julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Poaching: Bad for Eagles; Great for Oeufs


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“Serving poached eggs for dinner strikes my American bourgeois soul as ad hoc and a tad pathetic, and therefore perversely romantic.” – Julie Powell


It’s always hard to come back to reality when you’ve been on a vacation, even if that vacation only lasted a weekend. Despite this fact, I was really looking forward to getting back to the Julia recipes. Because we haven’t had a chance to go grocery shopping since last week’s excursion, last night’s meal had to be something involving ingredients we already had in the house. A quick scan of the pantry and fridge told me all I needed to know. Dinner would be Oeufs Sur Canapes (poached eggs on canapes) with Sauce Mornay (cheese sauce).

I remembered this recipe from the Julie&Julia movie – it sounded easy but looked tricky, so I was fully prepared for the possibility that the poaching of the eggs could be a highly frustrating experience. However, after having just purchased eggs in bulk, I felt equipped to take on the challenge. I decided to start with the cheese sauce first. Julia actually recommends serving these eggs with a cheese fondue sauce, however, since I was out of whipping cream, I used her suggested replacement recipe for the bechamel cheese sauce instead. (Bechamel 101: A bechamel sauce is a quickly made milk-based foundation that only needs the addition of butter, cream, herbs, etc. to bring it to a true sauce.) Because the Sauce Mornay begins as Sauce Bechamel, I tackled two recipes on the sauce alone!

Sauce Mornay

The sauce began by melting a couple of tablespoons of butter in a pan and adding three tablespoons of flour to create a roux, a thickening agent for the sauce. I noticed that it seemed to have a brownish color, which Julia claimed should be white, but I decided to carry on. Next I added some boiled milk, and eventually stirred in some shredded Swiss cheese. The sauce seemed too thin, so I added another tablespoon of flour, and at this point, the sauce just didn’t look right at all. I mean, I didn’t know what it was supposed to look like, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t it. It was the color of pale chocolate milk, and it smelled and tasted a little burnt, but I couldn’t tell where I had gone wrong. I debated about forging ahead with it, and ultimately decided that no, I wanted to taste it the way Julia had intended. So I dumped it down the garbage disposal and tried again.

This time, I didn’t let the butter melt so long (I think I may have burnt it just slightly the first time, but that small flavor made a huge difference in the overall outcome of the sauce). I also added more flour at the beginning while making the roux, rather than at the end, and when all was said and done, the sauce had a nice thick, white creaminess to it, and it smelled and tasted wonderful. I was really glad I had trashed the first batch – this was so much better.

A successfully poached egg.

Next came the eggs. I filled a pot with about 3″ of water and a little vinegar (to help the eggs keep their shape) and brought it to a simmer. I cracked open one egg and let it slip into the pot. I was supposed to take a wooden spoon and immediately begin to fold the white over the yolk so that it would wrap around itself – but the white got away from me before I could pull it all together, and it broke off in whispy flakes throughout the water. I scooped it out and threw it away, then tried again. This time, I followed Julia’s suggestion of breaking the egg into a bowl, then getting the bowl as close to the pot of water as possible and letting it slide in. This worked much better, and I was able to coax the white around the yolk and let it sit for a few minutes. As I worked the egg white around itself, little bits of egg white broke free from the poaching egg and fluttered around the water, like little ghosts floating around in the pot. They reminded me of the bits you see in Chinese egg drop soup, and I realized then that it must be made similarly. But that’s another post for another blog.

Perfectly browned canapes!

When the whites were set and the yolks were still soft, I removed the eggs with a slotted spoon and set them into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process and to rinse off the vinegar. They didn’t come out in the “neat, oval shape” Julia mentions, but you know something? Cooking isn’t a beauty contest – it’s okay if the food doesn’t look perfect when it comes out of the pot. (Besides, you’ll cover these babies with some sauce mornay and who will know the difference?) So while the eggs rested in the bowl, I made the canapes. I used the circle cookie cutter from last time and cut four circles of white bread, then made some clarified butter and poured it into a separate pan. And here’s the coolest part…I LEARNED FROM MY PAST MISTAKES! The last time I made canapes, I burned them. Repeatedly. Ah, but this time, I used a pastry brush to coat the entire bottom of the pan with the butter and set the bread circles gently inside, then watched them carefully and turned them every 30 seconds until they were a light golden brown. Perfection!

Oeufs Sur Canapes

I set a canape onto a plate, placed an egg on top, then covered the stack with a spoonful of the sauce. (I also made one egg without any sauce so I could get the full flavor of the poached egg alone. In doing this, I created Oeufs Poches [plain poached eggs] which counts as a separate recipe. Yippee!) When I cut into it with my fork, the egg white was light and fluffy and the yolk was runny, as if it had been fried over-easy. The canape was the perfect way to mop up the soft yolk, and while I liked the sauce, I decided it tasted better on the bread than it did on the egg. My favorite way to eat this was with just the egg and the canape. This would make a great breakfast with a side of bacon or sausage and a glass of orange juice – but it didn’t make a bad dinner, either!

So maybe it’s because I had the advantage of watching the movie and learning from Julie Powell’s frustrations, but poaching eggs wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, once I got the hang of it, it was kind of fun! I really like the canapes (although, to be honest, I’m not sure why Julia didn’t just make toast and cut it into circles) and the sauce was okay. Not only did this dinner knock out four of our 524 recipes, but the whole meal took about 15 minutes to make and came out tasting great – a terrific dish to whip up when all you’ve got in the house is eggs, butter and bread – and a slight longing to still be on vacation.


Today’s French Lesson:
“Où aimeriez-vous aller pour les vacances?”

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One Response to “Poaching: Bad for Eagles; Great for Oeufs”

  1. Melanie Ridings says:

    I like breakfast for dinner, better than at breakfast! Especially eggs! :) chefmjr

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