Just as a pilot trains in a flight simulator before taking off in a 737, before I ever performed a dental procedure in the mouth of a living person I had rehearsed the operation numerous times over a two-year training period on plastic models, extracted human teeth and jawbones of butchered pigs. Even with all my preparation, I was nervous as hell the first time I inserted a needle into someone’s jaw and sank my drill into a cavity.
Imagine my anxiety 40 years later when I found out that on the first day of my new career as a line cook at Oklahoma City’s Nonesuch, Bon Appetit’s “Best New Restaurant 2018,” I’d be in charge of two courses that I had never cooked before. People travel from all over the country to experience the 10-course tasting menu at Nonesuch. The restaurant has been fully booked since October, and reservations are filled months in advance. I could imagine the glares from my coworkers if my dishes came back to the dish pit uneaten or if negative Yelp reviews appeared the next morning.
The first of the two courses I was responsible for was a tempura-battered Rocky Mountain oyster: a bison testicle marinated in buttermilk, dredged in rice flour and dipped in tempura batter and then deep-fried. Though the chef de cuisine had just demonstrated precisely how he wanted the dish executed, when the call came out for me to fire six testicles, I became flustered and did the dish the way I used to fry the calamari at my last restaurant gig at Vele in Springfield, forgetting about the dip into the tempura batter. Thankfully, my forward-thinking boss had prepared extra testicles. I breathed a sigh of relief, but I also realized I had no leeway for any more screwups.
My second dish was soft scrambled eggs to accompany a slice of focaccia. I’ve cooked eggs almost every morning of my adult life (and I challenge anyone to cook a better omelette than mine) but Nonesuch serves up velvety, almost custardy soft scrambled eggs that transcend anything that has ever graced my breakfast plate. My job was to ladle egg mixture into a metal bowl sitting atop a saucepan of boiling water and to whisk rapidly until the egg mixture set up slightly to a cream-like consistency. I know... it sounds conceptually easy, but while I whisk, steam rises up between the egg bowl and saucepan and the towel I hold to steady the bowl becomes saturated with hot, moist steam and burns my hand. After four hours my poor hand is red and raw.
I’m happy to report that I’ve survived my first 90 days on the line, and though I haven’t dazzled anybody with my culinary skills, I have learned a thing or two about new ways of cooking eggs. With a little practice, you too can master the technique that The Wall Street Journal called: “The Way You’ll Be Making Scrambled Eggs From Now On.”
Nonesuch’s Soft Scrambled Eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
¼ teaspoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
In a metal mixing bowl that fits atop a sauce pan, whisk the eggs, cream, fish sauce, salt and sherry vinegar until ingredients are well incorporated and without streaks.
In a sauce pan, heat water to a simmer and set the mixing bowl on top. Be sure that the bottom of the bowl is above the level of the simmering water.
Using a kitchen towel to stabilize the mixing bowl, whisk continuously (scraping down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed) until the eggs thicken and firm up like a custard with tiny curds throughout, about 5-6 minutes.
Taste and season with more salt if needed.
Another interesting approach to cooking eggs that I’ve learned at Nonesuch is the Japanese dish Chawanmushi. Chawanmushi is a delicate savory egg custard, but unlike traditional Western custards which combine eggs with dairy, here the eggs are mixed with dashi, a broth made from kombu (dried kelp) and bonito flakes (a type of dried fish). A high liquid-to-egg ratio is used – more than two-thirds a cup of dashi per egg – and the custard base is then strained through a cheesecloth and steamed. Seafood, meat, nuts and vegetables can be incorporated into the egg mixture or added later as a topping.
2 teaspoons instant dashi powder (Hondashi Bonito Soup Stock- available at Asian grocers or from Amazon)
2 cups warm water
3 large eggs
¼ cup salted roasted nuts, coarsely chopped (I like to use cashews)
1 scallion cut into matchsticks
Sauteed mushrooms, thinly sliced
Cooked chicken or shrimp
In a mixing bowl, dissolve the dashi powder in the warm water.
Pour the dashi solution into a large measuring cup, leaving behind any undissolved particles.
In a clean mixing bowl, gently stir eggs until blended. You do not want to incorporate air. (Chopsticks work well for this).
Stir the dashi into the eggs.
Strain the egg mixture back into the measuring cup through cheesecloth or a fine meshed strainer to remove any undissolved dashi particles or wisps of unincorporated egg white.
Divide the nuts between 4 small bowls or tea cups and top with the egg mixture.
Cover each bowl or cup with plastic wrap.
Carefully place the bowls in a steamer basket over boiling water.
Cover and steam for 14 minutes.
Transfer bowls to refrigerator and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Unwrap the bowls and add the toppings of your choice.
Peter sends greetings from the wild, wild West where last week’s headline read: “Man caught driving stolen car filled with radioactive uranium, rattlesnake, and whiskey, Guthrie police say.”