Right, time for some real Modernism! A basic enough dish, your Eggs Benedict, but we shall apply some weird cooking techniques and some weird presentation, too.
Technically this movie isn’t Star Trek at all, but a brilliant comedy parody called Galaxy Quest. The conceit of the movie is that the show Galaxy Quest (easily recognizable as Star Trek) was popular in the 60s, and now the actors all go to conventions to make money and play on their former fame, but aliens who saw the “historical documents” broadcast built an actual working ship, just like the one they saw in the show, and come to Earth to take “the crew” (who are actually just actors) into space to fulfill the roles of their characters. In this scene, the actor who played the engineer has just tried to use the transporter – unsuccessfully. When their friend on the surface, the “captain”, asks what happened, they all say everything is fine. But their clueless alien escort announces “The animal is inside-out.” Then it expires messily, and he concludes “…and it ex-plod-ed.” So my dish will be inside-out!
(As it turns out, I managed to fulfill the “…and it exploded” part too, much to my dismay. But that’s later.)
So how does one make an egg inside-out? Well first of all, it helps if you can dial in the consistency of the egg exactly, which is where the sous-vide technique shines, you may recall. In fact, the obsessive-compulsive authors of the Modernist cookbook have put together a pretty page of photographs detailing the various “doneness” of eggs you can achieve at certain temperatures, as you can see. If you click on it, you might almost be able to read the text in the larger scale version. Almost. Let’s zoom in to the part that concerned me, the bottom of the left-hand page.
Probably the perfect consistency would be 165°F, but my girlfriend prefers hard to soft. For eggs, you perverts! A runny-yolked egg makes her physically sick; I saw it happen on the ferry once. So I tuned it up a little, to 172°F. Originally I had thought to put the white in the centre and the yolk around the outside by separating them and cooking the whites first. For this I needed to make sure that the yolk never ended up getting flaky, so this chart was of extreme utility. But in the end I gave up on that notion for two reasons: the first being that once covered with hollandaise sauce the exact colour of egg yolk, the effect would be kind of wasted. Secondly, again thanks to the hollandaise, I would have some leftover egg white at pretty much one to one for each poached egg. So it didn’t make sense to expand the inside white and stretch the outside yolk even further.
So the trick to making a pretty “flower” out of a poached egg is to gather it up in cellophane, making a little pouch. Then when you unwrap it, it will appear rather like a flower. Okay, that’s putting a little romantic spin on it; it really more the shape of an onion. But regardless, it’s more interesting than a flat patty of the kind that normally appears as part of Eggs Benedict.
The trick (well, my trick) is to start on a muffin pan. Then you just push the square of cling wrap down into it, give it a little spray of Pam or some other oil, and break your egg into it. Then you can gather it up and seal it. The sealing proved to be annoying, though. I’d originally thought to use a plastic-coated twist tie, but those things just don’t exist any more. Most plastic bags are self-sealing, and those ones from the grocery store are wrapped in paper. Not so good for sous-vide; they’d dissolve in the water and make a mess. I mean, it wouldn’t matter to the food much, but you’d still have to clean out the cooler afterward. No, I wanted plastic. Eventually the answer was found not in any grocer’s, but at the hardware store – zip ties, intended for small-scale electrical wiring. For a nominal fee I now have one thousand tiny little zip ties like the one you saw in the egg pouch photo. Perfect!
Anyway, after you’ve sealed your egg in whatever fashion you want, in it goes into the bath. If you’re just trying to make breakfast pretty for Mother’s Day (for example), you can just do the whole egg as I’ve shown it and drop it into a pot of boiling water the way you’d cook any other egg, for 4 or 5 minutes, then pull it out and unwrap it, and you’re ready to go.
However, that wouldn’t be inside-out. What I did was to start with the egg yolks. I separated the whites into 12 separate hors d’œuvres glasses, since I had them anyway for the hamachi shots, and it would make it easier to put them back together later. Then I set up 12 yolk flowers. I broke the yolks so that I could stir in some pepper and Worcestershire sauce, to give it a little surprise flavour. Those went in the sous-vide bath for a half-hour. Thanks to the yolks I was collecting for the hollandaise sauce I had extra egg whites, so I separated them into the same 12 glasses, so each had a double helping of egg white. Once the yolks were out and cooled, I started again with making flowers of egg white, laying on top of the liquid a slice of ham and then on top of that the egg yolk. When you packaged it all up, you had an egg with a layer of ham in the middle of it. Magic! Sorry, science! Really just some tedious manual labour. Those flowers went in the bath next, and half an hour later my eggs were both inside-out and cooked to perfection. At this point they were basically hard-boiled eggs, so they could go into the fridge until it was time to serve them.
