My friend Karen lives in Upstate New York, in the Finger Lakes Region – an area which, because of her, I now think of as the Finger Lickin’ Region.
A couple of years ago, she came to London for the first time and – instantly and rather poetically – came down with the worst cold of her life. Instead of running down Sloane Street, gathering heavy shopping bags until the rope handles cut off the circulation in her fingers; instead of meandering along the Thames by the Houses of Parliament and then strolling up Westminster to see that same view captured in misty, opalescent glory by Monet in the National Gallery; instead of, oh, just having a really lovely time, she spent most of her trip curled up on our fat red sofa covered in my Moroccan blanket, our cats sitting guard, sphinx-like at her feet.
Karen is incredibly gracious. As she reclined there, like a Twenty-First Century Elizabeth Barrett Browning, she made it seem like this was exactly the trip she’d always dreamed of, greeting every cup of tea or bowl of soup as though it were a miraculous thing. One day I made her poached eggs on toast and you’d have thought I’d treated her to the tasting menu at the Fat Duck.
I owe Karen a lot, for her friendship and wisdom, for her bountiful good humour and encouragement, but for our purposes, I owe her credit for the title of my blog. We end our many emails across the ocean with silly, often foodie, good wishes. One day, she signed off ‘Love and a licked spoon, Karen x’. It encapsulates everything that’s important to me – friendship, food, fun. So Karen, this is for you, and anyone else who really, really wants to know how to poach an egg.
I love this Turkish recipe for its simplicity of execution and complexity of flavour. An egg is a miraculous and wonderful thing, so please don’t torture them in one of those hideous egg poacher contraptions. They result in eggs that look like something from a joke shop or, worse, a 1970s boarding house dining room.
Some people add vinegar to the poaching water as it helps keep the white together but, however little I add, I can still taste it so I leave it out and rely on my little whirlpool to keep the shape. Don’t add salt to the water – this will make the white spread out more. Season after cooking. In this case, paprika, chilli and mint should do the trick.
1 small garlic clove
A good pinch of sea salt
About a teacup full of whole milk yoghurt
3 tbsps unsalted butter
½ tsp of sweet, smoked paprika
2 eggs, the fresher the better
A pinch of chilli flakes (I use Isot, the finely crushed chilli flakes from Urfa, but any will do)
A sprinkling of dried mint (optional)
Bring a large pan of water to the boil. As we all know, a watched pot never boils, so make the sauce while you’re waiting. On a board, chop the garlic clove into a paste with the salt. Whisk it into the yoghurt and set aside. Warm the butter in a small frying pan over a medium-low heat until melted. Add the paprika and chilli flakes, stir and remove from the heat.
Gently break the eggs onto two saucers. When you have the water at a good, rolling boil, stir it vigorously with a wooden spoon until you have a swirling vortex. Tip one of the eggs into the middle of the whirlpool and watch as the white folds over the yolk. Cook for two to three minutes depending on their size, until the white is set and the yolk still runny. Remove with a slotted spoon and put onto kitchen paper to drain. Repeat with the second egg.
Spread half of the yoghurt onto each of the plates, top with an egg, trickle over the paprika chilli butter and sprinkle on the dried mint. Eat immediately.
If you want to make this for a brunch and don’t fancy doing poached eggs for a dozen people on a sleepy, Sunday morning, do what chefs do and cook them the day before. Poach as above and plunge them immediately into a bowl of iced water. Refrigerate and then, when you’re ready to serve, warm them through for no more than 30 seconds in boiling water.