"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Baked eggs

My love of all things Mark Bittman is pretty obvious all over this blog, and is also evidenced by the fact that whenever someone asks me what my favorite cookbook is, I say, without hesitation, "How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman." I love him and this book because it was the first resource I turned to in order to learn to select and prepare food properly. His book taught me how to properly cook a scrambled egg and how to turn Brussels sprouts from a stinky, soggy mess into something crisp and divine. But the reason I love him the most is because he taught me how to make baked eggs.

Baked? EGGS? Yes, my friends. YES.

I too had no idea what these were until I perused the section on eggs in his book. In his book he discusses how baked eggs (also known as shirred eggs) have fallen out of favor, and he rightfully says he has no idea why. Baked eggs can be made in casserole form but since I just eat two, I prepare them in ramekins, which are small, porcelain custard cups that can be purchased in varying sizes. I love ramekins. They are the perfect place to stash small things, place cold eggs when allowing them to come to room temperature, and are essential to making things like creme brulee. Plus, you can move them from freezer to fridge to oven to microwave. I love multi-taskers in the kitchen! As your blogger, I advise you to make haste to a kitchen supply store and pick up at least 2 of these for your home, if not 4... or 6.... or 8.... you get the idea. They are not expensive and might run you two bucks each. So if you like eggs, get yourself some ramekins and make this recipe. (In a pinch, very small tea cups could also be used. Not large mugs, but smaller ceramic tea cups. Or you can use a bigger Corningware or Pyrex dish, as I mention below.)

The beauty of a baked egg is that you can really make it with any accompaniment you want. Put some cream in the bottom for a luxurious texture. Tomatoes are glorious. Throw in some cheese. I recently made spinach-parmesan baked eggs and wanted to cry, they were so delicious.

Preheat the oven to 375. While it heats up, put a frying pan on medium heat. After a few minutes, add a generous dollop of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add a passel of fresh baby spinach leaves (this recipe, by the way, is a perfect way to use up spinach leaves that are just past the peak of freshness but not yet gone bad) and stir constantly. Once they have begun to darken and wilt, add a clove or two of minced garlic and a pinch of salt. Stir until the leaves are dark and wilted and the garlic is fragrant. Remove from heat and place the spinach in a bowl or dish.

Grab your microplane (another must-own item if you don't already have one) and grate yourself a generous couple of tablespoons of fresh parmesan cheese. Don't even try to get away with using that powdery sawdust that comes in a can. BLASPHEMY. Once you start using freshly grated parmesan you will wonder how in fuck they can pass that canned shit off as edible. (My father rightly says that the Kraft parmesan smells like feet. Real, fresh parmesan has a tangy, salty, beautiful smell and in no way resembles powder when it is grated.) A wedge of fresh parm will keep in your fridge for weeks, because it's an incredibly hard cheese. Just wrap it in plastic wrap and stash in a small plastic container. My parm has been in the fridge since January. It had a spot or two of mold on it, but a little mold never killed anyone. The beauty of parmesan is that you can easy trim off any moldy spots with a sharp knife. It doesn't affect the taste of the rest of the cheese.

Grease the inside of two small ramekins with a little butter or olive oil. Divide the spinach into the bottom of each cup, then top with a layer of the parmesan. Carefully crack an egg into each ramekin, being careful not to let the yolk break. The yolk and white should completely cover the spinach-parmesan nest at the bottom of the cup.

Take a metal or glass oven-safe pan and place the ramekins in it. A square brownie pan is perfect for this purpose as the ramekins will fit snugly within (see photo below). Carefully pour hot tap water into the pan so that it comes up the sides of the ramekins just past the point where the egg is in each cup. This warm water bath will help the eggs cook evenly and will prevent brown, overcooked edges.

Bake them for about 12 minutes. You want to remove them from the oven when everything looks just barely set. The whites should be white and the yolks should be pale. The hot ramekins will continue cooking the eggs, and you want them to be just a tad firm, but not so firm that the yolks won't be scrumptiously runny. Carefully remove the ramekins from the pan and set them on a plate. Sprinkle the top of the egg with just a pinch of salt.

These are best eaten with a spoon, so you can savor every last bit. The yolks stay gloriously runny once you pierce them, and the whites are soft. The whole thing is like an unshelled soft-boiled egg, but with glorious treasures at the bottom. The spinach with parmesan was gloriously but not overly salty and a nice mix of textures. The yolk mingles beautifully with the wilted leaves and the whites melt in your mouth. Seriously. These are THAT GOOD. They are an easy, hearty, and luxurious dinner, and would go well with a silky, cream-based soup.

Behold! The glory of the baked eggs, straight from the oven.

If you don't happen to have two small ramekins, but have one of those circular Corningware or Pyrex dishes, just prepare the dish with both eggs in it in your larger round dish. I just really like preparing each one separately because come on... how adorable are those ramekins?

Try this and then tell me how OHMIGOD good it is.


Lauren said...

Trying this ASAP.

Thank you for posting!!

heather said...

i LOVE shirred eggs! they were part of my new years' day brunch extravaganza this year (which also included sweet potato biscuits, my new favorite food).

yay baked eggs!