Time to get cracking: Mark Hix makes eggs the star of the show

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Considering that eggs are such a household staple, it's a shame that they aren't made star of the show a little more often. Eggs are an integral part of desserts and normally remain hidden in among so many other ingredients, but you rarely see a stand-alone egg dish featuring on many restaurant or dinner-party menus. Perhaps it's time we had some fun with them, instead of just boiling or frying them for breakfast. There is a great selection of eggs on offer these days, from tiny quails' eggs to giant goose eggs.

Smoked salmon and quail egg shooters

Serves 4

This is one of our favourite bar snacks at the moment and we normally serve it with chopped-up crispy bacon. I stole the idea for the dish from the Fatty Crab in New York, where they serve it topped with dried fish. But using smoked salmon trimmings works equally well, and you can even crisp up the skin and chop that into the mixture, too. I've had little wooden boards made with small holes drilled out to serve the eggs in, but presenting the eggs on a bed of flaky sea salt works well too.

12 quails' eggs
About 30-40g smoked salmon, finely chopped
2tsp finely chopped chives
Coarse sea salt to serve

Bring a pan of water to the boil and carefully lower the quails' eggs in with a slotted spoon. Simmer for 20 seconds, then drain and run under the cold tap briefly for a few seconds. Spoon the sea salt on to a serving dish, cut the tops off the quails' eggs, stand them in the salt and spoon the finely chopped smoked salmon and then the chives on top of each one. Serve immediately.

Quail and celery broth with poached eggs and wild garlic

Serves 4

There is something so comforting about a light clear broth. You can make enough for four people with just a couple of quails and you can put in as many little poached eggs as you wish. If you don't fancy faffing around with the quails' eggs you could also use a small hen or bantam egg.

2 large quails
6 sticks of celery, washed, 5 sticks roughly chopped and one left whole
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
A few sprigs of thyme
10 black peppercorns
2 litres cold chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 quails' eggs
100-120ml white wine vinegar, for poaching
A small handful of wild garlic leaves, washed and roughly chopped

Put the quails in a large saucepan with the roughly chopped celery, onion, thyme, peppercorns and chicken stock, season lightly, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove the quails and continue simmering the stock for another 30 minutes.

To poach the quails' eggs, bring a pan of water to a simmer, put the vinegar into a bowl and with a small knife carefully break the quails' eggs and crack into the bowl of vinegar.

Turn the water up to a slow boil and carefully tip the eggs and vinegar into the water. Simmer gently for about 30-40 seconds or until the eggs have set but are still soft in the middle. Have a bowl of cold water ready and remove the eggs with a slotted spoon into the bowl of water.

Remove all of the meat from the quails and slice or shred it up. Cut the remaining stick of celery into 2cm lengths, then shred it lengthways as finely as possible.

Strain the broth through a fine-meshed

sieve into a clean pan, check the strength and if it's a bit weak continue simmering it for a while until it has a good flavour; then season to taste. Add the celery to the soup and simmer for a minute.

Put three quails' eggs into each warmed soup bowl with some wild garlic, then carefully pour over the soup and serve.

Duck eggs 'en cocotte' with creamed smoked haddock

Serves 4

These are great for breakfast or as a dinner party starter. You can substitute all sorts of toppings such as creamed wild mushrooms in season; or even something as simple as creamed leeks would go very well in this dish.

4 duck eggs
Softened butter for greasing
100-120g smoked haddock
150-200ml double cream
1tbsp chopped dill or parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4.

Put the cream into a saucepan with the haddock, bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for a couple of minutes, then remove the haddock and transfer to a plate to cool.

Butter 4 ramekins or similar-sized dishes large enough to fit the duck eggs and topping. Season the ramekins, then crack in the duck eggs. Place the ramekins in a deep ovenproof dish and pour enough boiling water into the dish to go about half way up the eggs. Bake in the oven for about 8-10 minutes or until the whites are just set and the yolk is still runny.

Meanwhile, bring the cream back to a simmer, remove all the haddock meat from the skin of the fish and remove any bones. Flake the meat into the cream with the dill or parsley, season and simmer until the sauce thickens.

Remove the ramekins from the water, spoon the creamed haddock mixture over and serve immediately.

Scrambled eggs with crab

Serves 4

Now this is something that would be easy to do for a dinner party and is sure to go down well with your guests. I've made it several times with sea urchins, but the dish is equally delicious with crab. If you buy a live crab and cook and prepare it yourself you can enjoy getting another bisque out of it; or you could get your fishmonger to do it for you and ask him to save you the shells to make a stock.

4 small 1cm-thick slices of bread from a bloomer-style loaf
8 medium free-range eggs, beaten
80g butter
60ml double cream
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1tbsp finely chopped chives
The brown and white meat from a 500-600g crab, or about 150g white meat and 8g brown

Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan, add the eggs, season and stir over a low heat, ensuring the eggs don't catch on the bottom of the pan. Add the cream and a spoonful of the brown crab meat and continue cooking briefly so the eggs are nice and soft. Remove from the heat and spoon immediately on to warmed serving plates; spoon the rest of the brown crab meat into the centre of the eggs and scatter the white meat and chives all over. Serve with buttered toast.

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