Classic Egg Recipes
The following are a mixture of my own recipes and a collection of notes from some masters of their craft. Take the time to perfect these classic dishes and you will cook them for a lifetime.
“An Omelette and a Glass of Wine” is the title of one of Elizabeth David’s collections of food writing. She suggested that it evoked the idea of an elemental, almost primitive, meal but at the same time went on to give the topic of cooking a good omelette all the attention it deserved. Elizabeth Davis is more known for her evocative writing style than precision of instruction, but even she acknowledged the importance of the perfect omelette pan – a heavy one with a perfectly flat base.
She also tells the story of a celebrated restaurant on the Mont-St-Michel in Normandy, which was renowned for its wonderful omelettes. Speculation about how such wonderful omelettes were made appeared in magazines and cookery books until one day the proprietress, a Madame Poulard, replied to a letter in magazine called La Table. She wrote:
Here is the recipe for the omelette: I break some good eggs in a bowl, I beat them well, I put a good piece of butter in the pan, I throw the eggs into it and I shake it constantly. I am happy, monsieur, if this recipe pleases you.
Unlike Elizabeth David, Delia Smith is known for her precise instructions. She says…
Let me say first that the size of your frying-pan is as vital for good omelettes as for many other things…a two-egg omelette, for instance, needs a 6-inch pan, whilst a four or five egg omelette calls for a 10-inch pan. Too few eggs in a large pan make a thin, dry (and probably tough) omelette.
Beyond this the other key points she makes are: that the eggs should not be over beaten, just lightly mixed, that the pan is pre-heated without butter, and then, when hot, you throw in the butter which should immediately foam (but not brown), swirl it around to coat the base, then add the eggs and continue shaking or tilting the pan so that the liquid egg runs to the edges. When it is almost, but not quite, set, fold the omelette in half and then tip it out, upside down, onto a plate.
Omelette fines herbes
This is a classic French variation in which fresh herbs are added to the eggs, ideally 30 minutes before cooking to allow them to infuse their flavour through the eggs.
Fine herbes is the name given to the classic French mix of parsley, chives, chervil (in roughly equal proportions) plus a little tarragon.
Perfect Scrambled Eggs
I remember watching one television programme in which the Roux brothers disagreed on the best method for cooking scrambled eggs. I remember it involved setting the eggs in a metal bowl above a saucepan of simmering water so that the heat was applied very gently – it took forever. I find that provided you have a saucepan with a good solid base that will conduct heat evenly that is sufficient. Don’t use a non-stick pan as it prevents the egg from coagulating.
Duck eggs are lovely scrambled and, if you want to return them to their shells for serving to enjoy their pretty blue colour, the top of the shell can be removed by sawing with a finely serrated knife. Don’t worry if one or two break, as you will need the contents of one and a half to two eggs to refill each shell once scrambled. The method is however exactly the same whatever eggs you are using.
To serve 2:
4 duck eggs
1 tbsp double cream
salt and pepper
Set the heat very low and melt sufficient butter to cover the base of the pan. Break the eggs into a bowl and mix lightly with a fork to blend the yolks with the white – do not add any other ingredients as they will get in the way of the protein molecules bonding and so slow down coagulation.
Tip the eggs into the pan and stir with a wooden spoon over the gentle heat. The best spoon for this job is one that has a point on one side to get right into the sides of the pan. Continue stirring and do not be tempted to increase the heat. The eggs should cook very gently and evenly to a creamy consistency. If you increase the heat you are likely to get lumps. When the eggs have thickened stir in a tablespoonful of double cream, which will arrest the cooking as well as increase the creamy flavour. Season with salt and pepper and a few snipped chives.
STEPHEN MARKWICK’S LEEK AND CREAM TART
This recipe is absolutely typical of Stephen’s style – it sounds so simple and yet every detail has been perfected with sublime results.
In his book A Very Honest Cook Stephen notes…You may spot that this tart contains a fair amount of cream but that’s what makes it taste so good – I’m afraid you can’t do a slimline version. A general point about tarts: they’re much better made deep than shallow – you seem to get more depth of flavour and texture.
Serves 8 as a starter, 6 for a main course
For the pastry case:
20cm/8″ deep tart tin
225g/8 oz plain flour
150g/5 oz butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
Pinch of salt
Put the flour, salt and butter into a food processor and pulse until breadcrumb consistency. Turn into a mixing bowl and add just enough cold water to bring the mixture together (between 4 and 6 tablespoons depending on the time of year – you need less water in the summer). Don’t overwork the mixture, handle it as little as possible, and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before rolling out. Line the tin, leaving the pastry overhanging the edges, then chill in the freezer for 30 minutes. Whilst it is chilling preheat the oven to 200˚C/Gas Mark 6.
