Sunday, January 6, 2013

In-Flight Poached Eggs - With Runny Yolks!

I don't know about you, but I had always assumed that eggs on planes had to be overcooked, rubbery omelettes.  Airlines can't risk somebody falling sick; surely everything had to be heated to a high temperature.  So when poached eggs were offered for breakfast on our Economy class Air New Zealand flight home from Tokyo, I was curious as to what it would be like.  Would it actually be a hard boiled egg in a different shape?  Slathered in sauce so you don't pay attention to the egg?

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!
Admittedly, the eggs were strangely flat and round, the whites had a funny texture, and the sauce looked less than picture-perfect because half of it stuck to the tin-foil covering for the meal, but we couldn't fault the yolks.  Together with the sweet toast bread and the processed frankfurter-like sausage, this could easily have been served in any number of Japanese Western-style restaurants.

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, 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 / °CEgg whiteEgg yolk
62Begins to set, runnyLiquid
64Partly set, runnyBegins to set
66Largely set, still runnySoft solid
70Tender solidSoft solid, waxy
90Rubbery solidCrumbly 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.


  1. One thing about eating on planes is I have a tendency to drip food onto myself. Is this normal? I remember as a teenager being mortified that the curry I ate on the plane also decorated the front of my white t-shirt. No time to change before meeting much of my family at the airport. Damn.

    1. Haha, another travel experience not to be missed. I'm sure we're not the only people who make a mess, and I often drop cutlery on the floor as well. They certainly don't make it easy to eat in those cramped conditions.


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