Why the deemer poach (poached egg) of Bengal would leave the French chef Anatole baffled

Rosemary fried eggs and multigrain toast. #FinelyChoppedBreakfasts

Some call it bulls eye and today was about nailing it


A day which starts with your fried eggs coming on to the plate from the wok without breaking cannot go wrong can it? Or week for that matter, given that it is a Monday today.

I read the egg section in Vir Sanghvi's excellent book, The Indian Pantry, a couple of days back. The book is a collection of features from his column, Rude Food. He touched upon the topic of fried eggs, in this section, and spoke about how chefs across the world have broken their heads trying to get it right.  I was happy to see that far more talented hands than mine had found this 'simple' task worthy of their attention.

You would be happy to know that I have finally figured out what works for me when it comes to landing the perfect fried eggs. 

This is thanks to the Ikea 'Skanska' wok that a friend had bought on my behalf and carried back from Singapore a few years back. I started using it recently. Ironically after Ikea launched in India. Our cook Banu managed to break the glass lid within a few days of my beginning to use it and unfortunately one cannot buy just the lid from Ikea it seems. After flipping my lid about this, I have now settled on using a smaller glass lid, belonging to another pan at home, in its place. Ikea meets the great Indian jugad you could say.

The other thing that has helped me is using the rather expensive extra virgin avocado oil from Black & Green which the brand had sent for me to try. It is a very viscous and pleasantly flavoured oil. I use this to cook on low heat and using a very small amount works well too. This is possibly due to its high viscosity.

The third thing that helped is our shifting to cage free eggs at home. We buy these from Nature's Basket and it is from their in-store brand. Cage free eggs are a tad more expensive than the poultry eggs that we buy from the corner shop no doubt, but eggs and breads (I use the multigrain and the sourdough breads from La Folie) are two things that I do not mind spending more on given that both are an integral part of my breakfasts. The cage free eggs have turned out be visibly more robust than the usual and both the firm texture of the eggs and the rich colour of its yolks give me a lot of joy. Coincidentally, Vir Sanghvi too extolled the virtues of cage free eggs in his book.

On cracking the fried eggs code


Here is what I do to get my fried eggs right.

I heat a teaspoon of avocado oil in the wok on a low flame and spread out the oil with a ladle.
I once added some fresh rosemary to the oil for flavour. I then moved the rosemary sprigs to the corner of the wok before adding the eggs as I was not sure how the egg would react to it. You can try different herbs and seasoning ingredients of course.
I then crack two eggs, one after the other, into the wok. All on a low flame.
I then sprinkle salt (I use the Australian Outback Provencal Salt that my friend Kunal Dhume brought me from Melbourne these days), coarse black pepper (another ingredient Sanghvi advocates the use of) and (today) some of the Syrian red pepper that our friend Sue and Nathan had got from London.
As the eggs begin to form, I slowly move the wok around so that each part of the eggs gets a bit of the direct heat from the flame below it. I read this in one of the methods given in the Indian Pantry and that stayed in my subconscious mind.
I then turn off the hob, cover the wok with a lid and let the egg cook in the heat and put the bread to toast in the toaster in the interim.
Once the toast is done, I put the toast on the plate.
I then say a prayer and hold a spatula in one hand and a ladle or a spoon in another, and use the two to gently lift the egg and put it on my plate. It is a bit of a touch and go affair as the egg bends like a hammock, but has worked well both the times that I tried this.
I then crank the Nespresso machine and get an espresso ready and sit for breakfast.
The Nespresso machine was giving me a bit of trouble of late and is just a year old. My friend Manoj, who is also often my Nespresso pod Santa, suggested that I flush out the water each time I have coffee and that seems to have worked out and the coffee is flowing out again properly for now.




Deemer poach and the search for inner peace


Thanks to my having found and then hired the most callous interior decorator ever on Urban Clap, when we moved into our new place, we now have to re-plaster parts of our house. The process has started with the hall, which doubles up as our bedroom.

I could not let anything come in between what I call my #FinelyChoppedBreakfasts though. Waking up and making something interesting for breakfast is how I start my day after all.

Which is why I stepped into the kitchen this morning even as the painters began to set up for the day, fried my eggs, toasted my bread, made my espresso and then headed to my study with my plate of 'deemer poach' perfection.


