The Basted Egg: A Foolproof Play On The Poach

Aug 9, 2015
Originally published on September 24, 2015 12:31 am

This summer, NPR is getting crafty in the kitchen. As part of Weekend Edition's Do Try This at Home series, chefs are sharing their cleverest hacks and tips — taking expensive, exhausting or intimidating recipes and tweaking them to work in any home kitchen.

This week: We learn an unusual technique for cooking eggs to give you a silky, yolky sauce for huevos racheros.

The Chef

I grew up in a small mining town in the West, Carlsbad, N.M. My dad had a grocery store, and my mother, June Cozby, was a very good cook with a soft spot for overripe fruit and very dark red beef. She taught me to make foolproof eggs — tender and soft, kind of a cross between poached and over easy. These are the kind of eggs that go on top of something — maybe a plate of asparagus, or a stack of red chile enchiladas, or a salad. Because the yolks are soft, they become like a sauce, especially delicious on enchiladas.

The Hard Way

Fancy restaurants often include a lightly poached duck egg in an elegant salad. Poaching involves boiling water, swirling an egg around in it so the white will stay neatly curled around the yolk, and practicing it a lot so you recognize the moment it is perfectly done. It's not exactly hard, but it is easy to get it wrong. Not so with June's method for basted eggs.

The Hack

Start with a small skillet with a glass lid. Put the skillet on the stove on medium heat and pour in a little oil (canola is good). As the oil warms, wipe it around the skillet. Crack the egg in the skillet, fill half an eggshell with water and add that and then pop on the lid.

Here is the hardest part. You have to stand over the egg and watch it cook. It doesn't take long, but if you miss the moment, you don't get a soft yolk. So you watch the egg through the steamy, blurry glass lid. Suddenly you will notice that the yolk is changing color around the edges. As you watch, the color will creep up to cover the yolk, and when the yolk is almost pink, you take it out of the skillet and serve.

That's a plain basted egg. You can eat it as is, on toast, slide it over warmed up leftovers — it will improve almost anything.

Here's another version: Toast a corn tortilla in a dry skillet until it gets a few brown spots on each side. Oil the skillet as above. Put the tortilla in the bottom and crack the egg on the tortilla. Add half an eggshell of tomato salsa, and put the lid on the skillet and hover over it until the yolk turns pink. Scoop the tortilla and egg onto a plate, add some grated cheese and serve.

(If you want to serve a family of four, you need a bigger skillet with a glass lid, one tortilla per egg, and one half-eggshell of salsa per egg. Don't even think about a flour tortilla.)

The Plate

I serve huevos rancheros with some avocado slices, a sprig of cilantro and a few tortilla chips, extra salsa to pass. You can drink whatever you like, but in Carlsbad, N.M., you'd drink hot coffee.

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Preparing the perfect egg isn't easy - making sure it's not too dry, not to runny. Well, it turns out our very own Linda Wertheimer is really good at cooking eggs. Who knew? So for our summer series Do Try this At Home, Linda invited NPR's Andrew Limbong into her kitchen. And she showed him an easy trick to make sure you'll never start the morning off with a dry, rubbery, overcooked egg.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Linda Wertheimer grew up in Carlsbad, N.M., where she learned this technique from her mom going back generations. Now she cooks out of her home in Washington, D.C. in a compact kitchen with a small island in the center and cabinets around the sides. That's where she keeps her glass lids, which are going to come in handy. So let's take it from the top. Here's what you need, a pan...

LINDA WERTHEIMER, BYLINE: Lightly greased, about an eggshell's worth of water.

LIMBONG: And then the lid.

WERTHEIMER: Use a glass lid so you can watch it.

LIMBONG: Here's how it works. The pan goes on the stove. The egg goes in the pan.

WERTHEIMER: Here goes the egg.


LIMBONG: Now, here's the trick. Pour that eggshell's worth of water right into the pan. Then, put the glass lid on so you can see what's happening. The water will steam the egg. And that's the difference.

WERTHEIMER: And when it's exactly ready, you can pop the lid off. So this is just, you know, (singing) da, da, da.

LIMBONG: Wait. But this isn't a good time to brush your teeth or making coffee or something 'cause you're looking for a pinkish film to just form over the yolk. And that's when you know it's done.

WERTHEIMER: (Singing) Ahh. That's not complicated (laughter).

LIMBONG: It's a delicate piece of protein.

WERTHEIMER: This is something between a fried egg and a poached egg.

LIMBONG: Asparagus might go great with these eggs. Or you can put it over toast, on a salad, eat it as is if that's your sort of thing. This might not win you any style points on "Top Chef." It's just a way of making the perfect egg without screwing up. You can also make an easy pivot to huevos rancheros.

WERTHEIMER: Now, my idea of huevos rancheros from growing up in New Mexico is an egg, some salsa and cheese on a tortilla. This is one-pot cooking.

LIMBONG: She starts over again to show us. Slightly brown your favorite brand of corn tortilla on both sides, and crack an egg on top of it.


WERTHEIMER: Now I'm going to put about two tablespoons of salsa in. I'm just using bottled salsa from the supermarket.

LIMBONG: This time, the salsa is steaming the egg instead of the water. So don't forget that lid. And wait again.


LIMBONG: You're looking for that same film over the yolk. And once you spot it, slide the whole thing onto a plate.

WERTHEIMER: Now, a proper egg - huevos rancheros - a proper huevo should have a little cheese, don't you think? This is just cheddar cheese. You could use Manchego. You could use anything.

LIMBONG: And that's kind of the beauty of this simple technique. Because the egg hits that sweet spot between over and undercooked, you can do whatever you want with it. Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.