May I tempt you with this alluring and sophisticated dish?
It’s a poached egg in soup.
Used since ancient Greek times to woo one’s objet d’amour, poached egg in soup remains one of the most alluring, enchanting and salacious gastronomical expressions of undying passion. The egg, representing fertility and perched perkily upon the thick molten soup, is like an unblinking bulbous eye within which you glimpse an unmistakeable come-hither look.
Or so I imagine. All I can say is that this is my loving, labour-intense, bizarre, gastronomical tribute to Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, one of the greatest television shows ever. In the mighty concluding episode of the series, Dr Lucien Sanchez, hotshot surgeon, woos Linda, the woman who is slowly turning into broccoli, using an egg poached in soup. Such a poignant and beautiful gesture… that looks like this:
My variation has nothing on the original, of course, but I have exerted myself and my creativity to produce this dessert version of the egg poached in soup: a strawberry mousse tinged with Grand Marnier and dark chocolate (and a bucket of food colouring — damn, that mousse was a delicate pale pink), a circle of vanilla milk gel, and a yolk made out of a sphere of saffron-flavoured apricot nectar.
And so with this I salute you, Garth Marenghi: author, dream-weaver, visionary, plus actor. You taught me to love, and to convey that love through an egg poached in soup (mayhap with a pork pie or sausage roll). If only there was more of such epic beauty in the world.
(Darkplace Episode 1 Part 1 here.)
As for the neuroscience for this post, just a quick mention of something very interesting I came across when reading up on lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, when people experience particular tastes in response to hearing, reading or thinking particular words (see my previous post if you haven’t already).
We’re all familiar with that indecently enraging thing known as the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. You’re trying to think of a word and YOU. JUST. CAN’T. BUT. YOU. HAVE. ALMOST. GOT. IT. IT’S ON THE TIP OF MY TONGUE. OH. GOD. I’M SO ANGRY. This is a pretty difficult thing to research — everyone will have different words that cause this phenomenon for them (compromise and renege do this to me endlessly for some reason, and yes, they did it while I was writing this, gaaarrghhh), and once you’ve reminded someone of the word then there’s no point in testing them with that word again any time soon.
Apparently researchers have worked out some words that are pretty good at generating the phenomenon. For example, “What’s the name of the navigation instrument you use to measure the angle between two objects?” — the answer is a sextant, which is apparently a difficult word to recall (I had no problem recalling when my psychology lecturer asked that in one of my undergraduate courses, and it’s not like I’ve ever so much as held one, although at least half of the class did have trouble recalling the name). Another one that often generates tip-of-the-tongue is platypus, apparently. That’s really not going to work for anyone who grew up in Australia, that’s for sure — I think most 5-year-olds here could name a platypus without hesitation.
Anyway, the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon occurs when you can access the word’s meaning from your memory, but you can’t quite remember its actual sound.
The particularly interesting part is when you try to generate a tip-of-the-tongue state in a lexical-gustatory synaesthete. Why?
Because they experience the taste before they can recall the word.
So for instance, one participant, MK, was shown a picture of castanets and was asked to say what they were. She couldn’t quite remember the name, but she did experience the taste of tuna while trying to figure out the name of what she was looking at. Then, later on, when she was asked what taste is usually associated with castanets, she confirmed it was tuna. And just to be extra thorough and make sure she wasn’t just saying that castanets was associated with the taste of tuna because that’s what the researchers would like to hear, a year later, the participants in this study were given a surprise re-test and asked which tastes were associated with which words. And yep, MK again said that castanets was associated with tuna.
This tells us something pretty interesting about lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, then: it’s not the actual phonological sound of the word that triggers the associated taste, but its meaning, since the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon occurs when you can dredge up the word’s meaning from your memory but can’t quite get the word itself.
Which makes it all the more odd that these synaesthetes experience tastes in association with made-up, non-existent words, like keach or spluk (like I mentioned in this post). Maybe there are different levels of processing going on in lexical-gustatory synaesthesia? One involving the meaning of words and one involving their orthographic and phonological aspects, and these levels of processing can sometimes work independently of each other? Maybe the initial association between the word and a taste is based on orthographic or phonological aspects of the word, but then the association becomes so strong and automatic that the taste is conferred to the word’s meaning instead? I don’t know, but there is the potential for some very interesting and elegant studies to be formulated to answer those questions!
And now, what you really wanted: the recipe for fake egg poached in soup, brought to via a brief detour through the outer regions of molecular gastronomy land.
Read on for the recipe for fake egg poached in soup — strawberry mousse, vanilla milk gel and saffron apricot nectar sphere.
2 tbs sugar
100g strawberries, blended or mashed
50g dark chocolate, melted
2 tbs Grand Marnier
250ml (1 cup) thickened cream
Separate the eggs and keep the yolks and whites in separate bowls. Add the sugar to the egg yolks and whisk with a fork until thick and pale.
Melt the chocolate and stir it into the strawberries along with the Grand Marnier. Add this mixture into the sugar/yolk mixture.
Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and set aside. Whisk the cream until thick. Put the egg whites and cream in the same bowl, add the sugar/yolk/strawberry/chocolate mixture and fold gently until well combined and smooth. (You may need to add red and yellow food dye at this point to stop the mixture from being too pink.)
Pour into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Vanilla milk gel
125ml (1/2 cup) milk
1/4 tsp vanilla paste or extract
0.5g agar powder (I used Texturas Agar)
Prepare a dinner plate by spraying it with non-stick cooking spray or greasing with a small amount of oil or butter. Combine the milk and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until steaming, then quickly whisk in the agar. Immediately pour onto the dinner plate and tilt the plate around to try to spread the mixture out (it should be quite thick and won’t flow very quickly). Leave for 10 minutes to set. It should be solid but flexible. Cut out a circle with a round cookie-cutter (or just use a knife to cut out whatever shape you’d like).
Saffron apricot nectar sphere
Boil the kettle and pour out 75g of water into a bowl or jug. Into it, place the saffron threads. Leave to steep for 10 minutes, then remove the saffron and allow the water to cool.
Using a stick blender, blend the apricot nectar and the 75g of saffron water. Add the sodium alginate and blend that in thoroughly. Set aside.
In a separate container, mix together the 500g of water and calcium chloride until the calcium chloride is completely dissolved.
Suck the apricot mixture into a large-gauge syringe. Put the tip of the syringe into the calcium chloride bath, almost touching the bottom, keeping it almost vertical, and slowly expel the apricot mixture into the bath. This should form a sphere that slowly expands outwards as you expel more apricot mixture. Make a sphere roughly the size of an egg yolk. Leave in the bath for a minute or two. Carefully detach the sphere from the bottom of the bath, drain in a slotted spoon, wash by dipping in a bath of plain water, drain again, then place on a plate, ready for assembly of the dish.
And then yeah, it is what it looks like: push the milk gel disc into the mousse, then carefully place the apricot sphere on top. Done.
Although I have to say that next time I would take a different approach to this dish. I would make a thick fruit soup (an actual soup, not a mousse, possibly thickened with xanthan) and I would add something crunchy to it (probably by making the egg white into a large flat biscuit/wafer/tuile of some sort topped with marzipan, instead of the milk gel). The apricot juice sphere I am happy with.
Simner, J. & Ward, J. (2006). The taste of words on the tip of the tongue. Nature, 444, 23.