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Lyn Nichols column: For some, it's a delight to go poaching

Why did the chicken cross the road? To order poached eggs and toast, of course. OK, my answer is as bizarre as are most answers to that question -- but a freshly prepared plate of steamed asparagus topped with poached eggs and served with wheat t...

Why did the chicken cross the road? To order poached eggs and toast, of course.

OK, my answer is as bizarre as are most answers to that question -- but a freshly prepared plate of steamed asparagus topped with poached eggs and served with wheat toast is difficult to beat.

Cecelia B. of West Fargo e-mailed a good question -- she asked, "When cooking poached eggs, is it necessary to add vinegar to the water that you're cooking the eggs in?"

The American Egg Board says it is not necessary to add vinegar, or salt for that matter, to the liquid when poaching eggs.

For years we've been told that adding vinegar allows the whites to coagulate at a lower temperature, helping them stay intact, but the experts say the addition of vinegar and/or salt toughens the whites and can flavor the eggs.

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For perfect poached eggs, here are a few tips from the Egg Board.

The secret to pretty poached eggs is using very fresh eggs, which will hold their shape better and produce fewer "angel wings" in the liquid. Adding salt to the poaching liquid may promote coagulation and adding vinegar may lower the coagulation temperature, but neither are necessary and can flavor the eggs.

Swirling the poaching liquid or creating a vortex merely serves to ruffle the delicate egg protein. Nicely-shaped eggs are easier to produce in relatively quiet water that is gently simmering.

Adventurous cooks use broth, milk, tomato juice or wine as the poaching liquid. Any unclear liquid will lend its color. Eggs poached in beef broth pick up brownish highlights, while using tomato juice or sauce produces reddish tones, and red wine results in unpleasant purplish specks.

When entertaining or preparing poached eggs for more than just a few, it's tempting to poach the eggs in advance and hold them refrigerated in water. This is a questionable practice from a food safety standpoint. Leftovers should always be thoroughly reheated, preferably to 160 degrees, and delicate poached eggs can easily become overdone in the process.

Crisp tender asparagus and perfectly poached eggs are a marriage made in the kitchen. The following recipes may be served for breakfast, brunch, lunch or supper.

Asparagus with Poached Eggs

2 pounds asparagus, cut into 5- to 6-inch lengths

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Coarse salt

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

4 large eggs

1 cup coarsely chopped parsley leaves

Parmesan cheese, room temperature

1. Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus; cook in boiling salted water until just crisp-tender, approximately 3 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Divide asparagus among four dinner plates and keep warm.

2. Bring about 1½ inches of water to a simmer in a 12-inch skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. One at a time, break each egg onto a saucer or into small cups or bowls. Slip eggs carefully into simmering water by lowering the lip of each egg-cup ½-inch below the surface of the water. Let the eggs flow out. Immediately cover with a lid and turn off the heat. Set a timer for exactly three minutes for medium-firm yolks. Adjust the time up or down for runnier or firmer yolks.

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3. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, depending on firmness desired. Lift each perfectly poached egg from the water with a slotted spoon, but hold it over the skillet briefly to let any water clinging to the egg drain off.

4. Place an egg on top of each asparagus portion and dab with a paper towel to soak up any visible water. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and parsley.

5. Pull a cheese planer or use a vegetable peeler across the top of the piece of Parmesan cheese to produce wide shavings. Arrange several shavings around each plate. Serve at once. Makes 4 servings.

Asparagus and Poached Eggs

on English Muffins

½ cup nonfat mayonnaise-style dressing

¼ cup plain nonfat yogurt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

¼ teaspoon fines herbs or Italian seasoning, crushed

4 eggs

Water

1 pound asparagus spears

2 whole-wheat English muffins, split and toasted

1. Combine mayonnaise, yogurt, juice and seasoning in a small bowl and beat until well blended. Set aside.

2. In saucepan or deep omelet pan, bring 2 to 3 inches of water to boiling. Reduce heat to keep water gently simmering. Break cold eggs, one at a time into custard cup or saucer or break several into bowl. Holding dish close to water's surface, slip eggs, one at a time, into water. Cook until whites are completely set and yolks begin to thicken but are not hard, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon lift out eggs. Drain in spoon or on paper towels and trim any rough edges, if desired.

3. While eggs are poaching, steam asparagus. Drain well. Place several asparagus spears on each muffin half. Top each with an egg and top egg with sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Lyn Nichols hosts "What's Cookin'?" weekdays on

WDAY-TV. Her column appears Sundays and alternate Wednesdays in The Forum. She can be reached at PO Box 2466, Fargo, ND 58108, or e-mail, lyn@i29.net

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