Believe it or not, for many years poached eggs were just getting me every time. They were busting, or just generally not great ... It was really only once I started looking after chickens that I started to get the hang of making them. I think even as a chef I’d been taught to create a vortex in the water then pop the egg into the middle, but if you’re cooking for lots of people, that’s a pain. So this new way guarantees a perfectly poached pouch of egg every time. The exciting thing is that by simply tying the egg up in cling film with a few herbs you can flavour the eggs and have confidence they’re going to cook all right.
Half-fill a medium-large saucepan with water, season generously with salt and bring to the boil. Instead of putting a lid on, put a large bowl on top but don’t let it touch the water. Put the butter, a pinch of salt and pepper and the juice of 1 lemon into the bowl.
This is going to sound cheffy, but it’s simple, so bear with me ... Tear off 8 sheets of good- quality cling film, each roughly 40cm square. Get yourself 4 teacups or small bowls and rub the rims with olive oil. Place a double layer of cling film on top of each one and carefully push it in so that it snugly lines the cups. Use your finger to lightly oil the inside – this will help your egg come out easily at the end. Put a tiny pinch of salt, pepper and chilli flakes into each cup then pick the celery and tarragon leaves and divide them between the cups too – try to help these flavours to spread up the sides, if you can.
Carefully crack the egg into the cling film, then gently push the yolk down so the egg white surrounds it (without it breaking). Bring the cling film up into a bundle, then tie it in a knot and try to squeeze the knot down so it creates a perfect pouch and seals it (imagine a goldfish in a fairground plastic bag).
Once the water is boiling, remove the bowl (the butter should be melted now) and place your eggs in the water along with the asparagus. It takes between 5 and 6 minutes at a gentle simmer for a large egg. Place the bowl or a lid back on top and after 3 or 4 minutes remove the asparagus to the bowl of lemony butter and quickly toss.
Meanwhile, arrange 2 pieces of smoked salmon on each plate. Pull out one of your eggs after 5 minutes and have a little feel (it should have a similar texture to fresh mozzarella). If it still seems undercooked, pop it back in for another minute or so.
Neatly divide the asparagus between your plates. Cut off the cling film knots with a pair of scissors, peel away the rest, then carefully lift the eggs with a tablespoon and serve them right on top of your asparagus. If you‘ve done a good job, not only will you have perfect poached eggs, but the herbs and seasonings will have cooked into the egg and become one, like a stained glass window, which is really cute. Poke a knife into the egg to let the yolk run, and serve with wedges of lemon on the side.