May 13, 2012

Poached Eggs with Basil and Smashed Avocado, Mushrooms, Spinach, Bacon and Hollandaise Sauce on Sourdough Toast

Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful mums out there! I have much respect for mothers - no matter who you are or where you come from, life as a mum is not easy. However, without sounding too biased, I think my mum is the best in the world! :P

For brunch today, I cooked a meal full of our favourite breakfast foods - mushrooms, avocado, spinach, eggs and bacon on sourdough toast. Initially, I was tossed up between the idea of making either pancakes or crepes, but then finally decided a well-rounded breakfast finished off with fresh hollandaise sauce would hit the spot best - and it sure did, mum was very satisfied by the end of it! 

This was my second attempt at poaching eggs (method obtained from - the yolk was beautifully runny in the centre, but for some reason, I had a problem with the final shape of the poached egg. I forgot to take a photo of the eggs after poaching, but they were all quite flat and neatly round in shape, rather than taking on the rustic 3D 'teardrop' shape we see in cafes. Perhaps I didn't fill the saucepan with enough water and the egg just dropped to the bottom when I slid it in?

I must also admit that the idea of making hollandaise sauce freaks me out a little. It could be from all the hype created about yolk-based sauces being vulnerable to splitting and overcooking, but the washing-up-after-cooking side in me also thinks it is too much trouble to start a sauce from scratch. Well, that was up until I came across the recipe in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (one of the few cookbooks that I actually refer to on a regular basis). It made realise that nothing compares to freshly whisked hollandaise sauce - warm, rich, luscious and moreish. I was surprised to discover that the method is quite basic - there is just a lot of wording in the recipe to ensure that you do the process correctly; And it literally takes less than 5 minutes to make! I highly recommend for you try it out if you haven't made hollandaise sauce before :)

Serves 4:
- 4 thick slices sourdough bread
- 2 avocados, ripened
- 1 tbs pesto
- 1 tbs butter
- 500g mixed mushrooms, roughly sliced (I used button, shiitake and field)
- 1 tbs oregano leaves
- 4 bacon rashers, rind removed
- 400g baby spinach
- 20g Fontina cheese, grated (substitutes: gruyere, gouda, provolone, swiss)
- Basil leaves and extra virgin olive oil, to garnish
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Poached Eggs:
- 4 fresh eggs, at room temperature (to maintain the temperature of the poaching water when the eggs are added)
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp salt

Hollandaise Sauce (makes 1-1½ cups):
- 175g-225g butter
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tbs lemon juice
- 1 tbs cold water
- Big pinch sea salt
- Large pan or bowl of cold water, set aside
- 2 tbs cold butter
- Sea salt, cracked white pepper and drops of lemon juice, to taste

Poached Eggs:
First poach the eggs, working with one egg at a time. Crack one egg into a small bowl. Fill a wide saucepan with water until approximately 10cm deep. Add the lemon juice and salt (adding vinegar or lemon juice to the water when poaching helps the eggwhites to set quickly and keeps them attached to the yolks). Bring to the boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium-low. The water is at the right temperature for poaching when it is just simmering - there should be small bubbles rising from the base of pan and small ripples across the top of the water.

Fill a medium bowl with cold water and set aside. Using a wooden spoon or whisk, stir the water vigorously in one direction until it forms a whirlpool, which will help the eggs set in a neat shape.

Slide the cracked egg into the centre of the whirlpool as close to the surface of the water as possible. Cook for 3 minutes for a soft yolk or 4 minutes for a semi-set yolk. Do not stir the water again. To test whether the egg is cooked, use a slotted spoon to lift the egg out of the water and gently press the yolk with your finger. For a soft yolk, the white should be set and the yolk should yield. For a firmer yolk, the yolk will only yield slightly.

Use the slotted spoon to carefully lift the poached egg out of the saucepan and slide it into the bowl of cold water. This will stop the cooking process. Remove and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Return the water to the boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low. When the water is at poaching temperature, use a large metal spoon to skim any foam from the surface. Repeat the poaching with the remaining eggs, then set the plate of poached eggs aside to be reheated just before serving.

Eggs can be poached up to 2 hours before serving and kept at room temperature until ready to be reheated. If you are poaching more than 6 eggs at a time, rinse the saucepan and use a fresh batch of water, lemon juice and salt, as the poaching water tends to become cloudy with threads of egg white.

