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My mother and eggs, à la française

My mother loves Paris. This should not surprise you; after all, I’ve already made it clear that she is a genius.

She speaks nary a word of French, but she swathes herself in head-to-toe black (which is, after all, her daily uniform), laces up one of her many pairs of tiny (size 5 ½), aerodynamic, Euro-style Pumas, and hits the streets with the air of one who knows. She is unafraid. She can decipher menus; she can tackle the Métro; she can go into Monoprix with a grocery list and come out victorious. She plays the part so beautifully that Parisians have even been known to stop her on the street to ask for directions—and then stare in open-mouthed surprise when they find that she speaks no French. Now that’s satisfying.

And anyway, language barriers were made for overcoming. She can eek out the essentials when the circumstances require, such as a cheerful “Merci, au revoir” when leaving a store, and she’ll use improvised sign language if necessary. For a while, she was determined to learn how to order her preferred coffee—not a simple café express, but a double espresso with a small pitcher of warm milk on the side—and though she braved my rigorous drills and tests with only minimal giggling, it was soon clear that I’d continue to order for both of us. She may be a genius, but un double café avec un petit pot de lait chaud” was a bit much to ask. However, once the coffee is securely in her hands, she café-sits like a true Parisienne, and her people-watching skills are unrivaled.

One of my mother’s favorite spots for sitting and staring is Café Beaubourg, a stylish corner overlooking the Centre Pompidou and boasting a sleek ultra-modern look, beautiful people, and sexy cave-like bathroom. I tend to prefer less overtly showy spots* for my café-sitting, but Café Beaubourg is something of a sentimental favorite—if sentimental favorites can have lots of metal, hard edges, and surly waiters—because it was there, one early afternoon a few years ago, that my mother and I had our first French-style scrambled eggs.

The French like their scrambled eggs (oeufs brouillés, or "agitated eggs") creamy, with a texture resembling loose oatmeal. Cookbook author Michael Roberts describes them as “small tender clumps of eggs suspended in an almost sauce-like base,” which makes them sound delicious, slightly mysterious, and wildly complicated. Luckily, there’s no mystery or fancy technique involved. Though I may have first tasted them in a setting better known for chic than comfort, French-style scrambled eggs are the simplest and easiest of pleasures. In fact, they’re perhaps best suited for a “picnic” dinner on the floor, with a blanket around your shoulders and a wine glass at your knee.

When you find yourself stranded nine time zones from Paris and two from your mother, it's good to know about these things.

*For example, Le Petit Fer à Cheval (30, rue Vieille du Temple; Métro: St. Paul), Café de l’Industrie (16, rue Saint-Sabin; Métro: Bastille), or Le Pause Café (41, rue de Charonne; Métro: Bastille).

Tartine Poireaux-Oeufs Brouillés, or French-Style Open-Faced Sandwich with Leeks and Soft-Scrambled Eggs
Adapted from le hamburger et le croissant and Michael Roberts’s Parisian Home Cooking: Conversations, Recipes, and Tips from the Cooks and Food Merchants of Paris

This is perfect early-spring picnic-on-the-floor fare. It's so delicious that I nearly cried—or maybe it was that oddly touching scene in Sex and the City when Steve calls Miranda to tell her to look out her window at the moon. [Sigh.] As I said, delicious.

For the leeks:
3 small leeks
A nub of butter
1 tsp sugar (I used unrefined cane sugar, which I like to call “hippie sugar”)
A pinch of salt
½ Tbs crème fraîche

For the eggs:
2 large eggs
2 tsp water
1/8 tsp salt
A small nub of butter, melted

For serving:
Two or three bias-cut slices of baguette, or a large slice of country-style crusty bread, toasted
Freshly ground pepper

Begin by preparing the leeks: trim the root end off each leek, and slice them across their width into roughly ¼-inch-thick coins. Place the cut-up leeks in the basket insert of a salad spinner, place the basket in the bowl of the spinner, and fill the bowl with cold water. Let the leeks sit for a few minutes in the water; then use your hand to swish them around, loosening and removing any dirt that may be hidden in their layers. Remove the basket from the bowl, dump the water out of the bowl, return the basket to the bowl, and spin the leeks dry. [Alternately, if you don’t have a salad spinner, simply soak and wash the leeks in a bowl of water, and dry them with paper towels.]

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, the sugar, and the salt, and stir to mix. Cover the skillet to allow the leeks to begin to sweat a bit, and, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as necessary if they begin to cook too quickly, allow the leeks to cook for about 15 minutes, until they are fragrant, soft, and almost melting. Add the crème fraîche, and cook the leeks a minute or two more, stirring in the crème fraîche as it melts. Set the skillet aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, water, salt, and melted butter. Pour this mixture into a small saucepan, and place it over low heat, whisking constantly. When the mixture begins to coagulate ever so slightly and form tiny oatmeal-like lumps, begin a little dance of removing the pot from the heat and replacing it so that the eggs don’t cook too quickly, and reach all over the corners and bottom of the pot with your whisk. The eggs are ready when they resemble loose oatmeal; the process should take between 5 and 9 minutes.

