|Clockwise from top left: with foie gras, asparagus and caviar|
Sometimes things sound better in a foreign language. Sometimes they don’t. I guess it depends on whether the mystery outweighs the pronunciation.
Take, for example, the oeuf cocotte (pronounced “uff co-cut”). That sounds strange. Perhaps not mysterious enough. It means “shirred eggs”. And if you’re not sure what “shirred” means, it means baked. So now we’re down to something simple. Just plain baked eggs.
Cocotte sounds so much more romantic. Especially if you know that it’s a term of endearment, as in “ma petite cocotte, he whispered in her ear.” And yet it also can mean a courtesan, a woman of “easy virtue”, but not a prostitute... which is an interesting opposition for one word. A cocotte is also a large, heavy pot, usually cast iron, used for braising or slow-cooking. Add “minute” and you have a pressure cooker, a cocotte-minute. Or, if paper is involved - cocotte en papier - you have a bare-bones origami bird. And to help explain that, let me add that in baby talk, a cocotte is a chicken.
Back to eggs. (I guess the chicken came first here. Or did it?) While a baked egg is proletarian and a shirred egg is high-fallutin, call it an oeuf cocotte and you’ll mystify your guests. Add in something deliciously inventive and you’ll have them bowing down before you. Truffles obviously come to mind here, or foie gras, or a dollop of caviar after the egg has cooled for a minute, but we don’t have to go that far. There are many recipes that make for a delicious, nutritious starter. Or even a meal, if you use two eggs and accompany them with a side salad of mixed greens with vinaigrette dressing.
So here’s the basic recipe, followed by a few variations.
For each individual portion:
- 1 egg, as fresh as possible
- salt & freshly-ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C).
- Butter the inside of a ramekin.
- Crack an egg into the ramekin, being careful not to break the yolk.
- Place the ramekin on a baking sheet and bake on the middle rack for about 10 minutes, or until the yolk is set and the white has solidified.. (Some people like to sit the ramekins in a bit of water and use a bain-marie style cooking; in this case, they’ll cook a bit faster.)
- Because the ramekin retains heat, the egg will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven, so it’s better to undercook it slightly.
- Sprinkle with salt (fleur de sel is best) and freshly-ground pepper and serve.
For children, who love to play with their food, you can serve this with some mouillettes, bread “soldiers” that can be dipped in the egg.
And for added color, sprinkle some cut chives or parsley over the top. Or a splash of paprika.
In the following variations, place the ingredients in the bottom of the ramekin (even up the sides for sliced meats or asparagus) and crack the egg over the top, then add a bit of any cream (heavy, half-and-half, or even skimmed milk). In all these cases, the procedure is the same, but cooking
time may be a minute or so longer due to the added ingredients:
Italian: minced tomato, grated parmesan & minced basil
Tyrolean: slice of tomato, small slice of prosciutto
Provençal: minced tomato, goat’s cheese (in pieces or whole), with chives when serving
Greek: spinach, feta cheese
Forestière: sautéed mushrooms, small cubes of ham
Basque: minced and sautéed bell pepper, a pinch of piment d’espelette*
Printanière: cooked asparagus spears
*Piment d’espelette is made from small red peppers from the Basque country. Not particularly hot (4/10), but very flavorful, it can be replaced by hot paprika or New Mexico red chile powder. But if you’re planning to try other Basque recipes, such as piperade or chicken basquaise, you might want to splurge and buy a bit.
For reasons of photography, the foie gras was put on top after the eggs were cooked, but it should be placed in the bottom of the ramekin, as in the recipe above. The caviar is the only thing that you would want to add just before serving, as also stated above.