Eggs are one of those staple ingredients that most households can't do without – and without which many great recipes simply wouldn't be possible. Apart from being a key component of the great British fry-up, the egg has traditionally been a crucial part of restaurant menus – especially in hard financial times, when it made economic sense. In fact, some of the classic restaurant menus used to devote a whole section to eggs; you would have expected to see dishes such as oeufs en gelée, oeufs en cocotte, oeufs en meurette as well as traditional omelettes such as Arnold Bennett.
I reckon some of those dishes are going to make a bit of a comeback, and to prove it I've even got some classic egg concoctions on my current restaurant menus.
You can get really creative with eggs, especially in the summer. They're not just for taking to a picnic hard-boiled, though having said that, a lightly boiled bantam's egg works a treat with homemade celery salt.
Fried duck egg with samphire
This simple dish can be served as a snack, for breakfast or as a starter. You could also throw in some peeled brown shrimps or even some crab meat. If you want to make the dish more substantial, then slide it on to a slice of toast.
4 free-range duck eggs
A few good knobs of butter
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
A handful or so of samphire with the woody ends trimmed
Lightly fry the duck eggs in half of the butter, seasoning the whites lightly during cooking, then transfer to warmed serving plates. Meanwhile, melt the rest of the butter in a frying pan and gently cook the samphire over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring every so often. Then spoon over and around the eggs with the butter.
Soft-boiled bantam egg salad
Bantam eggs are about two-thirds of the size of a hen's egg and they make a great little summery salad or tea-time snack (some branches of Waitrose sell free-range Tremayne Farm bantam eggs, £1.69 for four). I've given you a home-made celery salt recipe before, but here it is again, just for good measure.
4 or 8 bantam eggs
A handful of small salad leaves
A couple of tablespoons or so of good quality or homemade mayonnaise
For the celery salt
The leaves from one large head of leafy celery
150-200g flaky rock salt like Cornish sea salt
To make the celery salt, set your oven to its lowest temperature. With some modern ovens you can get away with using just the fan; the warming oven of an Aga is also ideal for this. Scatter the celery leaves on to 1 or 2 baking trays and leave in the oven overnight until the pieces are dry and crisp, without letting them go brown. Depending on how watery the celery is, you may have to allow even longer. Once dry enough, put them into a food processor with the sea salt flakes and blend to a coarse powder-like consistency, or as coarse or finely as you wish. Store in airtight containers.
Bring a pan of water to the boil and carefully lower in the bantam eggs with a slotted spoon. Cook for 4 minutes and then run under the cold tap.
To serve, either peel the eggs, or you can half peel them; sit them on the salad leaves, serve the celery salt scattered on the eggs and/or extra on the side with the mayonnaise.
Oeufs en gelée
You rarely see this dish on menus anywhere these days, although Rowley Leigh did have it among his classic hors d'oeuvres on his opening menu at Café Anglais and I ordered it a couple of times. Ideally you should prepare a home-made consommé but that can be a bit of a drag, so I've suggested a tin of beef consommé here as an alternative.
415g tin of beef consommé
2tbsp medium sherry or madeira
4 leaves leaf gelatin
A little vinegar for poaching
Soak the gelatin leaves in cold water for about 5 minutes, and meanwhile bring 100ml of the consommé to the boil. Squeeze the water out of the gelatin leaves and stir them into the hot consommé until completely dissolved, then mix with the rest of the consommé and the sherry or Madeira. Place 4 ramekins, small pudding bowls or similar, large enough to hold an egg each, on to a small tray. Pour about 1cm of the consommé into each ramekin and transfer to the fridge to set.
Bring a pan of water, large enough to poach the four eggs, to a rolling simmer and add about 1tbsp of vinegar. Crack the eggs into 4 tea cups and drop them separately into the water. Cook for 2-3 minutes, lifting one with a slotted spoon to ensure the yolk is still runny. Transfer them with a slotted spoon to a bowl of cold water to prevent them cooking any further. Place on to some kitchen paper and trim them of any stray bits of egg white.
When the jelly is set, place the egg with the best-looking side facing down on to the jelly and top up the ramekin with the rest of the jellied consommé. Return to the fridge for a few hours or until the jelly has set.
To serve, have a bowl of boiling water ready and dip the ramekins in briefly – for a few seconds – and carefully turn out on to serving plates. Serve with a green salad or chicory as a starter or as a part of a buffet.
Iles flottants with raspberries
Iles flottants, or floating islands, is the bizarre but delicious French pudding that makes clever use of both the yolk and the whites of the eggs. You would have seen this dish often on dessert trolleys in grand restaurants and hotel dining rooms, and now the dessert trolley is rarely to be seen, except when it's gathering dust in antique warehouses. You can serve any summer fruits with this or just leave it plain.
6 eggs, separated
100g caster sugar
150ml double cream
Half a vanilla pod
Summer berries, to serve
Put the cream and milk into a saucepan, halve the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape the seeds with the point of a knife into the milk mixture and add the pods too, then bring to the boil and take off the heat. Remove the pods. Meanwhile mix the egg yolks with 70g of the sugar. Whisk the boiled cream mixture on to the egg yolks and sugar, and mix well. Return to a clean pan on a low heat and stir every so often, ensuring you stir the bottom and sides of the pan. When the sauce coats the back of a spoon (this should take 3-4 minutes) remove from the heat, give it a good whisk and transfer into a mixing bowl.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites. Use an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, or an electric hand whisk (the bowl must be very clean with no signs of grease, so rinse with boiling water and dry it first). Whisk the whites with the rest of the caster sugar for 3-4 minutes until they are really stiff and shiny.
Bring a large pan of water to a simmer and, with a large kitchen serving spoon, lower four spoon shapes of egg white as neatly as you can into the simmering water. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side, then transfer to a large plate, preferably lined with kitchen paper to soak up any moisture. Cook a couple of batches if your saucepan isn't big enough.
Serve immediately with the warm sauce, or allow to cool to room temperature. Divide the sauce between four pasta-type bowls and float a cooked "meringue" in the middle of each, scattering your berries over as you wish.
Mark Hix is launching Chef's Table, a monthly cooking class at his new restaurant in Lyme Regis. Prices start at £120 per head, and Mark will cook up a four-course lunch with you. For further details see restaurantsetcltd.co.ukReuse content