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How to make poached eggs that are not yucky

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I have a complicated relationship with eggs. It's not that I don't like them, but they have to be cooked exactly right or I get a little bit grossed out. So when Jack Bishop of the PBS TV show "America's Test Kitchen" wanted me to make a recipe with runny poached eggs, I was a smidge reticent.

JACK BISHOP: Hello, Rachel. How are you?

MARTIN: Jack Bishop, we're going to be doing something that is going to push my personal and culinary boundaries today.

BISHOP: Yeah, I hear you're egg curious.

MARTIN: Egg curious - I'm not. I'm not that curious. I made up my mind a long time ago. My curiosity is dead. I like eggs over, hard as a rock, or scrambled dry as a bone. No runny substance anywhere - ever.

BISHOP: So I'm going to share a story. I'm 58. I'm a food professional my entire career. And until maybe eight or ten years ago, I never ate a runny egg ever.

MARTIN: Right - because you're a smart man. I can tell (laughter).

BISHOP: I think I was limiting my horizons.

MARTIN: OK, say more - mmm hmm.

BISHOP: I grew up the same - with you, which is that eggs were either, you know, cooked into a frittata - not a runny omelet - or really, really scrambled eggs, with no loose bits whatsoever.

MARTIN: Yes.

BISHOP: You know, for me, it was becoming an embarrassing liability, right? I'm a professional.

MARTIN: Right. Right.

BISHOP: And around me, there were people who were singing the praises of a gently poached egg. And I'm like, thanks, but no thanks, you know? And now I actually kind of adore it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A POACHED EGG WITHOUT TOAST")

ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing) I'm a poached egg without a piece of toast when I'm without you.

MARTIN: Yeah, there is no way I'm going to adore poached eggs, but I was willing to give it a shot. After all, as Mark Twain wrote, courage is the mastery of fear. On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin said, it takes courage to make a fool of yourself. Either way, I was all in.

BISHOP: We're going to be poaching eggs in a delicious shakshuka - the North African dish, Mediterranean dish - which is, you know, has thick sauce - so rather than poaching it in water. So we're going to give you more options beyond, you know, hard, hard, dry, overcooked eggs.

MARTIN: All right, Jack. Well, I accept your challenge.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHOPPING)

MARTIN: This recipe calls for eight - eight poached eggs, so I was going to have to dig deep to make this happen. But it also has stuff in there that I do like - chickpeas, roasted red peppers and chopped onions.

Someone once told me that you could put lemon juice on your knife when you're cutting an onion, and it would make it easier to cut it, and you wouldn't cry so much. Do you believe that?

BISHOP: No.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

BISHOP: We actually have tested, here at "America's Test Kitchen," probably 20 different methods for preventing crying, and there are really only three that work - contact lenses, onion goggles or ski goggles - they actually make goggles for this purpose - and then a pair of glasses. They're not as tight a seal, but they're going to keep some of the compounds that are released into the air. But rinsing the onion, lighting a candle - I hadn't actually heard about the lemon juice, but it's not going to prevent crying.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRYING")

ROY ORBISON: (Singing) That I've been crying over you. Crying over you.

MARTIN: If this shakshuka recipe were a house, the foundation would be the sauce. It's made from crushed tomatoes. It's rich and thick and forms a sturdy platform for the poached eggs.

BISHOP: So to poach the eggs, what we're going to do is we're going to use the back of a spoon to basically create little divots in the tomato sauce.

MARTIN: Like, little pockets?

BISHOP: Yeah. So each indentation is roughly about an inch and a half, and we're going to do seven around the perimeter of the pan and then one in the center, and then we're going to crack the eggs into each of those little indentations.

MARTIN: Yeah, I got you.

BISHOP: So you have two options here for egg cracking. We can either crack the eggs - believe it or not, it is better to do it on the counter than the side of a bowl.

MARTIN: I have to say, I'm pretty good at this. I learned this from Ma Ingalls on "Little House On The Prairie" when I was young. I watched her crack an egg with one hand and, I don't know, it just stuck. It's, like, deep in my subconscious, so I feel pretty confident. All right, here we go - first one.

(SOUNDBITE OF EGG CRACKING)

MARTIN: Oh, my gosh. Oh, that was beautiful. OK. Thank you, Ma Ingalls.

(SOUNDBITE OF EGG CRACKING)

MARTIN: Oh, one piece of shell. She spoke too soon. Get out of there, little guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF EGG TIMER TICKING)

MARTIN: Fast forward through the magic of radio - all the eggs cracked and nestled in their tomatoey beds, sauce simmering. Eight minutes later...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

BISHOP: All right. The moment is here. You're going to dig into the dish, and I want you to, like, you know, put a fork into that yolk and...

MARTIN: Should I mix it up? Like, what do you think?

BISHOP: No. I want you to just dig right in.

MARTIN: Just dig right in. Oh, gosh - oh. I have, like, a little bit of a childhood phobia. OK. Oh, the yolk is just going all over the place. OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLURPING)

MARTIN: Oh, hot. Mmm. Mmm. Well, that's interesting. It doesn't taste like egg at all - just goes right into the sauce, and it just makes the sauce kind of creamier.

BISHOP: Yeah, it's really - it's adding richness here.

MARTIN: Yeah, right. I thought I was going to taste just a bunch of runny egg, and that's not what I'm tasting, you'll be pleased to know. Let me see.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLURPING)

MARTIN: Pretty good, Jack. Pretty good.

BISHOP: I notice you're going back in - third, fourth bite (laughter).

MARTIN: I - that's right. I did. I did. No one forced me to do that. I just went back in of my own accord. It's very rich and warm. This is a beautiful, like, late winter dish.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLURPING)

MARTIN: I'm going back in. I'm still not ordering sunny-side-up eggs. Like, let's just be clear. I'm not doing that. But this way - pretty good.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLURPING)

BISHOP: I feel like my mission is accomplished here.

MARTIN: Your work here is done. Jack Bishop from "America's Test Kitchen." Thank you so much. This was so, so fun.

BISHOP: So the medic that we had on call - we can dismiss the medic at this point?

MARTIN: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A POACHED EGG WITHOUT TOAST")

FITZGERALD: (Singing) I'm a poached egg without a piece of toast... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.