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When's the last time a "light" version of anything tasted good? Light beer, light salad dressing, light snack foods...no thanks. But here's one light food I can get behind: eggs en meurette. Think of it like Burgundian coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon, minus all the heavy meat and the lengthy braising time.
Of course, eggs en meurette isn't really a health-driven "light" version of those famous Burgundian braises. It's a classic Burgundian dish unto itself. Just like coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon, eggs en meurette stars an inky red-wine sauce layered with the flavor of porky lardons, earthy mushrooms, and a range of aromatics like onions, carrots, and garlic.
In place of big pieces of chicken or chunks of stewing beef, though, eggs en meurette's main ingredient is the humble poached egg. That makes it light enough to be a perfect meal year-round, unlike a beef or chicken stew.
The main task in the recipe is preparing the sauce. I start it by making the garnishes, first sautéing lardons of bacon until lightly crisped, then mushrooms until browned, and finally carrots and pearl onions (though diced shallot or onion would work just as well) until just tender and starting to brown. I set those garnishes aside, since leaving them in the saucepan would overcook them to mush.
Next, I add large chunks of aromatics—mushroom trimmings, some pieces of carrot and shallot or onion—and brown them quickly, deglazing the pan with red wine before the fond that's built up on the bottom can burn. For the wine, you really just want a dry red one. After testing how important quality is when using wine for cooking, I found that in most cases you're better off saving your money; heat quickly eradicates most nuances of a wine, which means using a more expensive bottle, like, say, a proper French Burgundy, is about as smart as running your cash through a paper shredder. Any inexpensive dry red will work. The only thing you absolutely shouldn't use is a "cooking wine" product, which isn't true wine but instead a terrible imitation loaded with salts and other additives. It creates truly horrid food.
Some recipes for eggs en meurette use nothing more than wine for the liquid in the sauce, but others call for veal stock to be added as well. Veal stock adds meaty richness and body while helping to cut some of the wine's sharpness, but few of us have it kicking around at home. I like to use chicken stock instead, making sure it's rich with gelatin; that means either using a homemade stock that was made with collagen-packed parts like wings and feet (the collagen transforms into gelatin as the stock slowly cooks) or using store-bought stock that's been enhanced with unflavored gelatin. A gelatin-rich stock is critical since it adds body and viscosity to the sauce, allowing us to cut down on the total amount of other thickeners like flour, which can dull the sauce's flavor.
Once the sauce has reduced, I strain out the aromatics, then return it to the pot and whisk in some beurre manie, which is just a fancy way to describe a butter-and-flour paste. Mixing the two together coats each particle of flour in fat, preventing the flour from forming lumps when it hits the sauce. If it weren't for the gelatin in the sauce, I'd have to use even more beurre manie to get a good spoon-coating sauce consistency. With it, I can use less, and less flour means a cleaner and more pronounced flavor in the end.
The final step is to add the reserved garnishes back to the sauce and season it to taste with salt and pepper. For each plate, rub a piece of toasted country bread with a clove of garlic, set a poached egg or two on top, then spoon the sauce and garnishes all over.
That's right. In my crazy world, this counts as "light" food. Maybe I should try mass producing it for the diet crowd. It'd be the best thing they've eaten in years.
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