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February 17, 2012 10:14 pm
It is Lent next week, and not a moment too soon. I shall climb once again on to my wagon and abstain from alcohol for the duration. At the restaurant we are going to run a special menu that features the burgeoning roots, shoots and leaves of the season and eschews fats and carbohydrates. If I tell people that I adhere to some form of Lenten abstention, I am generally asked if I am a Christian or, more particularly, a Roman Catholic. In fact, I am an unbaptised heathen, but I like to observe the liturgical rhythm of the seasons. After all, no one questions our sense of religion when we tell them that we intend to celebrate Christmas or that we want a leg of lamb on Easter Sunday.
My observance of Lent takes a very minor form. Originally, Lent was a serious fast with no meat or animal products allowed. Gradually the notion of Lenten observance was eroded, until it became the sort of gentle abstention that it is today. Central to the Lenten fast, for some reason, was the proscription on eggs. It was to use up any eggs that one made pancakes on the last day before the fasting began. Similarly, the Easter egg was the celebration of the end of the fast –and, of course, the arrival of spring and a bit of fresh food in a diet dominated by store crops.
I see some point in abstaining from eggs. I don’t like to see them taken for granted. In professional kitchens nowadays eggs rarely come in their traditional form of packaging, the ovoid porous shell, but from a carton of pasteurised yolks or whites. I can well remember working with a young Mexican commis chef who was given the job of breaking 60 eggs and proceeded to execute the task, bringing each egg up to his nose to ascertain if it was good. I think a little of that reverence rather admirable.
Oeufs en meurette is Burgundian, but there is not much Burgundy around that I would be prepared to pour into a pan, even for this dish. A robust country red is appropriate, half for the pan, half for the table.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Oeufs en meurette
Either one egg per person for a starter or two per person for a lunch or supper dish. Any sauce left over can always be added to a stew.
80g smoky bacon
10 fat spring onions, top half removed
Butter, salt, pepper, sugar
150g button mushrooms
4 slices of bread
½ bottle red wine
1 clove garlic
Thyme, bay leaf
● Cut the bacon into lardons, saving the rind and any trimmings for the sauce. Place them in cold water, bring to the boil and then drain, running them under a cold tap. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan and fry the lardons until crisp and brown. Place the trimmed spring onions in another pan with a teaspoon of sugar, and another tablespoon of butter and colour on a high heat before adding a pinch of salt and enough water to cover. Turn down the heat and let them soften gently. Remove the stalks from the mushrooms, saving them for the sauce, and sauté them on a lively heat, adding a squeeze of lemon juice. Cut the bread into round toasts and fry in a little butter until golden brown.
● Bring the red wine up to the boil in a small saucepan. Break the eggs into four cups and when the wine is simmering, slip each egg into the pan, waiting each time for the wine to come back to a good simmer before adding the next one. As soon as the whites are firmly set and the eggs feel lightly done, lift them out and place them carefully into a bowl of ice cubes and water. Once cooled, pat the eggs dry and trim the edges of any trailing white.
● Meanwhile, sauté the peeled and sliced shallot and garlic with the chopped bacon trimmings and mushroom stalks in a tablespoon of butter. Once softened, add a heaped teaspoon of flour and cook in the butter to make a little roux. Add the wine in which you poached the eggs and allow it to come to a rolling boil. Then add the thyme and bay leaf and allow to simmer and reduce slowly for 15 minutes. Strain this sauce into another pan.
● Place the toasts, mushrooms, lardons and onions in an oven to heat through. Add the eggs to the simmering sauce and poach them gently in order to heat them all the way through, making sure the yolk is still soft. Place an egg on each piece of toast in the oven while you quickly reduce the sauce again, enrich it with a little knob of butter and check it for seasoning. Surround the eggs with the other ingredients and then pour the sauce over the eggs.
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