By and large, eggs are usually considered breakfast food and are rarely ever served at any other time of the day unless these have been cooked up into meringues, sweet or savory custards, egg-and-mayo salad for sandwiches, and souffles.
The French and the Spaniards, however, eat eggs at any time of the day. Scrambled eggs are scoffed down with toast at lunchtime; eggs fried sunny-side-up in goodly amounts of olive oil make for quick solo suppers.
And then, there are shirred eggs – eggs baked in a ramekin with a bit of butter, maybe some cream. Known as oeufs en cocotte in France, these are usually served with thin, crisply-toasted gobbets of bread. While oeufs en cocotte are nice enough, the real show-stopper of the shirred-egg category belongs to the Spaniards via huevos al plato.
Strictly speaking, these are eggs baked in a gratin dish on a bed of rich tomato sauce studded with bright green peas. To add oomph to the dish, slices of a particularly smoky and piquant chorizo and slivers of ham are added to the sauce. The eggs are usually broken onto the sauce – very carefully so as not to break the golden yolks – and the dish is baked till the whites are softly set and the yolk is still runny. The resulting dish is served at lunch or dinner as a meal on its own with bread or as part of an even more elaborate spread.
For obvious reasons, chicken eggs are the kind used primarily for the dish. However, in the rural regions of Spain, huevos al plato may also be made with richer-tasting fowls’ eggs such as those from ducks or geese. As if that weren’t rich enough already, these versions are also finished off with a melted layer of crumbled queso manchego – talk about divine decadence!
These are easy enough to make at home. Just saute an onion and a couple crushed cloves of garlic in a bit of olive oil. Add some sliced sausages and chopped ham; cook till fragrant. Pour in some good tomato sauce: homemade is best, of course, but even a good store-bought one works. Cook the sauce till bubbly, then add the peas. Pour the sauce into an ovenproof baking dish and carefully break a couple eggs onto the surface. If desired, sprinkle over some grated cheese. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or till set in an oven pre-heated to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4. Serve immediately with either toast or some steamed rice.
Admittedly, while the home-spun version is good, it is rather time-consuming. That said, my favorite version of the dish is actually done exceptionally well over at Dulcinea. 😀