at the one time? The choice and number of eggs has a huge influence on whether this recipe works.

Next, how cold is your water when you start? Is it iced, cold or tepid? What method of heating are you using? On a high gas powered ring the water will come to boiling point much quicker than on a small electric powered ring meaning the egg will be exposed to the warmer water for less time. If the heating method is really slow then the egg may be cooked before you even reach boiling point.  Have you ever heard of the 63 degree egg? This is almost a sous vide method where the egg cooks in its own shell for 45 minutes at 63 deg C. The story goes that in ancient Japan the ladies would take the eggs down to the hot springs where they would bathe with their eggs. The eggs would cook over a period of time until perfectly soft and luxuriously runny – ready in time for lunch. I have tried this as a cooking method and the result is quite astounding (note: I didn’t bathe like the Japanese ladies as the visions of me with half a dozen eggs in a bubble bath is not really that conducive to appetite). So back on track, the heating methods, the temperature of the water and the ambient conditions all have a part to play in determining whether the recipe will work.

What I am trying to convey here, is that there are so many variables and conditions when it comes to cooking that it is no wonder that recipes usually don’t work out the first time. The first failure should be inspiration to refine a recipe according to your produce, cooking equipment and environment. I try and get an understanding of what is happening when I cook so I can then best work out by judgement or experience a way to great results. For example, macarons are the most temperamental of existences, and still after 2 years of trying to perfect them I have still some way to go. However, over those two years I have learnt a lot about meringues, such as why they collapse (fat from any residual egg yolk, over working or humid environment) to understanding the levels of protein and sugar required to stabilise the meringue. As I say it’s still a work in progress, but the more we cook and understand about the produce and our own individual kitchens the greater the chance that recipes will work. And it gets to the point you are so culinary savvy that you end up creating the recipes!

One of the drivers behind Duck and Roses is to present recipes in a clear and concise way. There are some pretty badly written recipes on the internet – and I am not only talking of amateur or hobbyist cooks, I am talking about on the websites of very well-known chefs. This is not an indictment on those chefs, as most of the recipes are probably written and posted by a third party, but I have come across even in expensive books, a lack of detail here and there that has a profound effect on the outcome. I will endeavour to write out the recipes on this blog with clarity and in fullness. However, these are recipes that have worked in my kitchen with the particular produce I have used, so am sure that they will need tweaking to suit your environment and tools. A recipe should only be taken as a guide and not an absolute – the absolute is the exciting part of discovery and creativity. I am just off now to take a shower with my eggs.

Taking the PTH

I would like to think of myself as a soufflé prince (I have yet to have a flat soufflé, but the king I feel must be reserved for the likes of Messieurs Roux, Ducasse, Bocuse et al) however I have certainly fallen in to the category of toast burner, although if I ever do it these days I claim it’s in the name of food science, which of course it isn’t. Following recipes is a great way to self-teach the art of cooking, and repeatedly making the classics of French cuisine I believe will give most cooks/ chefs the armoury to go and create their own special masterpieces. However, my eyes have been opened recently to the simplified philosophy of creating great food, and it is in Nick Nairn’s book that I discovered the three basic principles behind this philosophy. In fact it seemed so simple that I thought at the time of reading that I had completely overlooked it in pursuit of perfecting existing recipes.

The first of the elements is [P]roduce. Now how simple is that. But when you think about it, it’s so true. The problem with following recipes is that unless you use them as a guide and not as an absolute, you limit yourself to what’s in a recipe and often overlook that wonderful produce out there, no matter where in the world we’re from. For example, let’s say I have seen a wonderful recipe for grilled pickled mackerel on a crispy, fresh fennel salad – which I have..mmm.. – and then head out to a fantastic fish and seafood market. All that is in my head is mackerel, no matter how scraggy looking or old it is, and as long as I find the mackerel then the recipe will work. But as I search for that mackerel I miss out on the freshly caught Morton Bay Bugs, the slimy shimmering fresh trout, banana prawns, deep pink snapper etc.. The point that Nick Nairn makes is that we should go out and select the produce based on what great produce is available, rather than stay within the constraints of a recipe. For me this was a real epiphany.

 

Double Smoked Ham Hock

Double Smoked Ham Hock

 

The next one is [T]echnique – you’ve got the great produce, now do something fantastic with it. Again that something fantastic need only be simple. For example, you have just found the most perfectly marbled Wagyu beef fillet – what would you do with it? Me, I would probably set it on the kitchen bench and marvel and drool – which is not really a great technique. Ok, really I would be looking to get those outer proteins really broken down (Maillard reaction) into beautiful caramelised meaty flavours, seasoned with sea salt and cracked black pepper – I certainly wouldn’t be poaching or stewing it. This is the importance of technique, and the importance of knowing (or sometimes just feeling) what to do with the great produce. I also now look at the importance of technique in the mis en place (posh way of saying food preparation) – what is the best way to whisk egg whites, how to cut vegetables into pieces of the same size, how to get the right consistency in sauces, when to sweat or caramelise onions etc..

The last one is [H]armony, and for me this is the really creative one. Choosing what complimentary and mouth shattering flavours will combine with the produce to take it to the highest level. But it’s not just limited to flavours; there are also textures to consider. Again some of the simplest harmonies are the best: chilli and mint just love each other; apple and crunch tell me about freshness; and lime and coriander always remind me of Thailand. I like watching the UK Masterchef series, and one of the common things I see is when a nest of some greenery is plonked on top of a delicately cooked game, meat or fish dish, or there are billions of different elements on a plate. Neither speaks of harmony, but more of trying to impress which ultimately it fails to do. Harmony is so important; it should be the reason that something is on a plate. Harmony will always be master to presentation.

So with my tail firmly between my legs, wandering around in a sorry state because after all these years I hadn’t realised these simple principles, I suddenly remembered an experience a few days before, and with the joy and verve of an over excited Jack-in-a-box I realised that I had just followed these principles to a tee – whoohoo. I was in the local fishmongers here in Melbourne, and staring at me was some wonderful Barramundi that had only been caught a few hours previously – its eyes were colourful and vibrant, the skin was glistening with slime (a good thing indicating freshness) and its body was firm to the touch. I bought two whole fish and on the journey home conjured up some potential dishes. Barramundi, by the way, is probably one of Australia’s greatest eating fish – that’s from a human perspective, not the fish’s. It comes mainly from the North of Australia (Queensland) and has a really earthy taste, one of which tickles my fancy. So after cleaning and filleting the fish I decided to use two of the fillets to make a tartare – I wanted something that was going to show off the fish in all its glory, and being quite impartial to raw fish I thought a tartare was the way to go. The key would be the harmony, picking complimentary flavours that would enhance the fish, but not overpower. I chose a combination of red onion, ginger, tart green apple and lime juice. The tartare was moulded in a circular stack and then fennel fronds (the aniseed complemented the dish) were placed on top of the stack. And hey presto – PTH!

Check out the recipe for Citrus Fresh Barramundi Tartare  – a classic technique