Now line the pastry case with a double layer of clingfilm – unlikely as this may sound. Fill with baking beans (if you don’t fill it the sides are likely to collapse into the dish). Bake for 15 minutes then remove the beans along with the clingfilm. Return the tart to the oven to crisp up and lightly brown. (Note: I brush it with a little of the beaten egg from the quantity for the filling below for this step. SW)
For the filling:
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
300g/10½ oz thinly sliced leeks
50g/2 oz butter
2 tsp chopped thyme
2 tsp chopped parsley
4 medium egg yolks + 1 whole egg, beaten
50g/2 oz Gruyère cheese, grated
50g/2 oz Cheddar cheese, grated
400ml/14 fl oz double cream
Salt, pepper and nutmeg
Heat the butter gently and cook the leeks and thinly sliced onions for a few minutes but not too long as you want to keep their green colour. Add the thyme and parsley and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Leave to cool before adding half of each of the cheeses and the beaten eggs. Mix well with a wooden spoon and pour in the cream. Stir well, taste and adjust the seasoning if required.
Carefully pour the mixture into the tart case. You want to fill it right to the top, so it will be easier to transfer it to the oven before adding the last of the mixture. Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese on top. Bake at 200˚C/Gas 6 for about 20 minutes then turn the heat down to 180˚C/Gas Mark 4 and bake for a further 10-15 minutes. If the tart is browning too much move it to the bottom of the oven. It doesn’t matter if the filling is still slightly wobbly when you remove it from the oven because it will firm up in the residual heat while you’re resting it.
Rest before attempting to trim off the excess pastry – a serrated knife does the job best.
First made by Fortnum and Mason as picnic fare, the Scotch Egg is enjoying a revival as a bar snack in gastropubs. The difference this time around is that instead of being served cold they are now enjoyed warm, with the yolk of the egg still runny. Making them this way takes time and effort but the results are a world away from the tired greying examples we have become used to seeing. Mini versions made with quail eggs are fashionable canapés.
The most difficult part of the process is getting the egg just right. They need to be firm enough to handle – remember you need to peel away the shell and then wrap the egg in sausagemeat, but if the centre is still to be soft when you cut into them they can’t be hard boiled.
Many different recipes exist for boiling the egg. You can place them in cold water and then bring them up to simmering point before starting the timing – but then identifying simmering point can vary by around the same amount of time as you wanted to cook the egg anyway. This method is however useful if you have forgotten to remove the eggs from the fridge before cooking as to place them straight into simmering water from cold would make them liable to break.
So my preferred method is to have the eggs at room temperature for at least an hour in advance then gently lower them into the water when a steady stream of bubbles are breaking the surface but the water is definitely not rolling. I would then cook a size 3 egg for 4 minutes – adding or subtracting half a minute for a size larger or smaller than this. Immediately the time is up, replace the hot water with cold leaving the tap running until everything has cooled right down. Peel the eggs whilst they are still slightly warm.
The quality of the sausagemeat is paramount. You can read my previous comments on what makes a quality sausage here. 450 g of sausagemeat will cover 6 eggs, that is one good sized sausage per egg – you may find it easier to buy the quality of sausagemeat you want buy buying it as sausages. You can of course add any additional herbs or spices to the mix when you flatten it out, but be careful not to buy too coarse a mix or it will be difficult to shape around the egg.
Whilst the eggs are cooling lightly toast the breadcrumbs on a tray in a low oven, then, when you remove the breadcrumbs and leave them to cool, increase the oven temperature to 190˚C.
Flour a work surface and pat portions of the sausagemeat out so that each piece will enclose an egg.
Have two other bowls at hand, one containing flour and the other an egg lightly beaten with a tablespoonful of milk.
Place the peeled egg in the centre of the sausagemeat and then transfer the whole to the bowl of flour – you will find it easier to shape using lightly floured hands and with a little flour adhering to the sausagemeat. Now dip this in the beaten egg and then roll it around in the tray containing the lightly toasted breadcrumbs. Shake off any excess breadcrumbs.
Preheat some oil in a deep fat fryer until it reaches 190˚C. Deep frying is the best way to create a crisp seal quickly. Cooking just two eggs at a time two minutes should be enough to have achieved a seal and to brown the breadcrumbs but will not have cooked the sausagemeat right through. To finish this part of the cooking and so that all the eggs can be served at once, place them on a tray in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Served immediately the centre of the yolks should still be soft.