Saturday, July 08, 2006

Morning meditation on eggs followed by Michael's scrumptious scramble recipe

Apart from cheese, eggs are probably my favorite food. This is determined not by any exceptional flavor or rare quality, for I think we can all agree, eggs themselves are simple sustenance. It's not the same as calling foie gras a favorite. I adore it, but a little goes a long way. I measure my favorites by frequency of consumption and in the case of eggs, I eat more than my fair share. Best of all, I do so in a guilt-free manner as I am blessed with my mother's non-existent cholesterol level. And anyway, these days, many say eggs are a welcome addition to the diet and so I continue on my eggy way.

Now is probably also the time to mention that we used to own chickens. It's a long story and one that tends to raise a few eyebrows, but for that glorious year, it was the height of egg enjoyment. Our french hens were great producers despite being hostile siblings to our dog Ruby. And as the Survival Of The Fittest theory proves time and again, dogs are higher than chickens on the pet chain. Sadly, we sent the hens away. Unsadly, they went to live in an idyllic sanctuary with peacocks, peahens, other chickens and ducks. And in loving memory, I will say, we haven't enjoyed a plain old fried egg half as much since. Not since those days have our yolks been bright orange and tasted buttery and creamy just by themselves. And I think it is because of our dear departed (but still happily clucking) hens that we moved in bolder breakfast directions. It was around this time that Michael invented his now famous scramble, a creation that equals the buttery, creamy goodness of our home-laid eggs even if it does take, well, butter, cream and aged gouda to do it.

The cheese used in the following recipe is Saenkanter, which I am loath to admit is a gouda. Most know gouda as the pale yellow, soft cheese sealed in a red waxy coating. What we're talking about here is a whole different class of cheese. While you can find similar kinds of cheese sold under other names like Beemster, Old Gouda, Old Amsterdam and Leyden ( a delicious alternative, sprinkled with cumin seeds), Saenkanter is the superlative. It is, as we say all-too-frequently in advertising copy, "best in class."

Aged for at least 3 years (the others listed above hover between 12-18 months), this cheese surpasses the nuttiness of parmigiano reggiano and offers a caramelized, butterscotch flavor that's unlike anything else. After discovering it in Amsterdam 4 years ago, we were hooked, carrying big hunks of it home with us only to discover good markets around these parts do stock it. Since that time, Michael devotedly devours it whenever it's on hand. Then he came up with this scramble that owes as much to the delectable cheese within as to his great patience and slow scrambling hand. I always rush a scramble, yielding a dry, bland result. His version is rich, decadent and slow-cooked to moist, gooey perfection.

Michael's Scrummy Scramble for 2

6 Eggs
1/2 c Saenkanter cheese (or other aged gouda)
1 Shallot
1/8 c. Cream
Butter
Coarse sea salt
White pepper

Michael is dictating this recipe as I type, so bear with the commentary. He suggests beginning with a sip of your tea. In his case, it's Belfast Brew, a blend brought back to us from Ireland by his mother Margaret, who tells us it's the very same tea the shipyard workers at Harland and Wolff quaffed while building the Titanic. I hope it doesn't bode as badly for our breakfast as for the Big Ship. Anecdotally, Michael mentions that this combo was inspired by the Tato brand cheese and onion crisps he remembers from childhood. Of course, Mill Valley has somewhat elevated his tastes as he's now using the refined pairing of top shelf cheese and shallots to replicate the flavors.

And now it seems we're down to business: Mince shallot and sauté in butter until translucent and golden brown. Set aside. Cool frying pan and pour 1/8 cup cream in. Then crack 6 eggs into the pan, making sure nothing's cooking yet. Turn heat to medium low, and gently blend eggs and cream until mixture is a consistent pale yellow color. Grate 1/4 cup Saenkanter into egg mixture. Adjust heat to lowest flame and stir continually. Summon your patience and keep stirring until serving–it takes a little while. If you see scrambling action before thickening, your flame is too high. Add two pinches of coarse salt and a few shakes of white pepper. When your eggs are properly cooked (moist but not runny), stir in the shallots. Top with one quick grating of the cheese. Serve with toast that cuts the richness like toasted sourdough or rye.

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