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Shirred eggs, commonly referred to by the French phrase oeufs en cocotte, are essentially eggs baked in ramekins. Ideally, when preparing this particular egg dish, the egg white firms and hardens while the yolk remains runny and supple. There are many ways to prepare shirred eggs, though the end result is typically similar.
The original French term for shirred eggs, oeufs en cocotte, literally translates to “little egg casserole,” whereas the term cocotte signifies a small baking dish. While Americans generally refer to the small, cylindrical dishes as baking ramekins, a traditional cocotte is typically made of cast-iron and can be quite expensive. Such cast-iron cooking dishes can be passed down from generation to generation, though, along with the recipes that go with them.
To make shirred eggs, the cook first butters the crème brulée baking dish or ramekin. Afterwards, he breaks an egg and gently places it into a ramekin, so as not to break the yolk. A pad of butter is placed on top of the egg, and the dish bakes at approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 Celsius) for roughly 10-15 minutes. Some seasoned chefs place the ramekin in a pan of water while baking, to keep the eggs whites even softer.
There are many popular variations to the conventional shirred eggs recipe. Some liken the baked eggs recipe itself to an omelet, thus allowing cooks to pick and choose what traditional or innovative ingredients to include in their own adaptations of the dish. One of the most popular inclusions, however, is the addition of crème fraîche (fresh cream) or substitutes such as sour cream, plain yogurt, or Boursin, a soft herbed cheese.
More popular additions to the shirred egg recipe might include meat, particularly ham. By including ham, or even smoked salmon, at the bottom of the ramekin, guests find a fun treat after eating the first couple of egg bites. Cooks might find a complementing ingredient to coordinate with their meat choice, too; shirred eggs with ham, for example, might include a sprinkle of cheddar cheese on top. Shirred eggs with salmon might include a sprinkle of dill and capers. For vegetarians, sautéed vegetables or blanched asparagus are great choices to include at the bottom of the dish. Bread crumbs are often sprinkled on top of the dish a few minutes before taking it out of the oven, as well.
Eating shirred eggs can be fun, too. Toasted baguettes or bagels are served alongside the oeufs en cocotte. The diner typically dips the piece of toast into the egg concoction in order to savor the runny yolk and other flavors.