Like kale and quinoa, kimchi and anything charred, the egg is having its moment. The hashtag #putaneggonit turns up close to 60,000 times on Instagram. Put an egg on a salad of bitter greens, some hash, Brussels sprouts, toast, rice, ramen or a ragout, and that dish's appeal goes up. Way up. Eggs have a knack for making just about anything look farm-to-table: A runny yolk is a shortcut to rusticity and charm.
But the egg can also be refined and ready to take its place next to a flute of Champagne, which is where these coddled eggs were when we celebrated New Year's Eve in Paris.
When you buy eggs at a Parisian cheese shop, they are never refrigerated (once refrigerated, they're "dead," says our French cheesemonger), are most often "bio" or organic, and are labeled with either their "fresh-until" date or, my favorite, their "extra-fresh-until" date. Extra-fresh eggs are the ones you get if you want to eat them raw. I know, because I was once ready to buy them when the cheesemonger asked what I was going to use them for. Hearing that I was provisioning for cake baking, he took the eggs out of my hands and told me to save my money, because "extras" cost a little more.
When I make these coddled eggs in Paris, I spring for extra-fresh eggs; when I make them in America, I buy organic eggs. In both places, lightly cooked, or coddled, eggs are voluptuous, even if they take only 15 minutes to get on the table.
This version of coddled eggs is a little ritzier than the ones I'd make for an everyday meal. They've got sauteed mushrooms and herbs forming a cushion on the bottom of the coddling cup. Whether you put more mushrooms on top of the eggs before you sashay into the dining room is up to you. (I always do.)
What makes coddled eggs so luscious — and as right for breakfast as for the start of a fancy-pants dinner — is their consistency: The whites are just set, and the yolks run the instant the tip of a spoon touches them.
That they welcome other ingredients and flavors just adds to their allure. I love mushrooms and eggs, but eggs go with just about anything, from truffles, caviar and smoked salmon (maybe even all together) to roasted peppers (think Western omelet; also think hot sauce) and soft cheeses.
Dorie Greenspan's Earthy Coddled Eggs
You'll need a steamer basket and individual 4- or 6-ounce ramekins or glass canning jars.
Fine sea salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for the ramekins
2 tablespoons minced mixed herbs, such as chives, tarragon, parsley and/or dill
4 ounces cleaned, stemmed and trimmed mushrooms, mixed or all one kind
Freshly ground white pepper
2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar or dry white wine
4 large organic (and/or local) eggs, at room temperature
4 teaspoons heavy cream
Toast points or batons ("soldiers"), lightly buttered, for serving
Set up a steamer. If you have a Chinese bamboo steamer, that's great; you can even use a pasta pot that has a pasta-strainer insert. Ideally, you want a steamer with a flat bottom, so that you can rest 4 cups on it. If you don't have a steamer, you can set a cooling rack in a deep skillet with a lid.
Fill the steamer pot with salted water (leave space between the water and the steaming rack) and heat so the water is barely moving.
Use some butter to grease the insides of 4 souffle, ramekin, custard or other heatproof cups. The ideal size is 4 ounces (more for looks than anything else), but cups between 4 and 6 ounces will be fine. Lightly sprinkle the inside of the cups with some of the minced herbs.
Coarsely chop the mushrooms, making them the right size to eat from a teaspoon.
Melt the tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Once its bubbling has slowed, add the mushrooms. Season lightly with salt and pepper; cook until the mushrooms are almost tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the vinegar or wine and cook until it evaporates.
Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and stir in some of the remaining herbs. You want to reserve a few pinches of herbs to top the eggs when they're cooked.
Divide the mushrooms among the cups. (If you'd like, you can hold back a few mushrooms to top the eggs.) Carefully break 1 egg into each cup, taking care to keep the yolk intact. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then spoon 1 teaspoon of cream over each egg. (Try to leave the yolk exposed, but it's not necessary. At this point, the cups can be covered and refrigerated up to overnight.)
Place the eggs in the steamer, cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. It's hard to give an exact time, because it will depend on how much steam you have beneath the eggs, the thickness of the cups and the temperature of the eggs. You want the whites to set and the yolks to remain runny, so test with the tip of knife after 5 minutes.
Carefully remove the cups from the steamer; top each egg with herbs and mushrooms, if you've saved some. Wipe the bottoms of the cups dry, place them on saucers and serve right away with the toast points or batons.
Source: Dorie Greenspan
• Use large-size organic and/or local eggs, and bring them to room temperature before you cook them. (The cooking time for the accompanying recipe is based on room-temp eggs.)
• Because you'll be eating your eggs with a spoon, chop the mushrooms (or whatever else you choose to go under the eggs) into small pieces.
• There are cups made specifically for coddled eggs (they usually have tight-sealing lids, and the setup is made to go into a water bath), but I prefer to use heatproof ramekins, canning jars or souffle, custard or espresso cups. The ideal size is 4 ounces.
• When you spill the egg into the cup, it's important that the yolk remain intact. To make sure there are no mishaps, crack the egg into a bowl before pouring it into the coddling cup.
• You can assemble everything — mushrooms, egg, spoonful of cream on top — up to the night before. Keep the cups tightly covered in the refrigerator, then bring them to room temperature before coddling.
• The eggs are cooked in a steamer. You can use any steamer with a flat bottom, the straining insert in a pasta pot or a grill/cooling rack set into a skillet with a lid.
• How quickly the eggs coddle will depend on the cups, how much water you've got under them and how much steam is in the pot. I've given you a range of 5 to 7 minutes, but check a minute before and don't be discouraged if your eggs take a minute or so more.
• The eggs are done when the whites are just set and the yolks are still runny. The eggs will cook a tad more between pot and table (residual heat), so undercooked is better than overcooked.
• Lightly buttered toast points or batons ("soldiers") are good for dipping.