Now let’s discuss the hollandaise sauce. It’s usually regarded as a pain to make, but that’s because it involves a lot of egg yolks, and if you apply the wrong amount of heat or the wrong degree of heat you’ll end up breaking your sauce. It’s finicky. However thanks to the magic of the sous-vide we have total and perfect control over the temperature. This gives us a magical unbreakable hollandaise. That’s another half-hour, only at a lower temperature, so I had to adjust the bath downwards. When the time came at dinner, I finished the hollandaise sauce (finishing in this context means adding an appalling mass of butter to the yolk preparation along with a touch of mustard powder – thanks for that trick Dad!), broiled some English muffins topped with cheddar, and the whole thing came together. Thanks to Earl’s excellent photo skills and equipment there’s a fine picture here of the finished product.
Aside from a bit of a panic looking for twist ties for the Saran wrap, this one actually worked pretty much as I imagined it would right from the get-go. Except the perceptive of you will have noticed that on the menu it called for “hollandaise foam“. What’s that all about, you ask?
Well, one of the things Modernists like to do is create weird presentations. The inside-out egg is at least as much Modernist in concept as it is Transporter Accident. Foaming has become a much-used technique. You know how you make whipped cream? Well that technique works on anything that contains fat. So you can turn all sorts of things into foam. I bought a siphon from a Modernist cooking store online and was all set to make hollandaise foam.
I was following along the recipe – my Modernist cookbook’s recipe for sous-vide hollandaise actually contains the extra steps needed for foaming it; I wasn’t even improvising – and after filling the canister (not too full!) I applied the requisite two cartridges of nitrous oxide to it. Failing to note that my Modernist cookbook calls for a 1 litre siphon, and mine is a half litre. So after overpressurizing the hell out of this, I inverted the can as instructed and went to apply it to my dinner.
A little background: this was my testing night. But I was home late from work, and it took a while to get started, and then it turns out that all this fiddling around with zip ties and cellophane and eggs and half hour cooking cycles etc. etc. is all very time-consuming. Also, one of the ingredients for hollandaise sauce is white wine, so your humble cook and narrator was being ecologically friendly and finishing off the rest of the bottle. So by the time we’d actually reached the stage where the eggs were all done, and the muffins broiled, it was slightly after midnight. So not only was I starving, but I really wanted to go to bed. At any rate, inverting the can in the approved manner I slowly applied gentle pressure to the handle.
You know how when, at the end of a can of whipped cream, you get that last little bit where it spits out at you and splatters what remains at high velocity? Well, it’s annoying but never too bad because there’s not much cream left to come out, nor is there much pressure left. Now I want you to imagine twice as much pressure as there is supposed to be, and a can with nearly half a litre of hollandaise sauce to spray out. At first, nothing. A little more pressure, still nothing. Slightly more pressure, and there’s a tiny noise, like a hissing. One tiny iota more pressure, and blam! A fire hose of hollandaise sauce explodes all over the counter. It’s up under the fume hood of the oven, all across the backsplash, up onto the cabinets… it is seriously everywhere. Now I’m drunk, tired, starving, and I have at least an hour of cleanup to do. I sat down and tried to enjoy the food, but somehow the foam that managed to stay on the plate did not seem appetizing to me at this point. It’s not bad in theory, actually; a light and fluffy hollandaise sauce. But it tasted like rage and betrayal in my mouth that night. I don’t think I got to bed until 2:00 am, and this was a weekday.
I wanted to try again, so I ran a practice run again the next night, this time budgeting my time more wisely – but still a late dinner. And this time, I used just one cartridge of compressed nitrous. A light squeeze, gradually increasing the pressure, and this time it was working! The foam was dispensing in a nice tubular pattern as it should! I went to move to the next one, and… blam! Once more, it exploded. After the cleanup, I briefly contemplated my options. This time the plate had at least come out looking okay, if not the kitchen. What if I got a garbage bag out to serve as a backstop for the spray, and finished each plate safely inside? Then I came to my senses and said, as every great chef has done before me, “Fuck it!” Regularly constituted hollandaise sauce would be fine. The siphon has retired to the cupboard, as yet untouched since the fiasco.
