The perfect egg is a puzzle. Professional chefs, and even scientists, disagree on how to make the best eggs; home cooks simply have a tendency to overcook them. Bottom line: "It's all personal taste," says the great David Waltuck, James Beard award-winning chef-owner of élan, his highly anticipated new restaurant opening this summer in New York City. Waltuck has been making eggs all his life, even before he and his wife, Karen, brought fine dining downtown with their acclaimed restaurant Chanterelle, which closed for good in 2009. Understandably, he has deep knowledge of what works best. "Mastering the art of cooking an egg requires a little patience," Waltuck says. "It's difficult to do a lot at the same time, but with practice it becomes easier." Here, he teaches us how to make gorgeous eggs in six classic ways, and he offers one easy but fabulous recipe for shirred (baked) eggs with ham and tomato.
How to Bake Eggs
Baked eggs – also known as shirred eggs – are perhaps the easiest of basic egg preparations. The key is finding an ovenproof container, such as one made of cast iron, ceramic, glass, or enamel-coated iron. Put them in a round skillet for a group feast or tiny ramekins for individual servings. Eggs should then be baked at "not too high a temperature," Waltuck says. The length of time depends on how much you want the eggs to set. Leave the dish in the oven less time if you want runny yolks to dip your bread in. You can vary baked eggs "a million ways," says Waltuck. Set the eggs on a bed of meat and vegetables, top with grated cheese, add oil or not, add cream or not, mix in various fresh herbs depending on whether you want them to taste of, say, France or Greece. But set a timer; shirred eggs only take 4 to 6 minutes and they need to be checked for doneness once or twice during that time.
We suggest you start experimenting with baked eggs by trying the easy recipe below for flavorful shirred (baked) eggs with ham and tomato.
David Waltuck's Shirred Eggs with Ham and Tomato
(Serves one; may be multiplied 2 to 10 times)
- 1 tbsp sweet butter
- 2 slices Black Forest ham or other cooked ham, trimmed to fit pan
- Optional: diced vegetables to taste
- 2 tbsp tomatoes (fresh tomatoes or good-quality jarred)
- 2 eggs, extra large
- 1 tbsp heavy cream
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 tsp fresh herbs, roughly chopped (tarragon, chervil, and chives: one of these or a mixture of them)
- Optional: grated cheese that melts and runs, such as Parmesan, fontina, or Gruyère
Preheat oven to 350°F. Over low heat, melt butter in 5-inch mini cast-iron skillet, or any ovenproof container of similar size. Remove from heat.
Place ham in bottom of pan. If including diced vegetables, place these on top of ham. For fresh tomatoes, cook down in a separate pan with a little olive oil, and salt and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in an even layer over the ham (and vegetables, if using).
Carefully break the eggs on top. Drizzle with cream (do not add if topping with grated cheese). Season with salt and pepper, but go light on the salt because the ham is already salty.
Put the pan, uncovered, in the preheated oven and bake about 5–6 minutes. Check occasionally to see if the whites have set; the yolks should be runny because they function as a dipping sauce for bread.
Credit: Marta Greber / Getty Images
Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve in the skillet. (If using grated cheese, cover surface evenly with it, then serve.)