Hard Day’s Night
When you live on an island and are dependent on the ferry for a good portion of your social life, you want to make the best use of each and every trip across the water, as we did last night. And when you go to a 9 course dinner party, each course with its own copious and different wine, you are lucky if you even make it onto the ferry that gets you home well after 1:00 in the morning. Inevitably, there’s got to be the morning after, when waking up is hard to do.
And although you swore you’d never eat again, as one always does, the body stubbornly refuses to obey the mind, and eat you must. But what? Bleary-eyed you stumble to the kitchen, and then, it occurs to you in a flash of inspiration that makes your head pound a little. Oeufs Cocotte, that’s what. I’m not saying this is a hangover remedy, or a magic potion for lack of sleep. I’m just saying that it’s a perfect food, endlessly variable, soothing all the senses, appeasing the appetite with nursery-food comfort. It’s always good for whatever ails you, and you can make it with whatever you’ve got in the house.
Well, so long as you have eggs, cream, and cheese in the house that is. The basic idea is to take fresh eggs, cream, the cheese of your choice, combine them with a bit of vegetables if you wish, a bit of meat if you wish, and bake it all in the oven for a few minutes. Couldn’t be simpler, and that’s a good thing on the kind of morning I’m talking about.
You start with small ramequins or cazuelas. Butter the dishes well so your eggs won’t stick. Then pour in a small amount of heavy cream, enough to just cover the bottom of the dish. You can (quite traditionally) proceed from here straight to the eggs, but I like to make a nest of vegetables to keep the eggs cozy. Here I made a nice layer of sautéed leeks, but I also love to use a bed of cooked spinach. This is also great way to use up left over vegetables from dinner, even if you didn’t have 9 courses.
Once you have your vegetables in place, carefully crack the eggs into the individual dishes. If you’re uncertain about your egg-cracking skills you can crack them first into a small bowl and tip them gently over the vegetables. The idea here is not to break the yolk, so take your time.
Now to the toppings. One of the nicest is to take small slivers of ham or bacon, sauté them lightly, then simmer them in a bit more cream until the cream is reduced a little. Let that cool for a couple of minutes, then spoon it over the eggs. But often I opt for the easy out and just spoon a little more cream over the eggs. Salt and pepper them to your taste, and then finely grate some cheese over the top. Gruyère is traditional, but really any grated cheese that suits you will be excellent.
Pop the dishes into a pre-heated 400° oven and let them bake. How long you bake them depends on your taste, as well as how cold your eggs were to begin with. I like the white to be set, or very nearly so, and the yolk to run. In my oven that takes about 18 minutes. The French eat them less cooked, many of you will probably prefer them a little more well-done. Experiment once, remember your magic time, and you’re good to go from then on out.
And if you’re planning a really late night out with a possibly bleary morning after, you can even prepare these, right up to the baking step, the night before. They’ll take longer to bake if they’re coming straight out of the fridge, but that will give you time to have a cup or two of coffee to revive your spirits and appetite, and to be glad you broke your vow to never eat again.