It’s kind of surreal when I consider how much I used to hate eggs given that I’ll have them any time of day nowadays, but I think that my former distaste for them is rooted in the fact that I prefer my eggs on the slightly runnier side rather than cooked to oblivion, and growing up the latter is what we usually had at breakfast on the weekends. (The fact that I would also eat them with pancake syrup–and yes, pancake syrup and not real maple syrup–probably had something to do with it too.) I’m glad that I eventually came to this realization because otherwise I would be missing out on so many fast and relatively inexpensive dishes as well as the health benefits of the egg itself.
Of all the ways I love them–softly scrambled, poached, in an omelette or tortilla, or even baked in a sauce–I think my absolute favorite is the French classic ouefs en cocotte. It’s so easy to make, can be endlessly modified to one’s own taste, and unlike omelette cookery requires very little actual cooking skill aside from safely removing the ramekin from the hot water bath (or bain marie) when it’s done. Rachel Khoo’s take on this dish was what finally got me on board with it as she employed some creme fraiche and salmon roe along with nutmeg and dill to bring it together, and then later when I was flipping through Mimi Thorrison’s cookbook I found her version that employed mushrooms and onions cooked in a red wine sauce to also pique my interest. I tried Rachel’s first during a stint when Michael was away on business, and initially I was really frustrated with it because when I would check in after twelve minutes, then fifteen, and then twenty, it didn’t seem like anything was actually happening. I think I let it stay in there for twenty-five minutes altogether and was preparing myself to spoon into a fully-cooked egg yolk, but happily it was far runnier than I expected. When Michael and I tried Mimi’s version a few months later we also let the eggs go for longer than prescribed and yet the results were similar. It was then when it dawned on Michael where the disconnect lay: given that both of these women are European, they are naturally accustomed to using eggs that aren’t refrigerated. No refrigeration means that egg-cooking times are going to be much shorter as a rule.
I felt kind of stupid that I couldn’t come to that conclusion myself because OF COURSE. In his omelette recipe Alton Brown has you cover your eggs in fairly warm tap water for about five minutes to let them come to room temperature, and naturally I never thought to do that for any other dishes that would benefit from such a procedure and instead would just gape at them in the oven, wondering what was taking them so damn long to cook.
So when I made myself some eggs en cocotte for a light weekend lunch this past Sunday, I made sure they ended up in a hot bath for five minutes before I cracked them into my ramekin. My ego was slightly comforted by the fact that while the bath helped, I still needed a couple of extra minutes to help the eggs set.
I share with you my sheepish tale of pitiful egg cooking to encourage you to give this dish a try. Use what you have available, whether it’s some leftover bits from dinner a few nights ago or just some herbs and spices that seem particularly appealing at the moment. Rachel calls for dill in hers, but I prefer tarragon with my eggs so I went that particular route with this iteration, and while I did not have any salmon eggs around as a garnish, a drizzle of really good Catalan olive oil and some sea salt seemed to be all the flourish I needed.
Eggs in pots, or ouefs en cocotte
Adapted from Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen
Serves 1 as a light lunch or starter for dinner, and multiply as necessary.
One to two eggs (I prefer two myself)
2-3 tablespoons of creme fraiche
A tablespoon of finely chopped tarragon divided, plus extra for garnish
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Good olive oil for drizzling (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In the meantime, place the eggs in a hot water bath for about five minutes to allow them to come to room temperature.
Season the creme fraiche to taste with salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg. In a ramekin or other small oven-safe pot, place a tablespoon of the creme fraiche on the bottom and then some tarragon, and then crack an egg on top of it. Add another layer of creme fraiche and tarragon and another egg, and then cover it all with the last bit of creme fraiche and sprinkle the top with some extra salt and pepper.
Place the ramekin into a baking pan that has been placed on an oven rack and fill the pan with lukewarm water until it has come halfway up the sides of the ramekin. Close it up and bake for about 15-18 minutes for runny yolks, or longer for a more set egg.