As it turns out, we had no choice but to order the poached eggs, since clearly all the other passengers had more faith in the salmon on rice. The potato wedges that came with the meal were, as you might expect, sad and soggy, and the baked beans tasted more of thyme than tomato, but—wonders of wonders—the poached eggs (yes, covered in hollandaise sauce) oozed out a beautiful golden yolk when you cut them open. How on earth did they manage that?
|Poached eggs on toast - on a plane!|
According to the World Food Safety Guidelines for Airline Catering, as set out by the International Flight Services Association, the minimum required core temperature for unpasteurised eggs is 74°C / 165°F. Harold McGee tells us in his book On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen that eggs can be pasteurised "by careful heating to temperatures between 130 and 140°F/55-60°C". A helpful table on khymos.org, provided by Martin Lersch, a Norwegian research scientist with a PhD in organometallic chemistry, shows that egg yolks would still be runny at this lower temperature:
|Temperature / °C||Egg white||Egg yolk|
|62||Begins to set, runny||Liquid|
|64||Partly set, runny||Begins to set|
|66||Largely set, still runny||Soft solid|
|70||Tender solid||Soft solid, waxy|
|90||Rubbery solid||Crumbly texture|
Poached eggs in airline meals are not as rare as I had thought though. Singapore Airlines even offers them (pictured with runny yolks) in their meals for young passengers aged between 2 and 11 years. However, Melissa's Flight Attendant Blog advises that you should avoid them if you possibly can: "Soft poached will almost always turn hard poached on board and it takes a galley operator with true skill and lots of experience (and properly working ovens) to have both a hot dish and a runny yolk."
I am not sure why airlines don't serve stews more often, as that would be a lot more tolerant of re-heating and dry conditions. If I had to have eggs on a plane though, poached eggs with runny yolks would be it.