Lesson 3 – EGGS! Yes!
I love eggs! I love them so much that I eat them every day. Sometimes several times in a day. Just the sight of them makes me happy. You have to admit, they are kind of a happy looking with all that yellow.
My mother also loved eggs. Eggs were definitely a staple and she made them daily as well. Even as a child not only did I love eggs for breakfast, but one of my favorite sandwiches was egg salad. It still is. I remember learning at a very early age how to make it. That’s not usually a child’s favorite sandwich, but it was mine. Deviled eggs? Forget about it, I can eat a plate of them in a blink of an eye. Yup, we ate a lot of eggs growing up.
I will also say that I am very fussy about my eggs. They need to be organic of course, and they need to be from pastured chickens. Most egg cartons state “fed an all vegetarian diet” and that sounds good and all, but chickens are not vegetarians. Nor would they sustain themselves strictly on soy and/or corn. They do love their protein, and lots of it. Sometimes they will even eat their own eggs. They like larvae, bugs, mice, snakes, grubs, insects, that sort of thing. Not only are the eggs tastier when chickens are free to roam and forage, but they are more nutritious (in my opinion) After all, there’s enough soy and corn in everything else, I don’t need it in my eggs as well.
One of my best memories growing up are the Sunday morning breakfasts. Sunday morning breakfast was a big deal in the household. It was family time, but very different from the hustle and bustle of weekday mornings. There would be music playing in the background, usually symphony music, and there would be those wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen. The smell of coffee, sausage or bacon, and eggs in the air. My father would be reading the Sunday paper. There were conversations, and of course a little TV time before Sunday mass.
My mother usually did all of her baking on Saturdays, so there would always be fresh baked goods for Sunday breakfast. There would be fresh baked bread, rolls, or our favorite butterhorns. A favorite because there was icing on them. Usually breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs. They easily fed a crowd, which was our family. 🙂
I also recall my mother’s egg poacher. It was basically a pan with a little stem in the middle and 4 quadrants where you would place the eggs. You would put your eggs in the little depressions and using the stem, lower them into the pan of water. I’m thinking they actually steamed in the pan versus simmering in water like a true poach, but it worked and it gave me an opportunity to experience eggs cooked in this fashion, and once I made them this way it became my preferred method. Now, poached eggs are what I make every day. I think you get the idea that I love eggs, any kind of eggs. So, needless to say I was super happy to see an egg dish pop up in lesson 3. I see that the French use lots and lots of eggs. I think I could live there.
The name of this recipe is ” Oeufs a la tripe” in English the title reads “Gratin of hard boiled eggs”. As I read the recipe it explains that the name actually translates to “eggs cooked like tripe”. It also reads that this is one of the oldest dishes in the Cordon Bleu repertoire and there are records of the recipe dating back to the 17th century. Wow! Now I’m really excited! My mind immediately goes back in time to France and I imagine all those people making this recipe from long ago. This version, using the eggs was developed in the 19th century. The main component is a bechamel sauce. One of the great “mother sauces” used most often in French cuisine. This is the focal point of this lesson.
To start, I bring a saucepan with water and salt to a boil. Hmmm. I’ve never salted the water for hard boiled eggs before, but you bet I’m doing it. Once the water is boiling I add the eggs and simmer for 10 minutes. Then I drain them and run them under cold water to cool, I leave them in the pan with the cold water while I continue to gather and prepare the rest of the ingredients I need. Then once the eggs are cooled, I peel them and set them aside.
The next ingredient is one large onion thinly sliced. I melt the butter in the pan over low heat and add the onions. They cook gently as to make sure they do not color and they get very soft and sweet. Then I set them aside.
Now for the bechamel. I follow the instructions exactly. Yes, of course I have made many bechamel’s in my day, but who’s to say I’ve been doing it right? Well, it turns out that I am, but none the less, I take the lessons seriously and I weigh and measure everything out. I am making this recipe exact, as all those people have done for centuries.
Butter, flour, milk, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Yup, just as I know how to make it. Once the bechamel has cooked, thickened, and developed a little flavor from the seasonings, it’s time to add the onions. I add them to the bechamel and cook for about 5 minutes more.
Now to assemble. At this time the recipe says to heat the broiler. Instead, I decide to preheat the broiler in my toaster oven since the dish is not very big. I thought “why use the big oven?” Weill, I’m going to tell you, use the big oven. The browning would have been more consistent and a better color.
Now, the eggs get sliced kind of thick, about 1/4″. A layer of bechamel coats the bottom of the gratin dish (yes, it was my mom’s). Then the egg slices are placed to form a layer over the bechamel, then the rest of the bechamel is layered over the sliced eggs.
The gratin is then broiled until brown and bubbly.
Wow. I can see this preparation leading to so many different recipes and ingredients. You could add some cheese and make it a sauce mornay. You could add some cubed ham or kielbasa. Or maybe some ground cooked pork sausage, or even some blanched and fried bacon. You could use it very simply on top of toast, or even as a sauce on so many different dishes. Fresh herbs would be nice and even a swap of shallots for the onions, and you could use scallions or chives in their place as well. On this day though, I wanted to taste it exactly how the recipe was written. When I finally tasted it, it was such a pleasant flavor. It was creamy and felt rich, the onions added so much flavor and sweetness. I ate this with some homemade herb crostini topped with fresh tomatoes and goat cheese. The tart, bright, acidic notes, really highlighted this rich dish.
Writing about this recipe is making me hungry and I want to eat it right now! Again, so simple, so few ingredients, a little time consuming only due to the techniques, but so worth it. Another great lesson! Happy, happy.
Here’s a few photos to show the finished dish. A fresh, light, vinaigrette drizzled over the toast was superb.
So much to learn, so little time…..On to the next!