Place the slices of toasted bread on a plate, and spoon the scrambled eggs on top of them. Top the eggs with a layer of leeks. Serve immediately, with salt and pepper as needed.

Serves one, with leftover leeks.


Blogger Rachael said...

Your blog is fantastic, and what a gorgeous photo! (OK, I also really had to write because I loved so much that you referenced Steve and Miranda and the moon. Thanks for that.)

10:50 PM, March 18, 2005  
Blogger yours truly said...

I second Rachael on that- I first came here for the food, then for the French. And your mother sounds fantastic! Mmm, Paris.

5:54 AM, March 19, 2005  
Blogger Nic said...

Yum! I love leeks.
I think that "hippie sugar" is cute, but the hippies that I lived with for a while tended to call that "yuppie sugar" when I bought it. Of course, I'm not a hippie, so.... Anyway, they went with whatever was cheapest. Or honey.

9:48 AM, March 19, 2005  
Anonymous kathryn said...

i just started reading your site a few weeks ago, when clotilde linked from c&z. this morning i woke up, read your post, and having the ingredients all in my apartment (well, sans creme fraiche), knew exactly what i would have for breakfast. your french eggs! my beau and i delighted in them, messyness (perhaps we piled our leeks too ambitiously over the eggs) notwithstanding. such a simple and sophisticated recipe... i have added it to my canon for future lazy sunday mornings.

9:06 AM, March 20, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thank you, Rachael! I'm a recent Sex and the City convert, myself. I've been renting all the old episodes, starting with season one. It's a major guilty pleasure--they go down so easy, like candy! If I'm feeling *really* decadent, I'll watch an episode with dinner...it's like having dessert at the same time as the main course. Mmmm.

Yours truly, thanks for stopping by!

Nic., the hippies were giving you trouble, hmm? Those hippies! It's always honey with them. Grrrr! They do have a point, though...does the fact that I bought my unrefined cane sugar in swank-and-shiny Whole Foods make me a yuppie? Uh oh.

And kathryn, thanks for making the trip over from C&Z! I'm so glad to hear that the leeks and eggs were a hit--and plenty messy too.

9:32 AM, March 20, 2005  
Blogger Lushlife said...

I adore the flavour of leeks and I appreciate your combining them with scrambled eggs. I enjoyed your describing that part of the recipe where you have to be carefull not to overcook the eggs, as a little dance! Very clever.

3:39 AM, March 23, 2005  
Blogger Estelle said...

Hi Molly, I'm very glad you liked the leeks. I have had this recipe around for two years and just wish I had tried it earlier!

9:46 AM, March 23, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Lushlife, I have to give credit where it's due: Michael Roberts, whose egg method I adapted, came up with the "dance" wording. I loved it too, so I borrowed it!

Estelle, thanks so much for the inspiration! C'etait vraiment trop delicieux!

1:13 PM, March 23, 2005  
Blogger Elissa said...

Thanks for the wonderful recipe. I ordered the book as soon as I made it last weekend and am sorry to learn that Wednesday, 3/30 Michael Roberts passed away.

There's a Russ Parsons obit in the LA Times today:


12:49 PM, April 01, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Elissa, thanks so much for alerting me to Michael Roberts's death. I hadn't heard, nor did I have any idea that he had that sort of debilitating illness. How remarkable that he was able to travel and write his books...

8:26 AM, April 02, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what an interesting way to make eggs.
i tried it today, delicious, like your other recipes i tried.
i didn't have leeks in the house, so instead, i topped it with caramelized onions and roasted cherry tomates, sprinkled with oregano.

3:00 PM, September 09, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

I'm so glad to hear it, Anonymous. I love your variation with caramelized onions, tomatoes, and oregano - that sounds delicious! I try to always keep some caramelized onions around the house, mainly for eating with fresh goat cheese and crackers, but now you've inspired me to slip them alongside my eggs too!


11:44 AM, September 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been cooking in restaurants since age 15, I am now 23. I started because I loved it and continued because I was good at it. It's been a good six months since I made something I wanted to eat... until tonight. For some reason I picked up the May, 2008 issue of Bon Appetit, and read your article on 'everyday cheese souffle.' I realized that I have never made a cheese souffle, called my mom and told her so, then went to her house and made it. I think I ate about 3/4 of it.

Afterwards I decided to look up your blog and for some reason chose this month and this posting to read. I love eggs today. And the French. Thank you!

12:46 AM, June 10, 2009  
Blogger a. said...

I just wanted to leave a comment and let you know that I've been making this recipe on and off for a few years and I've always loved it.

I made it for my boyfriend for the first time today. He will almost never eat scrambled eggs this way, he likes them much dryer, and in larger chunks, but after taking two bites he said he was surprised that this wasn't served in restaurants. :)

11:06 AM, October 02, 2009  
Blogger Cristin said...

This simple recipe has been tempting me, but was trickier than it looks! How do you keep the eggs from carmelizing and becoming hard, like mine did? And the little dance to keep the eggs soft eluded me. Maybe next attempt?

3:04 AM, October 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just made this, added some pepper on top, and it's fantastic. Thanks! I'm having a love affair with leeks right now so I just piled them on. Yum.

9:13 AM, June 20, 2010  

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