Before Toby, I hardly ever had poached eggs and as it turns out, he is really good at poaching, so, from time to time, we’ve enjoyed those tender little darlings on toast as an alternative to eggs scrambled, fried, or soft boiled. I don’t remember now how we got onto it, but somehow the topic of shirred and coddled eggs came up. The upshot was, “Why not make shirred eggs?” Why not indeed?
I suppose for most people poached, shirred and coddled eggs are in the realm of weekend breakfast, or even brunch. They are definitely not the way to go if you need to scoot out the door with coffee mug clutched in one hand every morning, and/or have kids to send off to school. As a self-employed person with a retired friend, however, I can enjoy shirred eggs any day, a great joy, and not infrequently attended to by the poacher turned shirr-er.
Plus, hurrah, the hens are laying again, because they, too, have noticed the days getting longer. On average, I find two a day, perfect for our use.
Strictly speaking, shirred eggs are a form of baked eggs; the French call it oeufs en cocotte and instead of a cocotte, or casserole, we do them in glass custard cups set in a pan of hot water, often with a lid on it. The process is simple, though simple does not necessarily translate into easy. You do have to pay attention. Actually, you can choose to fuss more or less, depending on your disposition. Toby is known to nudge the yolks gently into the center of the whites in the custard cups so that they end up evenly cooked. When we slide the eggs out of the cups and onto toast, they are perfectly runny.
The other fun thing about shirring is that you can alter the flavor by introducing herbs, cheese, and other seasonings to the cup along with the egg. We tolerate garlic for breakfast here, and like oregano, too, plus salt and pepper. Use the herbs of your choice, and as soon as fresh ones are available, the possibilities expand quite bit. I am envisioning dill, chives, parsley, or basil. We usually chop a garlic clove finely and sauté it a bit before adding it to the cups. We use cheddar sometimes, and I think blue cheese would be agreeable, but we haven’t tried that yet.
The directions that follow are for one egg. Just multiply for as many as you need.
Dab of butter
Tablespoon of milk or cream
Salt and pepper
Herb of choice, optional
Cheese of choice, grated or crumbled, optional
Place a shallow pan on the heat with water enough to come half-way up the sides of custard cups or ramekins. Put a dab of butter in each cup. When it melts, swirl the butter in the cup to coat the sides. Add the milk or cream and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. If you choose other seasonings and the cheese, add them. Break an egg into the cup, and as the white begins to set, use the tip of a dinner knife to move the yolk to the center of the white. Cover the pan, and check back in four minutes. Watch closely to determine when the white has been cooked but the yolk is still runny. Remove the cup from the water, and use the knife to loosen the egg, which you can slide onto toast. Serve.