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May 31, 2008

65 degrees of coagulation: Hervé This, Maxim, and the perfect hardboiled egg

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I'm worried.  When Canadians think of French food, visions of soufflés, duck confit, and Camembert dance through our heads and make our mouths water.  The French, not surprisingly, lack a similar frame of reference for us.  I know this because Hervé This, godfather of molecular gastronomy, can apparently think of no comestible more typically Canadian than BeaverTails.  BeaverTails is an Ottawa-based fast food chain whose namesake product is a beaver tail-shaped slab of freshly fried dough sprinkled with any number of sweet toppings.  I admit to having enjoyed a few in my time -- cinnamon, sugar and some freshly squeezed lemon, if you please -- yet when This, grasping for an example of Canadian history and culture, came up with BeaverTails, saying "It's something.  And there are probably some rules for making [them]," it threw me for a loop.

Not that I wasn't intimidated to be interviewing Dr. This in the first place.  It's not every day you get to share a crêpe and a conversation with the world's foremost food scientist, and it's even rarer to be doing it for your first article for the The Globe and Mail.  Everything went smoothly, thankfully. Dr. This's passion for food and science are obvious, and he combines intellectual rigour with a willingness to repeatedly explain complex scientific principles to a certain someone whose limited ability to digest even rudimentary concepts limited him to only two obligatory high school science credits.

Of course, when I'm not interviewing French intellectuals for Canada's newspaper of record, I prefer to let my hair down by photographing eye candy for Maxim Magazine.  Yes, that Maxim.  But, no, not that kind of eye candy.  I cackled when I first read the email from a photo editor at the magazine asking if they could use one of my photos from the post on deep fried Oreos, but there it is on page ninety of the June issue.  I'm proud to have supplied the visual interpretation of a dish comedian Dave Attell describes as looking "like something that comes out of a clown if you tickle him too hard" in the accompanying text; I like to think it takes real skill to make that look appetizing on film.

So what better way to celebrate landmark success than with hardboiled eggs, right?  Now, I'm not talking about just any hardboiled egg, I'm talking about Herve This's signature preparation, the 65-degree egg.  It may seem simple, but a hardboiled egg is actually a difficult preparation to execute well.  At their overcooked worst, hardboiled eggs can be a green, foul-smelling, rubbery atrocity.  65-degree eggs
are the exact opposite: the yolk glistens while the white remains slippery soft, even undercooked to some.  No wonder they're all the rage among chefs.

Dusted with pepper and gilded with a few flakes of sea salt, the gentle textures of the egg pair perfectly with crispy lardons of bacon -- a playful interpretation of the typical North American breakfast.  It's also the perfect preparation for disorganized cooks.  Can't time the toast properly?  No problem, the egg waits for you because it's cooked in either an oven or a pot of water held constant at its final cooking temperature.  Cook them for two hours or a two days, it doesn't matter.  The only trick is to maintain a stable temperature.  I opted for a large pasta pot and a very low gas flame.  It took a little while to get the temperature right, but it was far easier than I suspected.

It made for a delicious late-morning snack, too. Heck, this Canuck would even choose it over a BeaverTail, tradition be damned.

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Comments

adele

65-degree egg? I must be seriously out of the loop, because this is the first time I've read about it.

I'll definitely have to try it myself.

sof

thermal pot works well. just bring temperature back to 65º again after the initial 2 hour soak. Another 4 1/2 hour would yield a just-set yolk and jelly-like white

Barry Pike

Your deep-fried Oreos rock! I am not surprised that your outstanding photograph got picked up either. I made that recipe several times after reading that post and blogged about it myself, giving props where due, of course.

The hardest thing is resisting the urge to simply eat them as one makes them until one swoons and then dies a glorious death.

littlem

Love the shot of the egg yolk!

sandra

fantastic Rob!!
I love your post.. :))
P.s. You come back here in Italy soon??
Have a nice day!

Bob delGrosso

Rob, You bought an immersion heater?

How much did that set you back?

Kevin

Hi, I read the blog often and enjoy it but I felt the need to correct you on the "2 hours or 2 days" quote, mostly because its a widely spread misconception.

While sous vide does allow you to hold some foods past the point of being done it does not allow you to hold foods indefinitely. A piece of meat cooked too long looks inviting but has a mushy and unpleasant texture.

Similarly with a 65 degree egg the whites will remain still loose as it contains proteins that just don't coagulate at lower temperatures however the yolk does and will take on an unpleasant rubbery texture and generally resemble a badly overcooked boiled egg.

I have had this happen at 64.5 C with cooking times of about 8-9 hours but I can't say exactly when this occurs definitively.

Nike Air Max TN

You may remenber the four proverbs:
A bad workman always blames his tools.
A contented mind is a perpetual feast.
A good beginning is half the battle.
A little pot is soon hot.

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