At this point, I should mention, the spell check on my computer is in meltdown as it is sadly monolingual.
This dish summons up many fond memories, as I have spent a considerable amount of time in this region studying its cuisine and most evenings in intense devotion to acquiring a greater knowledge of its grape varieties too.
I like Burgundy. There are areas that reek of history — my gite was testament to the great reeking of history. The village that I made my base in the Cote de Beaune was at the foot of a craggy, misty outcrop, surrounded by rolling vineyards, the home to many winemakers, and a coopers which lends the spice of its pallet loads of raw oak to the damp air.
The only real disturbance (apart from the damp) was at the stroke of midday: the sound of hungry coopers heading off for lunch, sounding not unlike the paddock of Silverstone at the green light.
Midday in certain areas of France is still an important part of the day and I have fond memories of being brusquely ejected from a heavily award-cladded butchers in Macon, for having the bare-faced cheek to be in their shop at 1 minute to midday. Back then I didn’t appreciate this respect for tradition, but I now long for this appreciation of a time and a place for lunch when I am running around my kitchen trying to shovel in mouthfuls of pasta before lunch service.
Nothing had changed here for generations, as it didn’t need to, I was told that some winemakers still used a horse to plough the fields instead of the strange looking tractors that reminded me of Peter Crouch, and, they have always been biodynamic, as that was what their fathers had done. It was a way of life, so why bother to change?
I WAS GIVEN an education in the Burgundian philosophy of life when attending a wine tasting of a premier cru in a musty cave, that retailed for £85 at the time. Not only was the owner 30 minutes late for our appointment, but he also saw fit to send the farm labourer along to conduct it, his jumper an abstraction of holes and wine drips, a lazy big toe poking through the seam of a ruptured canvas espadrille — all he needed was a piece of straw in the mouth, and a roosting pidgeon under his hat to finish off the look. ‘And when will the other members of the French Last of the Summer Wine walk in on this scene’, I thought.
I humbly discovered that this gentleman was actually the creator of this truly majestic pinot noir — in this part of the world all is not what it seems, appearances deceive.
That was my lesson. Burgundy and its inhabitants still share a vital link with nature, a respect for the earth as the source of life. They do not fold origami-like Lacoste jumpers around their shoulders like their flashy Bordelaise counterparts. There is dirt under the nail, wine on the jumper, tasting caves with more mushrooms than Lithuania, honesty, the farmy whiff of bovine stool, real life, tradition, the philosophy that we are mere custodians of our land.
So in honour of a grand Burgundy tradition and the author of this recipe (which remains unchanged), Anne Willan, I present the recipe for poached eggs in red wine sauce.
The only acceptable wine to use in this recipe is a simple pinot noir from Burgundy. Anything else would be an abomination, like Marion Cotillard French kissing Jeremy Clarkson in your living room.
8 fresh eggs
1 bottle (750 ml) fruity red wine
2 cups (500 ml/16 fl oz) brown veal or chicken stock
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
a bouquet garni of thyme sprigs, parsley stems, and a bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
salt and pepper
For the garnish:
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 pound (125 g/4 oz) mushrooms, sliced
1/4 pound (125 g/4 oz) piece of bacon, diced
16 to 20 baby onions, peeled
For the croûtes:
8 slices of white bread, 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick
oil for frying
For thickening the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1. To poach the eggs, bring the wine and stock to a vigorous boil in a large shallow pan. Break four eggs, one by one, into the places where the liquid is bubbling so the bubbles spin the eggs. Lower the heat and poach the eggs for 3 to 4 minutes until the yolks are fairly firm but still soft to the touch. Lift out the eggs with a slotted spoon and drain them on paper towels. Poach the remaining eggs in the same way. Trim off the stringy edges with scissors and set the eggs aside. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bouquet garni, and peppercorns to the poaching liquid and simmer until it is concentrated and reduced by half, which should take 20 to 25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook the garnish, melt half the butter in a medium saucepan, add the mushrooms, and sauté until tender, around 2 to 3 minutes. Remove mushrooms, add the bacon with the remaining butter, and fry until brown. Lift out the bacon and drain it on paper towels. Add the baby onions and sauté them gently until brown and tender, shaking the pan often so they colour evenly, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain off all the fat, replace the mushrooms and bacon, and set the pan aside.
3. Make the croûtes, using a round or oval cutter, and cut the bread into 8 shapes just larger than a poached egg. Heat 1/4 inch (6 mm) of oil in a frying pan, over medium heat. Working in batches, fry the croûtes until browned on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Set the croûtes aside.
4. To thicken the sauce, crush the butter on a plate with a fork and work in the flour to form a soft paste. Whisk this kneaded butter, a piece at a time, into the simmering wine mixture until the mixture becomes thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. Strain the sauce over the garnish of mushrooms, baby onions, and bacon, pressing on the carrot, onion, and celery to extract all the liquid and flavor. Bring the sauce to a boil, taste, and adjust the seasoning.
5. To prepare ahead, poach the eggs up to a day in advance, keeping them in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator. Store the sauce and garnish also in the refrigerator. The croûtes will be fine if kept tightly wrapped, then warmed in a low oven.
6. To serve, reheat the eggs by immersing them in hot water for 1 minute. If necessary, reheat the garnish and sauce on top of the stove, and warm croûtes in the oven. Set the croûtes on warm serving plates. Drain the eggs on paper towels, set one on each croûte, and spoon over the sauce and garnish.