To reheat the eggs, refill the saucepan with fresh water and bring to the boil over high heat. Turn off the heat. Use the slotted spoon to carefully transfer the eggs to the saucepan. Cover and set aside for 1 minute. Use the slotted spoon to lift the eggs out of the saucepan, resting the spoon on folded paper towel for a couple of seconds to absorb any excess water. Then slide the eggs onto your serving plate.

Hollandaise Sauce:
Next, make the hollandaise sauce. Cut the butter into pieces and melt it in a small saucepan over medium heat. Set aside. Beat the egg yolks for about 1 minute in a medium heat-proof bowl with a wire whisk, or until they become thick and sticky. Add the water, lemon juice and salt, and beat for half a minute more.

Add 1 tablespoon of the cold butter, but do not beat it in. Then place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water and stir the egg yolks with the whisk until they slowly thicken into a smooth cream. This will take 1-2 minutes. If they seem to be thickening too quickly, or even suggest a lumpy quality, immediately plunge the bottom of the bowl in the pan of cold water, beating the yolks to cool them. Then continue beating over the heat. The egg yolks have thickened enough when you can begin to see the bottom of the bowl between strokes, and the mixture forms a light cream on the wires of the whisk.

Immediately remove from the heat and beat in the last tablespoon of the cold butter, which will cool the egg yolks and stop their cooking.

Then beating the egg yolks with the wire whisk, pour on the melted butter by droplets or quarter-teaspoonfuls until the sauce begins to thicken into a very heavy cream. Then pour the butter a little more rapidly. Omit the milky residue at the bottom of the butter pan.

Season the sauce to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

- Keeping the sauce warm: Hollandaise is served warm, not hot. If it is kept too warm, it will thin out or curdle. It can be held perfectly for an hour or more in a pan of lukewarm water.

- If the sauce is too thick: Beat in 1-2 tablespoons of hot water, vegetable cooking liquid, stock, milk or cream.

- If the sauce refuses to thicken: If you have beaten your butter too quickly, and the sauce refuses to thicken, it can be easily fixed. Rinse out a mixing bowl with hot water. Put in a teaspoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of the sauce. Beat with a wire whisk for a moment until the sauce creams and thickens. Then beat in the rest of the sauce, half a tablespoon at a time, beating until each addition has thickened in the sauce before adding the next. This always works!

- If the sauce curdles or separates - "turned sauce": If a finished sauce starts to separate, a tablespoon of cold water beaten into it will often bring it back. If not, use the previous technique.

- Leftover hollandaise: Leftover hollandaise may be refrigerated for a day or two, or even frozen. To use again, beat 2 tablespoons of it in a saucepan over very low heat or hot water. Gradually beat in the rest of the sauce by spoonfuls.

Smashed Avocado:
After poaching the eggs and making the hollandaise sauce, prepare the avocados. Halve each avocado and carefully remove the centre pip. Use the tip of a knife to cut a criss-cross pattern through the flesh of the avocado halves (like you would with a mango). Scrape the cut flesh out with a spoon, into a bowl. Add the pesto and mix to combine, slightly squashing the avocado with the back of a spoon. Season with cracked black pepper. Set aside.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add a splash of olive oil and the tablespoon of butter. Saute the mushrooms for 3 minutes with a pinch of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Toss through the oregano leaves and continue cooking for another minute or so, until the mushrooms are juicy. Transfer to a warm bowl, cover with foil and set aside.

Sourdough bread:
Lay the slices of sourdough on a baking tray, lined with baking paper, and place in a 180°C preheated oven for 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, wipe the frying pan, used for the mushrooms, clean with a paper towel. Fry the bacon on 2 minutes each side, until golden and fragrant.

At this stage, the sourdough should be ready - warm and slightly crisp. Begin to assemble the dish: Lay 4 dinner-sized plates out next to one another on the kitchen bench. Place a slice of sourdough toast on each plate, then evenly top with the smashed avocado, the mushrooms and the poached egg. Lay the bacon next to the sourdough bread.

Re-heat the frying pan used for the bacon and add the spinach. Saute for 1 minute, then add the grated cheese, season with a pinch of salt and pepper and mix to combine. Evenly divide the spinach between the 4 plates, alongside the bacon and sourdough toast.

Finally, finish the dish off with a sprinkle of basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. Bon Apetit!

 Poached Eggs with Basil and Smashed Avocado, Mushrooms, Spinach, Bacon and Hollandaise Sauce on Sourdough Toast

Poached Egg with Basil and Smashed Avocado, Oregano Buttered Mushrooms and Hollandaise Sauce on Sourdough Toast (Inspired by one of Snow Pony's classic dishes)

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