Here’s a New Years Eve appetizer that is sure to impress: a caviar topped Gruyère & Pancetta flan cooked in a beautiful brown farm egg with micro broccoli and a Parmesan crisp spoon.
I first came across this idea of using the egg shell as a container at Le Bernardin. Michael Laiskonis, the former Executive Pastry Chef, was at the helm during my tenure and one of his signature dishes was a milk chocolate pot de crème cooked in an egg shell with a caramel foam and hints of maple syrup and crunchy maldon salt.
I vividly remember walking by the pastry kitchen, which was always quiet and serene compared to my pot clanging savory side of the world, and seeing pastry cooks hunched over brown farm eggs, delicately attempting to remove the tops without cracking the shell, and muttering to themselves.
And now I understand those inaudible mutterings. I thought that making 12 was totally frustrating – try making 200! However, I did find after completely wasting a few dozen eggs, that there are a few tricks to the trade…
First of all, it is better to use extra large size eggs. The tool that cuts the top off works better on this size. Secondly, using super fresh eggs, like ones you’ve just gathered from your chicken, do not work well. (This goes for making deviled eggs too – the fresher the more difficult to remove the shell). Thirdly, during Winter eggshells tend to be more delicate due to the weather and natural cycle of the chickens.
One brand of store-bought eggs shattered when I tried to remove the caps and another one did not. After consulting with two farmers I found out that adding ground up oyster shells (calcium) into the chicken feed will result in stronger shells and some egg farms do this and some do not.
There is a tool called a Eirköpfer made by Rösle that is designed for removing the tops of eggs. It’s really for cutting the top off of a soft boiled egg but it can be used here. Place the topper on the pointy end of the egg and then pull up on the handle and let it snap down on the egg cutting it in a perfect circle. Or, at least, that’s what it’s supposed to do. I gently tap around the egg after it’s been ‘snapped’ and then pierce it with the tip of a knife and carefully chip away at removing the shell down to the cut line. Once the cap is removed, I pour the egg out and reserve, then carefully peel out the film on the inside of the shell.
Egg container cartons are perfect for keeping eggs upright while cooking the flan-filled shells in a bain marie (water bath) and they are also useful for cooling the eggs in. I used tapioca pearls to keep the eggs upright for serving guests, but kosher salt could be used too.
The recipe below is a basic flan recipe. I gave it a quiche lorraine twist with gruyère and pancetta because both are tasty with caviar. The greens are micro broccoli that also go well with the flan. I made parmesan crisps and added them as a useful way to scoop out the filling, but spoons work too!
- 1 dozen extra large brown farm eggs
- 1/2 cup micro-planed (finely shredded) Gruyère cheese
- 6 ounces pancetta, cooked until chewy-crisp & finely chopped
- 1 box micro broccoli
- 1 ounce caviar (your choice here as it is very expensive, keep on ice until ready to spoon over)
- 2 cups cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper & nutmeg
Using an egg topper, gently place it over the pointy end of the egg and pull up on handle and let it snap down around cap. Tap the cap gently with the back of a knife to crack and, using the tip of the knife, poke a hole in the top and gently peel away the shell down the crack line.
Once most of the top is removed pour off whole egg and reserve for filling. Carefully remove the film inside of the egg and give it a rinse under cold water. Put egg back in egg shell carton – this will serve to hold the eggs upright while baking in the bain marie (water bath).
After all the eggs are cleaned and arranged back in carton add a few pinches of finely grated Gruyère cheese and divide the Pancetta.
Scald the milk and cream in a small pot over medium high heat. In a separate mixing bowl add 6 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks, whisk together. Once the milk mixture is hot (but not boiling) pour over egg mixture little by little allowing the hot milk to temper the eggs first and then adding the remaining milk in a constant stream. Strain mixture if necessary.
Add salt, freshly ground black pepper, and nutmeg to taste – keep in mind that the cheese, pancetta, and caviar are salty but the egg mixture should still have flavor.
Place egg cartons in a 4-inch deep rectangular baking dish and place carefull on oven rack. Fill baking dish with boiling hot water (bain marie) 2/3's way up the side of eggshells. Cover tightly with tin foil.
Bake for 12 minutes and then check the eggs. They are done when the centers jiggle ever so slightly. When just set, remove egg cartons from hot water and cool. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate. Can be made one day ahead.
Before serving allow them to come up to room temperature. Top eggs with a pinch of micro broccoli that is lightly dressed with a little Meyer lemon vinaigrette and a small spoonfull of caviar. Serve with a Parmesan Crisp spoon.