Deemer poach perfection
Deemer poach? Poached eggs? Isn't this a fried egg? These are not poached eggs?!

Yes, yes I know, but as I had written earlier, 'deemer poach' is how my thakurma (paternal grandmother) had introduced the dish to me way back in 1980 when we had just moved into India.

That is how we referred to fried eggs while growing up in Kolkata. It is much later, and in my case thanks to my interest in food, that I learnt that 'poached eggs' in the west meant eggs steamed in water. What you have in eggs Benedict for example. Not fried in a pan!

Fellow 'Bengali married to a Parsi', Rhea Mitra Dalal, told me about how her husband Dr Kurush Dalal was foxed when he was told he would get poached eggs for breakfast during one of his first visits as a newly wed to her house in Kolkata, and was given fried eggs. The Parsis know their poached eggs from their sunny side ups it seems.

Rhea told me that she had recently gone to Oly Pub in Kolkata where fried eggs are still referred to as poached eggs. As I am sure they are in the various dhaabas, canteens and pice hotels of Kolkata. Rhea says that she can now make the 'real' poached eggs pretty well now.

Rhea Mitra Dalal on poached eggs. You can read the full text here


Why is the fried egg called a 'poach' in Kolkata, or for that matter why a croquette is called a 'chop' there, or why the 'French toast' in Kolkata is savoury, or why the deemer devil there is more a Nargisi Kofta or a Scotch egg than devilled eggs, is a question I have no answer for.

In the case of poached eggs, 'food researcher' (as she prefers to be called), Pritha Sen, hazards that this could be because the end result of a fried egg looks somewhat similar to a round poached egg. This is conjecture of course, she adds.

'Deem bhaaja,' which literally translates as 'fried eggs,' is a term used for all other forms of fried eggs, says Sen. Examples of this would be, fried boiled eggs (which often forms the base of curried versions such as the deemer dalna, jhol, kosha and kalia), anda bhujia (tightly scrambled eggs), mamlet (Bengali for omelette).

The real fried egg is still confidently called 'poach' in Kolkata.  Even though this would make the eyebrows of the tempestuous (and fictional) French chef, aunt Dahlia’s Anatole, twitch with fury. In case you are wondering, most Bengalis of my generation who went to 'English medium schools' love their Wodehouse.

My take on the savoury 'French toast' of Bengal. I am told that the dish is made in other parts of the country too. I used parmesan for this, sourdough and the good old avocado oil


I formed a theory for the deemer poach conundrum today. 

Frying eggs is easier than poaching them for the average person/ non-chef. Yet alling them 'poach,' would make the humble deem bhaaja sound poncier, just as would calling the Nargisi kofta 'Scotch eggs,' and the deem pauruti, 'French toast.'

This could be an explanation for why the poached eggs, as taught by the French chefs to their assistants in Calcutta in the 1700s, later surfaced as the deemer poach in the cabin restaurants of the city.

Is that why really fried eggs are called poached eggs in Bengal?

God knows, I am just happy that I have finally cracked how to get them right!

The show must go on. When #NoorBanuCooks and not #BunkinBanu was the hashtag of the day


From the captain's log: Routine is something that I hold close to my heart and with the drawing room cum dining room being out of action today, I have converted our study cum guest room into the dining room too, as the show must go on. 

Thankfully our cook Banu came to work and made me a one dish meal of chicken pulao for lunch. With salad of course. She knew that I would want the salad even before I asked her for it. Too predictable eh? 

She told me that the rice would have been less moist if it had got a chance to cool. Lunch done, I got myself another espresso and headed back to my desk as the dining room became my study again. 

How has Monday been treating you?

Appendix:


  1. My post on grandma's deemer poach story
  2. My post on the Bengali French toast
  3. My post on the fried eggs breakfast at Candies and from a time when I needed to go to a cafe to work
  4. My post on how I met Kurush Dalal for the first time at Olympia
  5. My post on the tadka dal of Bengal flavoured with inputs from Pritha Sen
  6. Vir Sanghvi on fried eggs in his book, The Indian Pantry. I would recommend that you buy it to read it more easily.





Comments

Anindya said…
Congratulations for nailing it to T. Yes, as you know I love my sunny side up and just like yours, my Grannies had always told me that this is a poach which has kusum toltole (the runny yolk) .
Loved reading this. The innovative nomenclature sets us apart in many ways. Us stands for Bengalis obviously