Oeufs en Meurette (Eggs Poached in Red Wine)

December 2, 2011

Too marvelous for words…
~Johnny Mercer

Seemed a plebeian enough task, almost like blurting out a blurb. Share a recipe of eggs poached in red wine with lardons and mushrooms served over croûtes and then explain the origins of a feminine French noun, meurette. Apparently, that slighted the fickle temperaments of the word gods.

Meurette derives from the Latin word muriae, muria (brine, salt liquor, pickling), but the earliest known usage in French a matter of debate. Some cite the 15th century, others claim it came into parlance centuries later. Already a cryptic dude. A culinary term, meurette refers to a certain red wine sauce ladled over fish and eggs.

Ironically, before the 19th century the use of red wine in French gastronomy was relatively scant. This from the land of such red wine braised classics as coq au vin, boeuf à la bourguignon, and daube d’agneau? No doubt due to regional viniculture, Burgundians were unusually ardent about adding red wine to dishes—enough so that any dish à la bourguignon came to mean “braised with red wine.” Or perhaps the cooks were just carefree sots.

Matelote (sometimes spelled matelotte) was a robust, rustic freshwater fish stew made with red wine and stock often served at inns along the rivers. Eel, trout, carp, perch, pike, et al., could grace your soup bowl. The dish made a splash in Parisian cookbooks in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The authors commonly used the term matelote not meurette to describe both fish stew and eggs in red wine sauces.

[Matelote literally means "sailor's wife" from the masculine maletot, from Middle French matenot "sailor, bunkmate," from Middle Dutch mattenoot "bed companion," probably from Old Norse mǫtunautr "mate." Matelow, as pronounced in French, also happens to be a lower class seaman in the British navy.]

Then, a digression and inexplicable leap occurred. Almost sans rime ni raison, meurette entered onto the scene and mysteriously became synonymous with, and nearly displaced, matelote. Abracadabra…the esoteric seemed to overtake the standard. How and why this perplexing word detour occurred is a question for obscure linguists. So, Burgundian red wine sauce or ragoût served with fish and eggs came to be known as meurette.

All this word origin palaver is soon forgotten once a pierced yolk oozes into the deep red sauce and then lazily courses over crisp lardons, scrumptious ‘shrooms and garlicky croûtes. Ambrosial.

OEUFS EN MEURETTE (EGGS POACHED IN RED WINE)

1 bottle (750 ml) dry red wine
1 C chicken stock
1 C beef stock

6-8 large fresh eggs

1 bay leaf
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, sliced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 ozs crimini and shittake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
6 ozs bacon, sliced into lardons
2-3 T unsalted butter

2 T unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 T all-purpose flour

Artisanal bread, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
2-3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and halved

2 T chopped fresh tarragon leaves

In a medium bowl, knead the butter and flour together with your fingers to form a paste (beurre manié). Set aside.

Lightly coat a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat and coat with olive oil. Sauté bread until lightly golden brown on both sides. Immediately rub croûtes on one side with cut side of garlic. Tent loosely and set aside.

Bring the wine and stocks to a gentle simmer in a deep sauté pan. Gently crack the eggs into a small flared cup, slip into the wine and stock and poach until the whites are set and the yolks soft and almost runny, about 3 minutes. Trim off the stringy edges with scissors and set the eggs aside. Remove to a small platter.

Spoon out any egg white debris and bring the wine and stock back to a boil. Add the bay leaf, carrot, celery, garlic, onion, thyme, salt and pepper. Simmer until reduced by half and concentrated, about 20 minutes. Strain, retain the sauce and discard the solids.

While the sauce reduces, put one-half of the butter and olive oil into a heavy skillet over medium high heat and sauté the mushrooms, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside, wiping the pan clean with a paper towel. Then, add the remainder of the butter and cook the bacon until just slightly brown. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Whisk just enough of the beurre manié, one clump at a time, into the simmering sauce until thick enough to coat a spoon. Bring the sauce to a lively simmer, and check the seasonings. With a slotted spoon gently lower the poached eggs into the sauce only to briefly reheat, about 30 aeconds. Remove and serve the eggs in shallow bowls over croûtes, garnish with mushrooms, bacon and spoon over the sauce. Scatter the chopped tarragon over the top.

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