There’s something inherently romantic about eggs: whether you’re preparing them for another person, or being served them, they always strike me as a little act of love. Maybe it’s that they suggest breakfast in bed. Breakfast in bed is not about flirting or seduction, it’s more than that. You don’t make breakfast in bed for someone in whom you’re uninterested. Breakfast in bed is not a collaboration, it’s a gift from one person to the other, reserved for those you wish to impress, or to whom you wish to signal your love.
That said, while in theory I like the idea, in practice I can feel a little allergic to breakfast in bed: the prospect of crumbs dropped and discovered the following evening is about the least romantic thing I can imagine. A blob of jam on the sheets, sticky and staining is not my idea of fun. But eggs en cocotte don’t present such a problem, as they’re self-contained. Although of course, eggs aren’t just for Valentine’s day (or bed, or breakfast for that matter): eggs en cocotte make a surprisingly impressive and extremely easy breakfast for house guests, and like all the best egg dishes, a brilliant no fuss supper.
Eggs en cocotte are simply baked eggs, which are cooked and served in individual ramekins, on a bed of cream or crème fraîche. Shirred eggs are similar but unlike eggs in cocotte, don’t use the water bath that is required for eggs en cocotte, which produces a gentler cook, and makes it less likely you’ll accidentally end up with a rock-hard yolk. They are cooked on a bed of thick cream or crème fraîche, with all kinds of additions, until the white is set but the yolk runny.
I’ve suggested smoked salmon as the addition to these eggs, but really, you can pop in whatever you heart desires: sautéed mushrooms, browned in a dry pan, are excellent, as are onions roasted low and slow then broken up and folded through the crème fraîche, or leeks, steamed.
Other wonderful additions include: vine tomatoes slow-roasted, generously grated gruyere, flaked smoked haddock, chunks of chorizo or torn ham – or keep it simple with a plain base and an additional drizzle with chilli oil and top with a fistful of torn coriander once cooked.
The obvious accompaniment is a small army of toast soldiers, but there are other commendable dunking options: spears of asparagus or tenderstem broccoli steamed until tender feel like they were made for plunging into egg yolk, or try or (my favourite) spring onions roasted hot and fast, until they are slightly blackened and wiggly. Top with the herb of your choice for colour and freshness.
Eggs en cocotte
Makes: Breakfast for two
Takes: 5 minutes
Bakes: 15 minutes
3 tablespoons créme fraîche
100g smoked salmon
A sprig of dill, to garnish
- First preheat the oven to 180°C and boil a kettle of water. Place a tablespoon of crème fraîche into the bottom of each of the oven-safe ramekins. Shred or tear the smoked salmon and stir through the crème fraîche. Season with a small of amount of fine salt and a generous grinding of black pepper.
- Create a small divot in the mixture using the back of a spoon in each ramekin and crack an egg into that divot. Spoon half a tablespoon of créme fraîche around the edge of each egg and season again.
- Place the ramekins in a baking tray, and pour boiling water into the baking tray until it reaches half way up the ramekins. Place in the oven for 15 minutes, then carefully remove the ramekins from the hot water. Garnish with a small sprig of dill and serve straight away (the egg will continue to cook once it is removed from the oven, as its surroundings will still be hot).