“where’s the meat?!” I wonder sometimes if the Gearhead asks this question as a form of ritual, you know, to get in touch with his Neanderthal roots. For a split second I actually see him standing there in a dirty mammoth skin holding a club, sticks and twigs through his hair, fire ash streaked across his face. Then a giant, prehistoric, tooth-filled mouth bends down from the sky, opens wide and chomp! Gearhead gone. Yeah! There’s the meat! I blink and we’re back at the kitchen table eating eggs for dinner. Again. I love eggs for dinner – they’re fast to whip up, healthy and can be transformed into the widest array of dishes imaginable. I resort to them at least once a week. You probably already know this, but the pleats on a chef’s hat are said to number the ways in which the chef can cook an egg. Like Escoffier, I don’t bother with the hat…they don’t make that many pleats. Sure I’ll do scrambled on toast or create omelet variations that turn out to be magical, but I also make quiche – with a home made crust, or I’ll poach eggs to sit atop smoked salmon or lentils [wife edits: no, this doesn’t go over well either]. Basically I’ll poach an egg to go with anything I can cover in Hollandaise sauce. [wife edits: this soothes the starving beast]. But this dish, wonderfully titled, if you’re Italian, Uova al Purgatorio, eggs in purgatory; or if you’re Spanish, drowned eggs, Huevos Ahogados; or if you’re from the Middle East, the name, Shakshouka, is derived from the Hebrew verb leshakshek, “to shake.” Considering the Gearhead’s balking at eggs for dinner, I tend to favour the latter. It is comforting to know that the world over (for I’m sure I’m missing versions from other cultures too), cooks are turning to their staple ingredients to whip up a sauce in which to poach eggs. The holy transformation in Italy uses marinara sauce; in Mexico they’re submerged beneath salsa; and in various countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East, eggs are poached in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, and cumin, with the all important fiery harissa. Regardless of which version, a delicious dinner can be on the table in minutes. The following recipe is for one person and can be multiplied to feed who you need to. This is the Mexican version, simply because I had a jar of salsa at the ready. Huevos Ahogados 1/2 cup salsa 1 to 2 eggs Salt and freshly ground pepper 2 teaspoons freshly grated cheese – Cheddar or Monetray Jack 1 or 2 slices country bread, preferably whole-grain, toasted or you could use corn tortillas, torn up roughly into bite sized pieces.
- Bring the salsa to a simmer in a small saucepan or a cast iron skillet and turn the heat to medium-low.
- Break the egg or eggs into a teacup, and carefully tip them into the tomato sauce. (this helps to prevent the yolk from breaking but I usually skip this step and swear loudly when the yolk breaks after direct introduction to the sauce). Cover the pan and simmer over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until the tops of the whites are set but the yellow yolk shows through. It’s important that the yolk be runny. Turn off the heat. Season the eggs with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve in a wide soup bowl, on top of the toast or tortilla (my preference) or with the toast on the side. Sprinkle the cheese on top – the heat will melt it quickly.