Daniel Patterson of Coi Restaurant in San Francisco was the only American chef to be invited to this year's Omnivore Food Festival in Le Havre, France. He walked onto the big stage, faced the audience and the camera crew from Cuisine TV (France's Food Network), smiled shyly, greeted everyone in soft school-boy French and then proceeded to keep the mostly French audience of food pros, press and Michelin-starred chefs hushed and wide-eyed.
Patterson, an autodidact (the word, describing anyone self-taught in anything, seems to come more trippinly off the tongue of French- than English-speakers), is a writer, an author, the chef of a restaurant that fits squarely into the Omnivore ideal - it is small, original and ferociously personal - and a guy who's curious about the world around him, which explains his collaboration with the perfumer Mandy Aftel (he used her essential oils in his first two dishes), his invention of kitchen tools (I want the metal plates he used to weight fish while it cooked) and his exploration into the eccentricities of eggdom.
While Patterson may be known for many other things, the Omnivorians will probably remember him for his poached scrambled eggs, a technique he developed and later wrote about in The New York Times.
Basically, you put a pot of salted water up to boil, beat four eggs, stir the water so that you create a little vortex, pour in the eggs, cover the pot, count to 20, then strain the eggs. What you get is not beautiful - if you want to give it a better look, you've got to roll it in a tea towel, a simple act that rounds out the eggs and allows you to call the resulting dish a roulade - but the texture is fabulous, almost like a soufflÃ©, light and fluffy, but not uniformly set.
I was so intrigued by the method that I cooked up a quartet of eggs as soon as I got back to Paris and then I repeated the trick on our shores. Both times, the eggs were a success and I got a kick out of making them. Is it a parlor game? It might be. Is it worth playing? Yup.
A word about the eggs: Patterson discovered that his technique works best with super-fresh eggs that have thick, cohesive whites (whites thin as eggs age - a bonus when you're making meringue, a liability when you're poaching-scrambling), but he and food scientist Harold McGee came up with a way to get the most out of eggs that are a little less than perfect: crack each egg onto a slotted spoon and let the thinner whites drip down.
And a word on flavoring: The eggs can't be flavored before they're cooked -everything has to happen afterward. You can serve the eggs drizzled with butter or olive oil, sprinkled with herbs, covered with sauce or topped with grated cheese that can be quickly browned under the broiler; crÃ¨me fraiche and caviar wouldn't be bad either.
Daniel Patterson's Poached Scrambled Eggs
(adapted from The New York Times)
Makes 2 servings
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Crack each egg into a medium-mesh sieve or slotted spoon, letting the thin white drain away. Transfer the remaining white and yolk to a small bowl. Beat the eggs vigorously with a fork.
Set a medium saucepan filled with 4 inches of water over moderate heat. Put a strainer in the sink. When the water is at a low boil, add a few large pinches of salt, then stir in a clockwise direction to create a whirlpool. Pour the eggs into the moving water.
Cover the pot and count to 20. Turn off the heat and uncover the pot. The eggs should be floating on the surface in ribbons.
While holding back the eggs with a spoon, pour off most of the water. Gently slide the eggs into the strainer and press them lightly to squeeze out any excess liquid.
Scoop the eggs into bowls, drizzle with olive oil, if desired, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Or, if you'd like, turn the eggs out onto a clean dishtowel and roll the eggs to shape them into a cylinder; slice into rounds.