All right, Star Trek trivia. Well, the original Star Trek was known for being very progressive for its time, in that many races were represented on the bridge, and presented as equals and not stereotypes. Nichelle Nichols (who played Uhura) is famous for two race-related stories: the first was that she was thinking about quitting the show, because she hadn’t been getting a lot of lines, and no less a person than Martin Luther King, Jr. begged her not to quit. He told her that as a black woman being portrayed as an equal to all the white men on the bridge, and in a non-stereotypical role, she was a tremendous role model to all blacks but particularly black women. Well, in her own words, “when MLK asks you to do something, you do it!” She remained on the show for the rest of its run. The second thing she was famous for was the first interracial kiss on broadcast television. In the context of the show it was forced on the two characters whose bodies were being controlled by aliens, but despite this the show stirred up a firestorm in the American south and many stations refused to run it. Apparently the network was terrified that this would happen, and they asked the show’s director to film two versions of the scene, so they could choose later. One version of the story has it that the cast, knowing that it meant a lot to the show’s creator to break this racist boundary, delayed and fiddled around during filming until the light was almost gone, making it impossible to get the alternate shot. Apparently William Shatner, the other participant in the kiss, made sure to have a goofy face on in the alternate take with the last rays of sunset coming down, in order that the “suits” would have no choice but to air the scene that was written because there was no usable alternative. And so it went out that way, the first interracial TV kiss.
Fast-forward to the Next Generation show in the 80s. Levar Burton played the new engineer, and had previously been famous for playing Kunta Kinte in Roots. He had fond memories of Star Trek from his youth, and recognized the important role it played for showing good role models for black kids. Whoopi Goldberg asked to be allowed to be on the show, in the decade when her career was exploding and she was considered far “above” a TV show like this, for the same reason – to honour the role the original Star Trek played in breaking through black stereotypes. And in a later season, there was one more noteworthy black cast member who appeared on the show. She didn’t get a lot of lines, but she represented perhaps the most direct link to what the character of Uhura represented to black youth in the 60s: the character of Lieutenant Palmer was played by Mae Jemison, real life astronaut and the first black woman in space. She played a transporter operator. I trust she never turned anything inside-out by accident!
100 ml dry white wine
50 g shallots, minced
35 g white wine vinegar
75 g egg yolks (5 or 6)
20 g water, or stock for flavour (depending on what it’s being served on)
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp salt
1 g lemon juice (or malic acid or citric acid), can add more lemon juice to taste
- Combine wine, shallots, and vinegar in a pot. Simmer until the liquid becomes syrupy, about 8 minutes.
- Strain, discarding the solids, and measure 20 g (4 tsp) of the reduction.
- Blend egg yolks and water/stock in with the 4 tsp of reduction.
- Seal in airtight bag (Ziploc container), using the water-displacement method to seal it without air. Cook sous-vide at 149°F for 30 minutes.
- Blend the melted butter into the mixture.
I added some mustard powder for a little “kick”. This is the step to make flavoured variations, by replacing some amount of butter (typically 20 or 40 g) with an equal amount of some other ingredient like hot sauce or garlic.
- Add the salt and lemon juice and serve warm.
You can also add it to a siphon and pressurize it at this point – if you want to paint your kitchen.
This can really be left as an exercise for the reader, but in case you feel like getting scientific, here’s the chart of egg temperatures from Modernist Cooking at Home (as shown in the earlier photo).
|131°F||pasteurized, 2h||pasteurized, 2h||pasteurized, 2h|
|140°F||semiliquid||starting to gel||runny|
|149°F||firm onsen egg||loose||syrupy|
|162°F||peeled yolk is spherical||silky||pasty|
|165°F||both set, best bet||just set||just solid|
|172°F||medium-boiled, elastic||moderately firm||moist|
|180°F||rigid||very firm||slightly dry; greening begins|
|183°F||rigid||rubbery||dry; greening increases|
|187°F||solid||brittle and rubbery||powdery; more greening|
|194°F||solid||very brittle and rubbery||very powdery; a lot of greening|
2 English muffins
4 poached eggs
Sliced sharp cheddar
- Halve the English muffins and place them on a cookie sheet on parchment paper. Broil on a top rack until lightly toasted. Remove from oven.
- Cover each half with sliced cheddar cheese. (Sharp and orange, so as to stand up to the flavours and to also stand out visually.) Return to the oven on broil until the cheese is melted and the muffins are toasted a darker brown than before.
- Plate; top with poached egg. Cover with hollandaise sauce. Serve.