Sunday, March 2, 2008

a dish worth dyeing for

There's something particularly fun about preparing brightly colored food. Bland white rice becomes more appealing when you dye it with saffron. Pasta takes a dramatic turn with the addition of squid ink. And oeufs en meurette, or eggs poached in red wine, are... um... really interesting-looking.

Strictly speaking, oeufs en meurette consists of poached eggs served on bread with red wine sauce poured over. Order oeufs en meurette at a French bistro, and you'll get poached eggs tidily resting atop rounds of toasted bread, lapped in glossy purple-brown sauce. The eggs aren't poached in the wine itself.

But poaching the eggs in the wine before you use it to make the sauce adds extra flavor, and the whites cook at a faster rate while leaving the yolks beautifully liquid. The catch is that the eggs come out looking rather bruised, and when you cover them in purplish sauce... well, Nathaniel took one look at the eggs, and one look at the sauce, and promptly dubbed the dish "Barney eggs in primordial ooze."

The ensuing photo has been included against my better judgment. Consider yourself warned.

Don't let their appearance put you off, though. The red wine sauce is enriched with beef broth and lardons, and it provides a savory, smoky contrast to the mild softness of the eggs. Served with extra crusty bread to mop up the excess sauce, it makes for a very satisfying dinner on a cold night.

Oeufs en Meurette
(Barney Eggs in Primordial Ooze)

There are two ways of making this dish: the correct way and the other way. I'll let you decide which way you prefer.

(Serves one for dinner.)

Ingredient list: half a small onion, one small carrot, and one celery rib, finely chopped. One bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, freshly ground black pepper. Four cups of decent red wine, not too sweet. A lump of beurre manie, made by kneading half a tablespoon of butter with half a tablespoon of flour. One cup of beef stock, preferably homemade. One slice of thick-cut bacon or pancetta, cut into strips, or an equivalent amount of lardons. Two eggs, the freshest you can find. Two slices of fresh bread (or toasted not-so-fresh bread) plus extra for serving. Optional: finely chopped parsley for garnishing.

The correct way: Sauté the vegetables with the herbs in one pan, pour over the wine and let it reduce. Sauté the lardons in another pan, add the beef broth, and pour in the reduced wine after straining out all the solids and discarding them. Let it reduce further, and thicken it with the beurre manie. Poach the eggs in another pan, put them on the slices of bread, and pour the sauce over. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley. Serve. Total pan count: three, plus a strainer.

The other way: Bring three cups of wine plus the herbs and one cup of water to boil in a small saucepan. Meanwhile, sauté the lardons until the fat is rendered, then add the root vegetables and sauté until soft. Add the beef broth and remaining one cup of red wine. Bring the mixture to a simmer. When the wine comes to a boil, turn it down to a bare simmer, poach the eggs, and pop them on the slices of bread. Pour the wine you used for poaching the eggs into the other pan, bring the mixture to a high simmer, add the beurre manie, and reduce until you have a thick sauce. Pour it over the eggs. Serve. Total pan count: two.

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