When I was 9 years old, I was in the last year of primary school while my sister was in junior high. On Wednesdays, I didn’t have class, but she did, and my parents considered us old enough to be home without a nanny, so I would make my own lunch. Maybe my memory fails me, but I seem to remember that this involved a lot of canned beef ravioli, warmed up in a saucepan. From time to time, scorched ravioli in a saucepan, the reward for getting a bit too engrossed in some paper-cutting activity or other.
It’s around that time that my parents got our first microwave oven, for which I had an odd fascination. I remember very clearly the amazement when we brought the first glass of water to a boil, the solemn warning about not running it empty and not putting anything with metal in it, the panicky fright when I accidentally did (maybe a can of ravioli?) and the mini-fireworks that ensued.
I remember that this microwave oven came with a little recipe booklet. I knew nothing about cooking back then, but I read this little booklet carefully, and spotted the one thing that seemed doable: a recipe for Oeuf Cocotte. And that’s how oeuf cocotte went into the Wednesday lunch rotation, keeping the beef ravioli company.
Oeuf cocotte is made by cooking an egg in a little ramequin, on top of other ingredients – usually ham and crème fraîche, with an optional topping of grated cheese. “Cocotte” is a cute word for a hen, and is also an old-fashioned endearing – or condescending, depending on the tone – term for a girl. So I guess “Oeuf Cocotte” could be accurately translated as “Chick Egg”.
And this was, in effect, the very first recipe I ever followed, the very first dish I ever prepared from scratch and unsupervised. Of course, eggs cooked in the microwave are impossibly rubbery, and sometimes they even imploded if left to cook for too long. But the pride of eating something I had prepared myself more than made up for it.
And then I grew up, I moved on to other gastronomic pursuits, and somehow the oeuf cocotte was left by the wayside. Until last week, that is, when I bought a package of Boursin — a soft garlic and herb cheese — the lid of which offered a simple recipe for oeuf cocotte, baked in the oven. And that’s what we had for dinner the other day, to deliciously simple and satisfying results. Not to mention that in my book, anything served in ramequins automatically earns 5 points.
– 1 egg
– 1 tablespoon of crème fraîche (alternatively sour cream, Boursin or any other fresh soft cheese)
– salt, pepper, paprika
– a small slice of ham, cut into strips (alternatively cooked bacon, tuna, tofu…)
– a handful of diced vegetables (could be tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, onions…)
– a handful of grated cheese
– a sprinkle of fresh or dried herbs (parsley, chives, cilantro…)
(This serves one, multiply by the number of eaters.)
If you’ve chosen to include diced vegetables that need to be cooked (this is unnecessary for tomatoes for example), heat up a little oil in a small skillet, and sautee the vegetables until tender.
Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F). Grease a small ramequin, lay the ham, vegetables and crème fraîche at the bottom, and break the egg on top. Sprinkle salt and pepper. If you’re using dried herbs, sprinkle them on now. Top with cheese if you wish.
Put the ramequin in a gratin dish, and pour hot water in the dish to about half the height of the ramequin. Put in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how runny you like your eggs.
Once the eggs are done, sprinkle paprika and fresh herbs (if you’re using them). Serve with warm crusty bread or toasts.
As you can see, this is a pretty versatile recipe. The only things that need to be there are the egg and the crème fraîche or some sort of fresh creamy ingredient. The rest can be added or omitted depending on what you have on hand. And if you have large ramequins and a large appetite, two eggs can be nice too.