I couldn’t sleep Saturday night because I was afraid of poaching eggs. More specifically, demonstrating poached eggs in front of a Facebook Live audience while making oeufs en gelée in honor of Julia Child’s birthday (an actual thing that happened—not just a stress dream). It was pure hubris to take on the recipe in the first place, but when the call went out for Time Inc. publications to participate in an all-day salute to the legendary chef and cookbook author, I found myself unable to contain the words. I whirled around to our site director: “I want to make eggs in aspic.” He didn’t object. And suddenly, I was screwed.
Egg poaching is an oddly anxiety-inducing process. Google “egg poaching nervous” and “egg poaching anxious” and you get just more than a million-and-a-half results for each. There’s a reason for that whole omelets-and-egg-breaking aphorism; while a great omelet does call for some degree of skill, the whole methodology relies on a small measure of violence, and flaws are more forgivable. Even more so with a scramble or shirr. I am not possessed of a calm demeanor or steady hands—both of which are key ingredients in a competently-poached egg. Extra-much if you want to tackle more than one in a row.
I’m oddly calm about my aspic. I’m not afraid of the icky bits, and had some jellied stock on hand from making head cheese just last week for this very site. But egg poaching—man, that was daunting. Like any avid home cook, I’ve tried it here and there to varying degrees of success. And unlike most jobs out there (other than, say, being a line cook), the actual description for my current professional position noted that the ideal candidate should be able to poach an egg. Luckily, the vetting process didn’t include a poaching portion, but I prayed there would never be a test—suddenly it was here, and I felt like a damn fraud.
The fret set in and I was seriously considering faking salmonella, grippe, or some mysterious but brief contagion to get out of the whole mess. But from the whirlwind of my terror, the spirit of Julia strode out in a tall, butter-scented gangle. It’s just eggs, she said, poach a lot of them until you are good at it. Intimidated by onion chopping during her tenure as a Le Cordon Bleu student, she bought ten, 20, 30 pounds of them until she’d mastered the technique, schooled her muscles, and never had to engage her brain in the process again. Decades later and bereft of an intimidating Frenchman to menace me, I tuned into J. Kenji López-Alt's egg-poaching tutorial, marched down to the supermarket, bought two dozen extra-large beauties and had the eff at it—after a flute or two of Sangue di Giuda.
And no, they didn’t all work, but every time I mucked one up via over-aggressive water-swirling, insufficient straining or imprecise timing, I remembered Julia’s loopy laugh and unapologetic chicken drop and cracked another shell.
On Monday, I stood alongside my colleague Margaret, live on camera, armed with a container full of a solid dozen prettily-poached cold eggs (thank Julia for not requiring them a la minute), and four makeshift ramekins full of oeufs en gelée. We ran knives around the edges and per Julia’s instructions, gave the bottoms a mighty thwack in tandem, then sliced in.
The aspic broke. The yolks oozed perfectly. I remained shockingly intact.
Julia Child’s egg-poaching tip: Poke a hole in the eggshell with a pin to release any excess air, then boil it for ten seconds to help it set its shape.
J. Kenji López-Alt's egg-poaching tip: Watch his video on Serious Eats for the full methodology, but it involves using a fine mesh strainer to rid the egg of any watery parts, and a rolling motion to lower the egg into 180-degree water. And it WORKS. Reliably.
Kat Kinsman’s egg-poaching tip: Relax, breathe, pour a glass of fizzy red wine, and get the hell over yourself. It’s just eggs.