Coddled eggs can be gourmet or simple

There's a unnamed zone that sick children and husbands always pass through on the road to recovery: too sick for school or work, too well for serious nursing.

My husband entered this zone recently. He was bored and restless, but still reeling from the Mack-truck virus that had flattened him for four days. He stood at my office door, looking pathetic.

“You know what would taste really good right now?” he asked, mustering every ounce of cuteness in his body.

I clicked the “save” function on my computer screen before allowing myself to fall into his transparent-but-irresistible trap.

“No, what would taste really good right now, my love?”

“Coddled eggs. Coddled eggs with toast.”

He punctuated the last word with a little cough to emphasize the fact that of the two people in the room, one of us was far too sick to coddle his own eggs.

Naturally, I succumbed, and headed into the kitchen to prepare one of my husband's comfort foods.

For the uninitiated, I better take a moment to explain that a coddled egg is an egg that has been gently boiled either in its shell or in an egg coddler to the desired state of doneness. Many years ago I returned from England with a set of Royal Worcester egg coddlers that perform this task beautifully. The added bonus is that you get to eat this special treat straight out of the beautiful little porcelain cup. This, I think, is what elevates the coddled egg into comfort-food territory.

My coddled eggs often become mini-masterpieces — layered with sprinklings of imported cheese, splashes of white wine and dashes of fresh herbs.

Of course, today's egg was purposely plain. That was the way my husband wanted it. As I lifted the little culinary wonder from the pot of simmering water, unlatched the lid, and placed the steaming offering before him, he inhaled the heady, wholesome aroma and smiled. It was the smile of a man well along on the road to recovery.

About those fancy porcelain egg coddlers? Here’s a tip: you don’t need them. Any heat-proof jar with a well-sealed lid, such as a half-pint canning jar with canning lids, will work. And at a fraction of the cost. Even the half-pint, wide-mouthed Kerr jars work just fine. For a bit of style, opt for the more decorative versions, like Weck jars from Germany, or the French-made LeParfait jars, which you can find online. I’ve acquired a set of the latter, which boast charming rubber gaskets and spring-latch lids, and I love cooking eggs in them because you can monitor the progress of doneness through the clear glass. Which is an important point to consider, because, depending on what additional ingredients you include, the cooking time will vary.

Finding egg coddlers: If you don’t have a really well supplied kitchen cookware shop near you, it’s going to be difficult to put your hands on the genuine product immediately. But plenty of options are available on the internet, beginning with Amazon, where a wide selection can be found. Brands to consider are the elegant Royal Worcester (spendy!), and Jenaer Glas by Wagenfeld.

Which size egg coddler? 2.2-ounce containers can handle 1 egg and a few additional ingredients; 4.4-ounce containers are for 2 eggs plus additional ingredients; 8.4-ounce containers can handle 4 eggs and additional ingredients.

Coddled eggs 101: Lightly grease the egg coddler, then gently break one or two eggs (depending on the size of your coddler) into it. If desired, lightly season the egg with salt, pepper, a dab of butter or margarine, and maybe even a little cheese, white wine or cream. Replace the lid and lower the coddler into a pot of boiling water. The water should come to just below the lid. Allow about 8 minutes for one delicately coddled egg, keeping in mind that the egg will continue to cook after the cup has been removed from the boiling water. A medium-firm egg will take about 10 minutes. Increase the cooking time for two eggs and additional contents.

Coddled egs for a crowd: You can assemble the eggs in the coddlers ahead of time. If not cooking within an hour or so, refrigerate until ready to cook them. You will need to add a couple of minutes or so to your cooking time to compensate for the chilled contents.

Coddled Eggs With Avocado and Ham

Makes 2 servings

About ¼ cup of diced ripe tomato

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped good quality ham

2 teaspoons butter

2 teaspoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

¼ ripe avocado, peeled and cut into ¼-inch pieces

1 tablespoons sour cream

1 tablespoon finely minced green onion

4 eggs

Fill a pot with enough water to reach just below the lid of your egg coddler. Begin heating the water.

Meanwhile, lightly grease 2 egg coddlers. Divide the tomatoes between the two containers and lightly season with salt and pepper. Next begin layering the remaining ingredients, dividing them between the two containers. So in each container, layer 1 tablespoon of the ham, 1 teaspoon butter, 1 teaspoon of freshly grated Parmesan, one half of the diced avocado wedge, half a tablespoon of sour cream, half a tablespoon of the green onion, and 2 eggs. Add a sprinkling of black pepper and salt to taste.

Replace the lids. Once the water has come to a boil, place the coddlers in the water. Cover and cook until the eggs reach the desired stage of doneness. For soft/slightly runny yolks, figure on about 10 to 12 minutes; for firmer yolks, it may take about 14 minutes.

Carefully lift the containers from the boiling water (a jar lifter used for canning jars works beautifully; otherwise, you can try lifting with a spatula from below and using a pot holder to steady the jar from above as you lift it from the water. Place on a kitchen towel to drain. Serve in the coddler, with a spoon or fork, with plenty of fresh toast.

Baked Potatoes and Coddled Eggs

Makes 2 servings

1 freshly baked potato (russets)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 teaspoons butter

2 tablespoons half-and-half or cream

¼ cup grated cheddar cheese

4 eggs

2 teaspoons chopped green onion

Remove the potato from the oven when done and allow to cool slightly. Cut the potato in half lengthwise, and scoop out enough of the pulp to measure about ¼ cup; mash slightly (leaving some lumps) with a fork; set it aside.

Fill a pot with enough water to reach just below the lid of your egg coddler. Begin heating the water.

Meanwhile, lightly grease 2 egg coddlers. Divide the potato between the two containers and lightly season with salt and pepper. Next begin layering the remaining ingredients, dividing them between the two containers. So in each container, layer 1 teaspoon of butter, 1 tablespoon cream, 2 tablespoons of cheese, 2 eggs, and 1 teaspoon of green onion. Add a sprinkling of black pepper and salt to taste.

Replace the lids. Once the water has come to a boil, place the coddlers in the water. Cover and cook until the eggs reach the desired stage of doneness. For soft/slightly runny yolks, figure on about 10 to 12 minutes; for firmer yolks, it may take about 14 minutes.

Carefully lift the containers from the boiling water and serve in the coddlers with a spoon or fork and fresh toast.

— Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Email her at janrd@proaxis.com, or see her blog at www.janrd.com.

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