Saturday, 13 December 2008

Ouefs en Cocotte

My fairy godmother at the office—always ready with a sympathetic ear and able to decipher official documents from the gas company—has also looked kindly upon me when it comes to my cooking. Having patiently listened to my oven woes, and having decided to upgrade her own oven, she has donated her old one to Chez Petit Pois. The oven’s heating control isn’t perfect. Things tend to brown quickly on top—great when roasting chicken, as the skin goes gorgeously bronze and crispy, but less desirable when baking cookies. But it's reliable enough to allow me to revisit whole categories of food—dessert, roasts, baked pasta dishes, gratins—and to flip to cookbook sections whose perfectly clean pages make it clear that they have never been used in nearly two years of living in Paris.

The first thing I intended to make was a gratin, and I duly went out to buy an appropriate dish. Encountering Saturday afternoon crowds and what seemed like surprising high prices for a pretty anodyne item, I decided instead to buy two individual-size white china cocottes. Back home, I poured a glass of vermouth*, unpacked my purchase and plotted how to press it into service.

The answer came from a dish of slow-cooked onions, left over, as I remember, from a steak dinner some days earlier. I turned on the oven, spooned some of the onions into the dish, and broke an egg over the top, and covered both with a coarse grating of fresh gruyere** and some black pepper.

After ten minutes in the oven, the onions were warm and aromatic and the egg on the cusp of firm, with the gruyere forming a lacy, golden crown over the top. It was so good that I forgot about the salad and popped another one in the oven instead.

Ouefs en cocotte

This formula can be adapted easily to what’s in the fridge. In place of the onions, I’ve used well-drained, steamed spinach, sautéed mushrooms, tomato confit and, on a night when the fridge was particularly bare, a small dollop of good tapenade. Some diced meat (perhaps cooked or cured ham) or smoked fish could certainly be added to the bottom layer, while any cheese which melts well and isn’t overly assertive could be substituted for the gruyere. To start, I’d suggest taleggio, fontina, a creamy, rindless goats cheese and comte.

One final note: these temperature and cooking recommendations may well apply only to my own oven. To start, I’d stick with the former and check after 8 minutes, jiggling to see how liquid the egg is

Total time: However long it takes to preheat the oven, plus another ten minutes

Makes a light dinner for one with some bread and salad. You can prepare this for more people by using individual cocottes or by adjusting the cooking time and using a larger dish.

2 tablespoons slow-cooked onion
1 large free-range egg
Somewhere between a large pinch and a small handful of freshly-grated gruyere
Special equipment: an ovenproof dish between 3 and 4 inches in diameter and 1 ½ and 2 inches tall

Preheat the oven to 175C. Place the onions at the base of the dish and crack the egg on top. Sprinkle the gruyere over both and finish with some black pepper.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on how runny you like the egg. If the cheese has not browned and swelled sufficiently, put under the grill for not more than 30 seconds.

* I imagine most people only keep dry white vermouth around to make martinis. But not only does it last for ages without degrading—making it extremely useful to stow in the fridge for adding to braises, soups and the like—but the better ones are also excellent as a solo aperitif. Of the commonly-available brands I particularly like Noilly Prat, which is oak-aged and contains an appealing complex blend of herbs. And yes, I am drinking some now.

** Even in France, there is a huge difference between the pre-grated stuff that most people throw in their baskets at the supermarket, and a well-aged specimen bought from a good cheesemonger. The former is bland and sawdusty, the latter nutty, almost treacly in bits, with some residual moisture even when grated.

Finally, I've written this for La Fête du Fromage. You can find the write-up after the 15th of December at Chez Loulou.


Loulou said...

Looks delicious! This is a dish that I have always wanted to try. You've inspired me!
Thanks for joining in La Fête du Fromage.

Shira said...

Thanks for the compliment. (If I had any eggs in the house, it would be what's for dinner tonight too!) And I have to say that the pictures on your site are fantastic. Without getting too technical, what do you use?

spacedlaw said...

Sounds great!

Camille said...

Simple and tasty - such a great weeknight supper!

Shira said...

Spacedlaw and Camille, thanks for the positive feedback. Just the encouragement I need to churn out a few more posts before the end of the year.


supertaxicab said...

now if only I had some ramekins.