Monday 27 April 2009

For Karen, with love (and a licked spoon) x


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.

Serves 2

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.


  1. Gee whiz, it's hard to type with tears in your eyes, but I'll try. Aren't you the living end, my dear British darlin'? In fact, it WAS the trip of my dreams, for what tourist trap could ever hold the memories of the essence of London more than your cozy, cat-guarded castle? Off to poach the living daylights out of an egg,

    Your Lanky Yankee with a Hanky

  2. Well, dear one, you must come back soon, dosed up with Vitamin C. We miss you! And do, by all means, poach the living daylights out of that egg, but only for 2-3 minutes, depending on its size.

    Love and, of course, a licked spoon,


  3. I promise to poach it with TLC (and no vinegar!). I'll make these soon and let you know how it goes (maybe tonight? Who knows?)

    Giving you a standing OV-ation,

  4. This is Karen's son, whom I'm sure she has addressed at least once or twice.

    I can't agree more with how you approach a poached egg. My chef in my first kitchen did it the same way, although he employed a LOT of vinegar (I hate the taste of vinegar in almost anything, unless it's a vinaigrette), and I vowed to learn a different way.

    I'm on board with the swirling.

    Paprika! Mint! I love you already, and we've never met. This is what gets me all atwitter when I talk with/read from other cooks. The flavors! What they're doing in their kitchens both at work and ESPECIALLY at home. What're they making on their days off? THAT'S when the magic happens.

    Paprika and mint. I can't WAIT to make poached eggs again at home.

    I tremble, I tremelo, I love and lick my spoon.


  5. Caleb! How lovely to read your words. Your mum talks about you often and I feel like I 'know' you a bit. So pleased you agree about the vinegar - it's so often given as the secret ingredient to successful poached eggs and yet I think it ruins the flavour, masking the delicious eggy-ness with its overwhelming astringency. Do try this easy little dish - I love it, but then garlic, paprika, chilli, mint - what's not to love?

    Love, Dx

  6. Although famous for being the non-cooking mother I too can poach eggs in a non-vinegar swirl that taste quite nice. Garlic, paprika, chilli and mint. (If you chant it, it sounds like a poem). But on eggs? You'll have to make them for me in France next week an we'll see if they pass the non-cooking mother-test.
    PS Caleb sounds like such a nice tremelo kind of person who would cook with a zany kind of love.

  7. This is lovely...mother-daughter, mother-son. When Debora's mother has the chance to eat these eggs next week in France (oh, that I were writing those lines!!), I'll have to wait a while for Caleb to cook for me. My best to you both and give France a huge Yankee hug from her biggest fan.
    Karen, swirling gently in the family circle...

  8. I've read before that you can poach eggs in advance...but never quite believed it. I'm gonna give it a try on my daughter who always wants a poached egg, but there's never time before school.

  9. I do use vinegar - and I guess I love vinegar so much I don't mind - but what of my family? And poached ahead of time? This is a wonderful post! I am carefully going through this and bookmarking it. Adore poached eggs and this is so pretty - it does justice to the egg!

  10. Hello Karen, meet my mum, mum, meet Karen,how funny.

    Catherine - I hope that Emma enjoys her eggs!

    Claudia - Thanks so much for your nice comments. I learned the egg trick from a chef at a restaurant which was a very popular weekend brunch place. I wondered how they turned out what must have been a 100 perfect poached eggs in quite a short space of time, and he let me in on his secret. I've been grateful ever since.

  11. This looks truly delish! I would have licked the spoon.

  12. And the plate. The above was a joke (ha ha)

  13. Hello Girl,

    I'm glad to hear it - we heartily approve of spoon licking around here. And plate licking, on rare, usually private, occassions.


  14. Stumbled on your blog from the Foodie Blog roll, and was blown away by that poached egg photo. Ugh, it makes me hungry!

    I was also secretly delighted at the mention of the Finger Lakes, which is where my hubby and I live. Do you mind if I add you to the bloglist on our site?

  15. Hello Dana,

    Thanks so much for visiting my blog and do try the eggs. They're fast, cheap and delicious - I often make them for lunch by myself and even though they take less than 10 minutes, it feels like an incredibly luxurious treat.

    And I'd be DELIGHTED if you added me to your bloglist.

    Have a lovely weekend,


  16. How did I miss this post and the comments - how I remember reading about this trip to London and your ministrations to a sniffly Karen. It's good to know that Delphine de Londres is still around - though I miss your compatriot Antoinette. If you hear from her give her my best.


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