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Recipes and Stories

11 November 2014: Poached Eggs and Entertaining Without a Turkey

Eggs Savannah don't have to be confined to the brunch table

Before we launch into preparation for that all-consuming late-November cooks’ holiday (you know the one with the big bird in the middle of the table), here’s a gentle reminder that you don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving Day to entertain in November.

Even if the only entertaining you are, excuse the expression, entertaining is that weekend, say you’re having friends and family staying over during the holiday, you’re going to need something other than an oversized bird to keep them happy.

Regardless of the occasion, nothing fits that bill quite so well as a nice leisurely breakfast – the one popularly called “brunch.” And it needn’t be confined to Sunday morning, or, for that matter any morning. Breakfast food is perfect casual supper party food, midday Saturday food, or a break from Turkey on the Weekend after Thanksgiving food.

And poached eggs, which seem so fragile and in the moment, are actually a perfect main protein for the occasion: they can be made ahead, and, once you get the knack of them, they’re not hard to make. All they require is eggs that are very fresh and at room temperature, a good, heavy-bottomed pan, a little (very little) time, and even less patience on the part of the cook. They can even be poached ahead and reheated just before serving.

The possibilities for poached eggs are endless. The dish that follows here is a sort of Eggs Benedict with a Southern attitude. It builds on the same structure: A poached egg nestled on top of a sliver of sautéed ham and bit of toasted bread, topped with a drizzle of savory sauce. But the elements under and over that egg are those of a hearty, traditional Southern breakfast or supper: cornmeal hoecakes, fine old country ham, pan-grilled tomatoes, and redeye gravy.

Eggs Savannah

Serves 4

8 large, fresh eggs, at room temperature
1-2 teaspoons vinegar
8 Hoecakes (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon ham or bacon drippings or unsalted butter
8 thin slices country ham
2 ripe medium tomatoes, cored, peeled with a vegetable peeler, and sliced into 8 even slices
Whole black pepper in a mill
1/4 cup strong coffee or tea
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

1. Put 2 inches of water in a deep, lidded saucepan or lidded nonstick deep straight-sided sauté pan. Turn on the heat to high, bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. When the boil has settled to a steady bubble, stir in the vinegar one at a time break each egg into a shallow bowl and slip it into the pan. Gently turn it over on itself with a slotted spoon. Continue until the pan is filled but not crowded, allowing about 1/2 inch between each egg.

2. When all the eggs are in the pan, let them simmer until the whites are set and the yolk is still quite soft, about 1½-to-2 minutes altogether. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, allowing them to drain thoroughly, and trim off any loose tendrils of white. You can make them ahead and gently reheat them in simmering water. Slightly undercook them if you do so and have ready a basin of ice water to put them in so that it will arrest the cooking.

3. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Put the hoecakes on a sheet pan and warm them in the oven, about 10 minutes. Divide them (two per serving) among four warm plates. Put the drippings in a skillet that will hold all the ham in one layer and turn on the heat to medium-high. When the fat is melted and hot, slip in the ham and sauté it quickly for about half a minute per side; do not overcook. Lay the ham over the hoecakes.

4. Add the sliced tomatoes to the hot pan and cook, turning once, until they are beginning to color and wilt slightly, about 4 minutes per side. Lay them over the ham. Sprinkle them with a few liberal grindings of pepper and top them with a poached egg.

5. Pour the coffee or tea and water into the pan and bring it to a boil, stirring and scraping to release any cooking residue that may have stuck to the pan. Boil rapidly until the gravy has reduced by a little more than half and is the consistency of a thin glaze. Turn off the heat and swirl in the butter. Spoon the gravy evenly over the eggs and serve at once.

Hoecakes
Makes about a dozen

2 cups stone-ground white cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter, bacon drippings, or lard, plus more for the griddle

1. Whisk together the meal, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, stir together the buttermilk and melted fat.

2. Heat a griddle over medium heat for 5 minutes. A droplet of water will “dance” on top when it’s ready). Quickly mix together the dry and we ingredients. It should be a loose batter consistency. If it seems a bit stiff (a lot depends on the moisture content of the meal), add a little water or plain milk.

3. Brush the griddle lightly with melted fat and pour about 2 tablespoons of the batter onto it. Cook until distinct bubbles break the surface, about 2 minutes, turn, and cook until evenly golden brown and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes longer. You may need to adjust the heat under the griddle. Continue until all the batter is used.

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