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“An electric-like shock, a definite nervous experience, perverted as a breakfast of oatmeal and hashish” — it was these words from Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald that made us think of this Moroccan dish. It may not be quite as startling — and none of the ingredients is class B — but replace oatmeal with potatoes and eggs, and hashish with argan oil and cumin, and you have a dish that is as stimulating as it is comforting. It’s delicious too, of course: the egg yolk drips on to the waxy-starchy potatoes laced with sweet onions and cumin seeds, while the argan oil — earthy and warm — gives a rich, exotic nuttiness to the whole thing. If it sounds a bit much for breakfast — when you’re still tender from the night, and want something easy and familiar — it could make a great brunch or lunch, and it works well as a light dinner too.
Getting argan oil can be as difficult and expensive as obtaining contraband, and it is just as addictive — once tasted, you will find yourself craving this flavour. Use it as a condiment to season dishes at the last minute (as you would use a fine nut or truffle oil). A small drizzle is a great addition to so many things: salad dressings, obviously, but try it too on grilled steaks or roast chicken, and blanched greens such as broccoli, asparagus and beans. It even works a treat with chocolate and stewed winter fruit. Before you know it, the little bottle will be empty and you’ll be on a quest to find more.
Poached eggs with potato, cumin and argan oil
Breakfast of kings for four.
- Scrub the potatoes to clean off any mud, but keep the skin on. Place in a pot and cover with plenty of salted water (allow 2 teaspoons for every litre). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are soft when pierced with the tip of a knife. This will, of course, depend on their size, but about 20-30 minutes should do. Strain the potatoes and set aside to cool. Use a small knife to peel them and cut into large chunks (about 3cm thick).
- Heat the olive oil in a frying pan with 1 tablespoon of argan oil and add the onion and garlic. Fry for 4-5 minutes until they soften and start to colour. Add the cumin seeds and mix thoroughly to coat. Then add the potatoes and mix well to heat through. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the chopped parsley and a second tablespoon of argan oil. Cover and set aside to stay warm while you poach the eggs.
- Heat a small saucepan of water, add a generous splash of vinegar and salt, and bring to a boil. Stir the water in one direction to create a little whirlpool and crack an egg into the centre of it, letting it set for a couple of seconds before repeating with another egg. I usually do two to four eggs at a time for the best shape. Cook for two to three minutes until the white is stable but the yolk is still runny and, using a slotted spoon, carefully remove from the water to a flat bowl. Repeat with the second batch of eggs. Drizzle the poached eggs with the last tablespoon of argan oil and a little sprinkling of cumin seeds.
- Build a mound of potatoes on each plate and top with two eggs per person. Sprinkle with a little more table salt and serve immediately.