Saturday, December 15, 2012

Vegetarian Egg Muffin

My first job, apart from working in my dad's paint store color-matching samples of paint chips, was, like many people, at Mc Donald's. It was right around the corner from my house. My buddy Andy and I would work breakfast, which meant waking up (or in many cases, staying up) until 4 a.m. to get the crates of eggs, muffins, gravy mix, and cheese up from the basement cooler and into the kitchen and start cooking. I actually learned a lot about cooking in those years. Burger University was my first and only formal culinary training. We had to memorize cook times, frying temperatures, and the stats on just about every item McDonalds sold in order to become a manager. That's right -- I was a manager at McDonald's when I was 16. I was also vegan at the time. Weird, I know!

We used real eggs in those days, but that was over 20 years ago. I'm not sure how they do it now. Today, I'm still making a version of America's favorite breakfast sandwich, but with a few key changes. We like to use a whole-wheat English muffin, cheddar cheese, and a simple cured slice of portobello mushroom, a terrific vegetarian stand-in for Canadian bacon.

Vegetarian Egg Muffin 

2 thick, large portobello mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cane sugar (like Whole Foods 365 brand)
3-4 drops liquid smoke
4 slices sharp cheddar cheese (like Whole Foods 365 brand)
4 whole-wheat English muffins (split, toasted)
4 poached eggs*

The first step to making this breakfast sandwich is to cure the mushroom slices overnight, so it's best to do this ahead of time. Slice the mushrooms about 1/4-inch thick starting at the top of the mushroom and working across parallel to the gills. (You should be able to get 3 to 4 slices out of each mushroom before getting to the gills.) Save the gills and the rest of the scraps for another use. Mix the kosher salt and sugar together in a small bowl. Into a glass container, place a slice of the mushroom and sprinkle it with the salt and sugar mixture. Continue until all slices and seasoning have been used. Add the liquid smoke, cover, and place in the fridge overnight. The salt and sugar will draw a lot of moisture from the mushrooms. 

To assemble, place the cheese on the toasted  muffin. Sear cured mushroom slices in a a hot, dry pan for a few seconds until brown. Place 1 or 2 mushroom slices on top of the cheese, top with poached egg, salt, pepper, and the muffin top. Wrap it up and take it on-the-go or sit down and enjoy it with a cup of espresso. Either way, it beats the drive through.

Makes 4 breakfast sandwiches.

*How to poach an egg: Fill a 10-inch frying pan 1/2 full of water and set it over medium 
heat. Add to it 1/ 4 cup white vinegar and 1/8 cup kosher salt. That seems like a lot of salt, but think of it like salting pasta water. Once the water starts to gently simmer, slowly crack an egg into the water. By slowly I mean open it halfway and let the albumen touch the water for a few seconds then gently let the rest of the egg fall into the water. This will make for a more compact egg. Be patient! Once the white has mostly set, you may flip the egg using a spatula. Push the egg against the curved edge of the pan and it should flip. Flipping it makes it cook faster, but you will loose that beautiful yellow yolk showing.

It takes about 5 minutes for a runny yolk, 6 for a slightly set yolk, and 7 to 8 to form a little, yellow, rubber ball of a yolk. You can poach the eggs ahead of time and cool them in an ice bath once they are cooked to your liking. To reheat them place them in hot water for a few seconds.

The trick is the vinegar. It coagulates the albumen as soon as it hits the water so the egg doesn't go everywhere.

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