I have an abiding affection for the humble egg. That most complete, complex and humble of foods. Firstly, because a basket or bowl or nest of eggs always looks so beautiful. The shells gently stippled, stiff but delicate. The colours simple and pure: a shell – brown or cream or blue or soft green – the clear silk of the albumen, the deep gold of the yolk.
Secondly, few things can compare to a morning that begins with a poached egg whose yolk spills silkenly at the touch of the knife, or a soft-boiled egg served with slim, buttery fingers of toast.
If you want something more indulgent, you might like to try a chaud-froid d’oeuf. Made famous by Alain Passard at l’Arpege, it is sometimes called l’Arpege d’oeuf. The recipe below is for one (sometimes, you really do need to eat alone). If you multiply the ingredients, and can successfully balance your armada of eggs in the pan, try serving them as an amuse-bouche for understanding friends.
- 1 free range egg
- 1 dollop of maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon of cream or, preferably, creme fraiche
- 1 pinch of quatre epice (A French spice mix: nutmeg, ginger, cloves, white pepper)
- ½ teaspoon of sherry vinegar
- a teeny sprinkle of finely chopped chives
- 2 pinches salt
- fresh, black pepper
Neatly slice off the top of the egg and pour out the egg. You will probably need an egg-topper for this, and a nice sharp one. The French invented the guillotine: a good egg-topper is just as sharp. Be sure to place the bowl for collection of the white beneath the egg, and execute your victims swiftly.
Reserve the whites for some guilt-free egg-white omelette if you’re a purist, meringue if you’re more of an indulger, or to stiffen your mohawk. Some recipes recommend rinsing and drying out the shell before returning the yolk: you’ll need to have slim fingers and a light touch. Adorn the yolk, in the shell, with a light pinch of salt and freshly-crushed pepper.
In a separate bowl, whip the creme fraiche/cream with the sherry vinegar and a wee pinch of salt until stiff peaks form.
Lightly poach the egg yolks by floating the eggshells in very lightly simmering water for about two minutes. This is the tricky bit. Unlike poaching whole eggs loose in the water, you will want to use a shallow pot or pan and keep the water at a very low simmer so as not to tip your yolk-sailor into the sea.
Remove your poached yolks from the heat, and sprinkle with the chives.
Top up the shell with the whipped cream and drizzle a slurp of maple syrup over the top.
Serve in the eggshell, in a polished silver cup with a long-handled teaspoon and some Edith Piaf on the stereo. Best eaten by plunging your spoon deep into the shell, rupturing the buried yolk so that it wells up into the salty airiness of the creme fraiche.
If you have friends to share your eggs, you can always indulge yourself even further with a bad joke, borrowed from The West Wing:
Margaret: Do you know why they only eat one egg for breakfast in France?
Margaret: Because in France, one egg is an ‘oeuf’