“If I had only one thing in my refrigerator, I think I would want it to be eggs…” –Chef Jacques Pépin
THE RAMBLE: WINNER FOR TEAM SPAIN!
LET’S TALK ABOUT eggs. With this recipe, all you need are eggs in your refrigerator! This is a great breakfast or brunch, but filling enough for any meal of the day, honestly. Every culture has taken eggs and made something amazing out of them (see my Spain vs Korea Recipes Face-Off: The Scotch Egg: UK vs Japan!), and we really have to hand it to the French for the incredible things they have made from the egg, from custard to soufflé. Now, I know the French love eggs, but the Koreans also love eggs, as we see in their Sauna eggs (see my previous post on Travel without Moving: My Yobo’s Favorite Korean Sauna Eggs) and this little Korean video about eggs (haha):
Either way, this recipe is as essential for our Mediterranean repertoire. Jacques Pépin is a titan among chefs. He has dedicated a large part of his career to doing KQED shows to help viewers learn to cook better with simple and humble ingredients, like, canned beans. I fell in love with this recipe only after watching it on KQED/Create TV on his show Essential Pépin. Its pretty simple and impresses everyone I have served it to. Here is the clip from his show:
LET’S TALK ABOUT this recipe. In his recipe, the Mornay sauce is your classic béchamel sauce (butter, flour, milk) with Gruyére added to make it a Mornay, which is delicious. However, upon trying this one time with sriracha drizzled over the eggs, I thought, oh man, this needs red pepper! So I blend a jarred red/piquillo pepper or two (depending on size) with the milk in a food processor then add it that the roux. So good. Also, I found that anything thicker than whole milk ended up being too thick, almost paste-like, so I just use whole milk. My Spanish palate still kind of takes over and I add a small garlic clove to the spinach and I just always use olive oil in pretty much everything. According to his description, “mollet” means soft in French, however these eggs are cooked a little longer than soft-cooked eggs. I just always use the classic rule-of-thumb for eggs: 7 minutes for runny, 10 minutes for a hard but soft and moist yolk, so you do what you like!
Like I’ve mentioned earlier, just get good eggs! The yolks will have a richer golden color and the flavor doesn’t taste metallic, so pay a dollar or two more for free-range or organic eggs!
WHO YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT making great French food: Laura Calder from Cooking Channel’s French Food at Home, America’s Test Kitchen @Testkitchen Cookbook, of course, Jacques Pépin @jacques_pepin and his many cookbooks and shows, including Fast Food My Way, Essential Pépin and Heart and Soul on KQED and PBS stations.
Mollet Eggs Florentine in Red Pepper Mornay Sauce
Adapted from Jacques Pépin, serves 4-8, easy-medium level fuss, about 30 minutes to make.
2 pounds fresh spinach
1 tsp olive oil
1 small garlic clove, thinly sliced or grated through a rasp or microplane
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 TBS unsalted butter
1 TBS all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1-2 jarred red/piquillo peppers
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 TBS Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
3 TBS grated Gruyère (the best), Emmenthaler, white cheddar, or any good white melting cheese
- To prepare the eggs, fill a medium saucepan half-way full and bring to a boil. On the rounder end of each egg, prick a small hole to allow sulfur flavor to escape and prevent eggs from cracking, add to the boiling water, 7 minutes for runny to 10 minutes for a soft well-done. Drain hot water, add ice to pan and top with cold water. Let sit for a few minutes until cool enough to handle. Then, shake eggs around in the pan to crack, and peel shell under cold running water, allowing the water under the egg membrane. Set peeled eggs aside.
- For the spinach, place large skillet/pan on the stove. Add olive oil and garlic, then bring pan to medium heat. Trim stems from spinach and give it a rough chop, then add it to the pan once the garlic becomes fragrant. Toss spinach until evenly coated, add salt, pepper and nutmeg, toss again, then cover with a lid, turn off heat, and left the spinach wilt in the steam.
- Meanwhile, for the Mornay Sauce, in a small food processor or blender, blend red peppers and milk together until it is smooth, set aside. Then, in a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until smooth and becomes a roux. Cook about 1 minute, until it becomes frothy, whisking constantly, making sure it doesn’t brown. Add pepper-milk mixture, turn heat to high, and whisk until roux and milk are evenly mixed. Bring this sauce to a boil, whisking constantly. Add salt and pepper, then reduce heat to low and cook for one minute, until sauce starts to thicken, continually whisking. Then, set aside to cool about 6-8 minutes.
- Pre-heat the broiler on high (if you have this setting). Remove lid from spinach, give everything a stir to make sure the spinach is evenly wilted, and in your pan or in a tea towel, squeeze out and discard the water. Spread spinach evenly in the bottom of an oven-proof dish, and place eggs on top of the spinach, with a little space in between. Sprinkle the Gruyére cheese over the eggs.
- Back to the Mornay Sauce, whisk in egg yolk until sauce is smooth, then coat eggs with the sauce. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the whole dish, and place at least 6″ from the broiler (then reduce broiler to low, if you can). Broil until sauce starts to darken to your liking, then turn off broiler and let the dish sit in the residual heat for at least 5 minutes, to make sure the cheese is thoroughly melted. Remove from oven and serve immediately (be careful, very hot!) with some really great bread.