18 April 2007
A Recipe for Optimism
My mother has a cookbook in which she has written in the margin, “made Nov. 1968, lamb chops $.80/lb.” I love this note, and in fact my mother’s cookbooks are littered with similar ones, scribblings of when and where she made the dishes, noting substitutions and alterations, cakes made for birthdays and cookies perfect for Christmas decorating. Like Billy Collins’ Marginalia, the white space on the side of the page is there for our seizing, and it is also an insight into the thoughts of others.
I like knowing what made someone choose a particular recipe, what made them think it would be good, why it piqued their interest. Maybe they happened to have all the ingredients in their pantry, maybe they are searching for their grandmother’s
version of coconut cake. Me, I have a tendency to look for unusual combinations or techniques, something different or new.
Over a year ago, I bookmarked a recipe for oeufs en meurette, or eggs in red wine sauce. The fact that I folded down the page corner is a testament of true optimism, an optimism of time, an optimism of finances. When would I have the time to make a recipe which involved multiple pots and pans and delicate poaching operations? When would I have the finances to use an entire bottle of red wine on something which is essentially a dressed-up version of eggs on toast? And did I mention I’m not a big fan of poached eggs?
But for some reason, this recipe called out to me, and each time I opened the cookbook it faced me with with it’s little tabbed page. As I confronted it again and again, the guilt grew. Why haven’t you made me, the recipe asked insolently, what are you waiting for?
Finally, in part so that I wouldn’t feel guilty everytime I glimpsed the book on the shelf, I went out and made the thing. And you know what? It was the best damn thing to come out of my kitchen in a long time. It was worth every little bit of extra effort, and even those dirty pots and pans. I realize I spend a lot of time advocating recipes which are simple or uncomplicated; this one is neither of those, but it is also really good. The earthy mushrooms, the red wine sauce, the soft egg, all melting into a warm crunchy hunk of toast. You’ll be happy to know all the components can be assembled ahead of time, making this the perfect dish for an impressive brunch or lunch. I'd even make it for dinner, optimistically speaking.
Oeufs en Meurette
This classic bistro dish is based on meurette, a red wine sauce used to accompany eggs or fish. It takes a bit of time and concentration, but it is worth the effort and can be prepared ahead of time. If you make it with white wine it is known as oeufs en meursault. Adapted from Cooking with Wine and Saveur Cooks Authentic French. Serves four.
4-8 eggs (depending on if you want one or two eggs per serving)
- for the sauce:
1 bottle French Burgundy
2 cups beef stock
1 shallot, chopped
1 carrot, sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 bay leaf
a few thyme sprigs
- for the garnish:
1/4 lb slab bacon, diced
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
- for the toasts:
4 thick slices of bread, crusts removed
- for finishing:
2 tbl butter
2 tbl flour
1. Place the wine and stock in a large pan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the mixture is just simmering. Break an egg into a ramekin, then slide the egg into the simmering wine. Repeat with the remaining eggs, poaching until the whites are firm and the yolks are just beginning to set . Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggs to a plate. Trim any stringy whites, then set aside.
2. Add the shallot, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme to the red wine mixture, raise the heat slightly, and simmer until reduced by half, about 25 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, place the bacon in a skillet over medium heat and cook until the bacon is browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Move the bacon to paper towels and drain off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the skillet. Add the mushrooms to the skillet,
season with salt and pepper, and sauté them until brown and tender, 10-15 minutes. Set the mushrooms aside with the bacon.
4. Make the toasts: the traditional way is to sauté the toasts in some butter until browned on both sides, but you can toast them under the broiler or toaster if you prefer.
5. Finish the sauce: In a small bowl, smash together the 2 tbl butter with the flour to form a paste. Strain the red wine mixture through a fine meshed sieve into a medium saucepan. Discard the vegetables. Put the sauce pan with the wine mixture over low heat and whisk the paste into the sauce a little bit at a time, so that the sauce thickens.
6. Stir the mushrooms and bacon into the red wine sauce. Taste for seasoning. Keep sauce warm.
7. To serve: Place a toast on each plate. Top the toast with one or two eggs. Spoon the sauce over the eggs. Garnish with parsley sprigs.
To make ahead: Make all the components ahead of time: store the poached eggs in some water in the refrigerator, store the strained sauce and mushroom-bacon garnish separately in the refrigerator. Reheat the eggs briefly in simmering water, reheat the sauce and garnish on the stovetop, and rewarm the toasts in the oven. Assemble and serve.