What do you make yourself for lunch, if nobody else is around? I bet you’re hoping I’m going to say something ambitious, like “a gently poached chicken breast, cooled and sliced across a vegetable salad with a hand-whisked vinaigrette,” because that happens, ever. Or maybe you’re hoping that this is where I tell you about my secret peanut butter fluff with crumbled potato chip sandwich habit, alas, I’m not even interesting enough at lunchtime to be scandalous. The sad truth is, if I’ve by some miracle found a couple hours to get work done in relative peace, I’m ecstatic, and I find hunger an inconvenience. If I must succumb, whatever I make for lunch must be quick, and tends to fall into the Stuff On Bread category: avocado, olive oil, lemon and sea salt, peanut butter (always low-brow) and jam (always fancy), or, smashed soft egg.
I made a big fuss about poaching eggs a few years ago because I loved them but had a hard time getting them right at home. Once I did, I was triumphant, but nevertheless, have probably not made one in over a year, or not since I discovered that there’s an even simpler route to that cooked-white-loose-yolk-soft-edge nirvana. Soft-boiled eggs require no vinegar, no teeming water and no whirlpools, but they peel like a dream. My favorite way to eat them is broken open on toasted and buttered whole-grain bread, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
But sometimes, sometimes I make an effort. And when I do, it looks like this — the same smashed egg but wedged between it and the toast is a bed of spinach (a handful leftover from last night’s salad greens is perfect), gently wilted with minced shallots, a smidge of cream, a few cheese crumbles and a near-invisible slick of Dijon mustard that makes all the difference. It sounds fancy and it might feel a tiny bit fussy the first time you make it. (I have not forgotten that the cardinal rule of quick meals is that they must only require the use of one pot and here, but since you’re alone in the kitchen, I think that a pot only used to boil an egg is, pffft, still totally clean, right?) But if you’re anything like me, you’re going to make a habit out of it and by the second time you make it, you’ll have it down. You might even plan ahead, keeping a container of minced onion in the fridge, making sure you hold back a bowlful of spinach at dinner, etc. But beyond the fact that it’s nutritious (a whole bowl of spinach), indulgent (toast! butter! cheese!) and crazy delicious (toast! butter! cheese!), I think you’re going to make it again and again for the same reason I do, which is that smashing an soft-centered egg on toast with a big fork — essentially, the kitchen equivalent of popping bubble wrap — is about the most fun one can have on a quick workday break. And with that, I’m off to do it again.
Previous Egg Toasts and Sandwiches, which I apparently have a thing for: Scrambled Egg Toast, Soft Eggs with Buttery Herb-Gruyere Toasts, Egg Salad with Pickled Celery and Coarse Dijon, Fried Egg Sandwich with Bacon and Blue Cheese and, on Cup of Jo, my crazy-lazy-quick riff on a deli Egg and Cheese Sandwich.
One year ago: Over-the-Top Mushroom Quiche
Two years ago: Apple Tarte Tatin and French Onion Soup
Three years ago: Tangy Spiced Brisket, Radicchio, Apple and Pear Salad and New York Cheesecake
Four years ago: Artichokes Braised in Lemon and Olive Oil, Chewy Amaretti Cookies and Artichoke-Olive Crostini
Five years ago: Shaker Lemon Pie and Spring Panzanella
Six years ago: Mixed Berry Pavlova, Artichoke, Cranberry Bean and Arugula Salad and Arborio Rice Pudding
Spinach and Smashed Egg Toast
I use this spinach method, scaled up, all the time to make a quick, lazy creamed spinach with dinner. (A more classic one is here. An even more gussied one is here.) Creme fraiche could replace the cream (unlike yogurt or sour cream, it doesn’t curdle when heated).
1 large egg
1 slice of your favorite hearty bread
2 ounces baby spinach
1 pat butter
1 tablespoon minced shallot or white onion
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon crumbled cheese, such as goat cheese or feta
Bring small pot of water to boil. Lower egg into it and boil for five (for a runnier egg, as seen in top photo) to six (for a less-runny but still loose egg, as seen in bottom two photos) minutes.* Rinse egg briefly under cool water and set aside.
Wash your spinach but no need to dry it. Put a small puddle of water in the bottom of a skillet and heat it over medium-high. Once the water is simmering, add the spinach and cook it until it is just wilted, and not a moment longer. Transfer it to a colander and press as much of the excess water out with the back of a fork as possible. No need to wring it out here; we’re hoping to those lovely wilted leaves intact. Keep that fork; you’ll use it again in a moment.
Put your bread in to toast.
Dry your skillet if it is still wet. Heat a pat of butter in it over medium-low heat. Add shallots and cook them for a few minutes, until translucent and a little sweet. Return spinach to skillet and add cream. Simmer them together for one minute, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Put your toast on your plate and spread it thinly with Dijon mustard. Heap the spinach-and-shallot mixture on top, then add the crumbled cheese. Peel your egg; doing so under running water can make this easier. Once peeled, place it on your spinach toast, smash it open with the back of that fork you used a minute ago, and sprinkle it with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Eat immediately.
* When you’re eating a soft-boiled egg right away, six minutes is the way to go. But here, since we boil the egg and then prepare the rest of the toast, it continues to cook and firm up a bit in its shell, so I’ve found that a 5 to 5 1/2 minute egg will give you the equivalent in the end.