How to make the perfect . . .
Ed Power learns the secret recipes for impressing in the kitchen
Perfection is a big ask for most of us, especially in the kitchen. But that doesn't mean a flawlessly served dish is not worth striving for. As your grandparents must have told you, if you're going to do so something, do it properly – and take all the time you need. Of course, they lived in the age before microwaves, Nespressos and hurried lunches at your desk.
Still, even in our world of 24/7 processed conveniences and endless distractions, now and then it is worth pressing 'pause' and seeking to achieve just one thing to the very best of our ability.
. . .Cup of Tea
Obviously, you don't have all day. However, if opportunity allows, opt for loose leaves rather than tea bags because the former have a more subtle taste. It is important that tea does not cool too quickly, so warm the pot with water taken from the kettle as it is about to boil.
If you are making traditional 'black' tea, set aside three to five minutes for brewing. For green tea, three minutes will suffice (cholesterol-reducing 'white' tea requires even less).
Feel free to put in as much or as little milk as you fancy, but some experts believe 5pc milk is the sweet figure, as it reduces the bitterness without masking any of the natural flavours. Add a dash but don't chuck the entire jug in.
After you've brewed up, wait five minutes. This will allows the tea cool to 60 degrees celsius, the optimal drinking temperature.
. . .Omelette
Asked the secret of her iconic omelettes, the legendary French cook Madame Poularde responded: "I break some good eggs into a bowl; I beat them well; I put in a good piece of butter in the pan; I throw the eggs into it and I shake it constantly. I am happy, Monsieur, if this recipe pleases you."
Needless to say, what came instinctively to her may not be so easy for the rest of us.
Fortunately, shortly after Mme Poularde's death, a publisher sought to codify her recipe. When cooking for four, the recommendation was eight beaten eggs, with three tablespoons of milk added.
For extra fluffiness, consider adding a teaspoon of cold water for every egg. Upon hitting the pan, the water turns to steam, rising up through the eggs and creating gorgeous, fluffy omelettes. Instead of cooking oil, experts advise using butter.
Above all, make haste – if not cooked quickly, an omelette risks being tough and chewy. A two-egg omelette should cook in around a minute. Add the eggs as the butter has started to brown.
. . . Cup of Coffee
It has to be coffee beans, freshly roasted. This will ensure your brew has maximum flavour. When grinding the beans, don't work too far ahead.
Whisk up enough for a single cup – ground beans will, left to their own devices, turn rapidly stale. And don't grind for too long – 15 to 20 seconds should suffice. It is more expensive but a 'burr' grinder will give greater consistency – and hence better flavour – than the cheaper blade version.
Pay attention to portions too. Baristas recommend two grammes of coffee for every 28 grammes of water. If that is too much effort, two heaped tablespoons per cup will do.
Even if you take your mug of 'Joe' weak, it's best to brew strongly, then dilute with hot water. Brewing with too little coffee will bring about a process called 'over-extraction', raising the bitterness quotient.
Take care choosing your coffee maker too. It's smarter to go with one that drips the coffee into a thermal carafe rather than the cliched glass pot on a heater so beloved of American diners.
Continuously heated coffee quickly turns bitter.
. . . Poached Eggs
A poached egg is only as good as the poacher. Cooks recommend silicon poachers, as they are easy to employ and even easier to clean (in contrast to stainless-steel poachers). It isn't always possible but try to use the freshest eggs you can get (the white starts to thin out in eggs more than a week old).
Keep an eye on water temperature. It needs to be hot while not hopping out of the saucepan. The smartest strategy is to boil the water, then reduce it to a simmer.
If you have issues with extracting the finished egg, rub olive oil onto the inside of the poacher. This will prevent it becoming stuck. Don't tarry – eggs should be served as soon as they are ready.
Nobody likes their poached eggs lukewarm.
. . . Scone
The very best scones are always home-made. That's because they should ideally be scoffed direct from the oven (alright, you're allowed 30 seconds to slather on some jam and cream). For perfect scones, it is essential that you chose the correct raising agent. Otherwise, instead of a soft, fluffy delight, you'll end up chomping on a glorified biscuit.
Lifestyle chef Rachel Allen favours bicarbonate soda with cream of tartar, though others prefer self-raising flour and baking powder.
Keep it cool, too. It is recommended that your equipment be as cold as possible. If temperatures are too high, the butter will melt before time, resulting in 'heavy' scones.
And don't dally – as you assemble the scone mixture, try not to spend too long kneading it. It doesn't have to be as smooth as glass.
Pay attention to the temperature. Bake for around 12 minutes at 200 degrees (having pre-heated the oven to 190 degrees). Place the tray at the top of the oven, as this will result in fluffier, tastier scones. By all means add jam or cream before tucking in. But be aware that if you find the scone too heavy without a dollop of something on the side, your attempt to achieve perfection has gone amiss.