When doing the new menu at Russell House Tavern I had one luxury I had never had before, a period of time for testing. Often in an opening the pace is brutal, with time & money (same thing?) running short. The lack of one or the other often adds loads of pressure & sometimes forces you to make compromises.
Not so in this case. Everything happened very organically with RHT so I had some precious time. I spent a lot of it on our egg dish.
Often dishes on my menu start with a standard dish that I want to do a take on. In this case it was an egg sandwich. Being from Long Island originally, I understand the importance of the egg sandwich. It’s a blue collar breakfast item to be sure, and you have to order them at delis quickly; everyone’s on the fly in the a.m. The delis serve them on bulkie rolls that are crispy on the exterior with an interior that is wispy light. You can get them with cheese, bacon or sausage. “Salt, pepper, ketchup” is what you hear ordered the most for toppings. You can get snooty with your order too and go “egg whites & turkey, swiss cheese of course.” Anyway, it’s a staple of that area and while there are plenty of good egg sandwiches to be had here in Boston, it’s always hard to beat a nostalgic memory.
So that was the idea for the dish. Great, right? Big new restaurant and I want an egg sandwich?? Obviously I can’t get away with just that– but that’s where it begins – with an idea or some inspiration – and then I get to decide what notes I want to hit for my version.
Thinking about eating an egg sandwich, it’s this great combination of smoky bacon (I use our house made pancetta), molten yolk, and buttery bread (we use brioche buttered and griddled for ours). I like mayo so I created an aioli using a good quality pecorino to bring the salt and then added lots of black pepper. It’s started coming together but then I started thinking about eating it and in my head it’s so rich so I brought some acidity in the form of vinegar. Adding some red onion also helped. As I thought about needing more texture and color, I added frisée which brought a great freshness and by happenstance became a nest for the feature–the egg.
In creating this dish, I broke an embarrassing number of eggs. Originally I started with a mini fried egg, but cutting the white down was laborious & this needed to be fast. Then I went to soft poached which was great but was too much like a play on frisée lardon, which I had already done a cool homage to years ago at Dedo called “Duck, Duck, Goose.” I kept thinking and experimenting and then I just decided to fry one. It sucked. I mean it was a pain to poach, shock in ice, then dredge and getting a consistent egg yolk texture was difficult. I was using David Chang’s recipe in the Momofuku cookbook that was cool in essence, but really needed an immersion circulator for the best results. The Russell House owners were actually cool and agreed to my pitch: “Can I buy a thousand dollar lab device that I’ve never used to cook eggs? I can? Sweet.”
After getting the circulator I played around, consulted some other chefs, continued to tweak, and finally got it. The eggs were coming out perfect for opening. Dredging, holding, and frying are still labor intensive steps and still a pain during service – and don’t get me started on when someone drops a whole tray of eggs on the floor. But as with anything, the repetition is the best medicine and we found a rhythm with getting them done and, having them turn out perfect. People really seem to love it too…
And that reaction is what is so fantastic, just over the top. And it just started with that simple egg sandwich. I love that.