Our New Favorite Breakfast: Shirred Eggs

            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.

Custard cups in a pan works for us for shirring eggs.

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.

Shirred Egg

Dab of butter

Tablespoon of milk or cream

Salt and pepper

Herb of choice, optional

Cheese of choice, grated or crumbled, optional

1 egg

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.

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About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.