- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I have always been amazed by the delectable ways the French have of preparing eggs. Their scrambled eggs, made with generous amounts of butter and cream, are as smooth as velvet. Their omelettes are firm outside but creamy and soft within, and their poached eggs with their firm whites and soft centers are often placed still warm atop fresh salad greens tossed in vinaigrette.

Last month in Paris, I sampled an egg dish that I liked so much that I would choose it above all these other preparations.

In a small cafe, I ordered an egg baked in a dish with crab and tarragon. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after my first bite, I was in heaven.

The chef had baked an egg in a small gratin pan, then topped it with fresh crab, some creme fraiche and a sprinkling of fresh tarragon. This dish included only four major ingredients, but they were magical together.

A basket of lightly toasted country bread accompanied my egg, and I used it for sopping.

All I could think of while savoring this creation was that this recipe would be ideal to serve for brunch or for a special breakfast when we have overnight guests. It was simple, yet sophisticated, and didn’t take long to assemble or bake.

At home, I spent several days testing, and finally, after several tries, got the right results. I baked the eggs in creme brulee dishes, placing these containers directly on a rack in the oven.

Although many recipes for baked eggs call for a water bath, this easier method yielded eggs similar to those cooked sunny side up and worked fine. Don’t despair if you don’t have these special dishes, for the eggs can also be poached, and I’ve included directions for doing so.

To turn the creme fraiche into a sauce, I heated it for less than a minute to liquify it, then poured it over the cooked eggs before adding the crab and tarragon.

Now I am busy planning a summer brunch to showcase my new French egg dish.

As sides, there will be a basket of lightly toasted sourdough bread and a platter of berries surrounded by melon wedges. Beverages will include freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee and tea.

Baked eggs with creme fraiche, tarragon and crab

1/2 cup creme fraiche (or 6 tablespoons heavy cream whisked with 2 tablespoons sour cream)

1/2 tablespoon butter for greasing the baking dishes

4 large or extra-large eggs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces (a generous 1/2 cup) fresh crabmeat, picked over

4 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon

Equipment needed: 4 creme brulee dishes or 4 small individual gratin dishes, either about 5 inches in diameter (see note)

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the creme fraiche in a small saucepan and heat over low just to liquify, 1 minute or less. (You do not have to heat the heavy cream/sour cream mixture.) Set aside.

Generously butter the creme brulee or gratin dishes. Break an egg into each dish, then place dishes on center rack and bake until white is firm and yolk is thickened (but still runny), 8 to 10 minutes. Start checking eggs at 8 minutes. Watch carefully, and when done, remove from the oven. (See note.)

Season each egg with salt and pepper. Sprinkle some fresh crab in a ring around the yolk of each egg, then spoon 2 tablespoons creme fraiche (or the heavy cream-sour cream mixture) over the crab. Garnish each serving with a sprinkle of tarragon. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Note: If you don’t have creme brulee molds or individual gratin dishes, you can prepare this dish with poached eggs. If you have an egg poacher, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Otherwise, use the freshest eggs available.

Fill a large skillet with 2 to 3 inches of water. Set pan over medium heat and when water is just about to come to a boil, add 1 tablespoon cider or white wine vinegar. Adjust heat so that the water stays at a gentle simmer.

Crack eggs, one by one, into a saucer, then slide gently into the water.

Poach eggs, uncovered, until whites are set and yolks have started to thicken but are not hard, 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove with a slotted spoon to 4 salad plates. Season eggs with salt and pepper and garnish with crab, creme fraiche and tarragon.

Note: Although the eggs are cooked in this recipe, the yolks are still soft. The young or elderly or those with immune deficiencies might want to avoid eggs with yolks that are slightly undercooked.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “The Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).


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