On the flight back from New York I became absolutely mesmerized by the tiny television embedded in the seat back in front of me. This happens if I haven’t bothered to bring sufficiently captivating literature or if I am somehow able to justify, through the desperate math of forehead-slamming boredom, the $7 or $8 expense of watching a movie I otherwise wouldn’t even bother to put on my Netflix queue (yay, Hunger Games!). On this trip we were lucky: we had free “entertainment” (i.e. tiny flickering screens) on both legs of the journey, along with complimentary intermittent 200-decibel announcements from the pilot and crew (picture hundreds of people dozing off to episodes of The Real Housewives of Miami and then, in unison, violently tearing the headphones out of their ears as though the little electronic buds had suddenly transformed into wriggling spiders).
Anyway, on the return flight I discovered two things: first, that I am really excited about saying “my husband” as frequently as possible and to total strangers – like, “Can I get a seat next to my husband?” and “My husband is now seated to my left” and then sometimes just “My husband!” – and second, Rachel Khoo. Rachel Khoo! It seems natural that karma has instructed the universe to, in the midst of my (thoroughly irritating) newlywed bliss, send me a TV chef to fall madly in love with.
To give some context, I should explain that I have never really gone for TV chefs. Julia Child is cool. I get it. But when she was broadcasting I was a twinkle in my father’s eye, and then an infant, and then watching He-Man. The first and only time I saw Essence of Emeril I thought it was an infomercial. Nigella Lawson just made me jealous – where does she get off looking so good at a normal weight, anyway? I remember thinking Jamie Oliver was cute, but not really my type; as evinced by my recent marriage, I go for the redheaded American behind the camera rather than the blond Englishman in front of it. Who else? Giada De Laurentiis is too cute, Bobby Flay is too famous, Paula Deen is too reliant on butter (and too secretive about being a registered Democrat – so much for being my Republican friend). I could go on, but you get the idea. When it comes to televised cookery, I am very much like Goldilocks (another thoroughly irritating person) on the hunt for the right porridge.
So of course I never expected that, two days after my wedding, I would become infatuated with the tiny likeness of a blithe, polka dot-clad, red-lipped Englishwoman cooking lentils in a miniature Parisian flat. Forget you, husband, there’s a new show in town! Seriously, the blogosphere could not have concocted a better Anglophone Amélie if it had stuffed Joanna Goddard, Garance Doré, and Joy the Baker into a Telepod and inadvertently created one vintage cupcake pan-wielding gamine while attempting to ship them all to Paris Fashion Week. Avoir peur…très peur!
When I got home, I immediately ordered Khoo’s book – Little Paris Kitchen – with the aid of the frighteningly expedient Amazon mobile app, and waited by the door with my nose pressed up against the glass until it arrived. And when it did, I once again ignored “My husband!” to stay up an hour later than usual to pore over the introduction, run my fingers over every ecclesiastically lit close-up of root vegetables, and peruse every single recipe in the book before passing out in utter ecstasy. Oh, Rachel. I don’t care if you think I can locate rabbit liver in southern California. You are a total goddess.
I based this recipe on Rachel’s Leeks in Vinaigrette with a Poached Egg and Bayonne Ham. What primarily attracted me to the recipe was that I never imagined that Bayonne, New Jersey could be named after a southern French town known for cured meat. I mean, have you seen Bayonne? New Jersey, I mean? It is a clapboard jungle full of teenagers who can drink you under the table in 20 minutes. Any ham you find there is likely to be filling out a pair of Gap jeans. In any case, I liked the idea of doing my own version of this recipe sans vinaigrette, and with ham purchased from Trader Joe’s. Rachel Khoo might have made her name transforming Frenchness into accessible Britishness, but I have made mine by transforming everyone else’s good European idea into something abominably American.
Ham & Eggs with Caramelized Leeks
-1 teaspoon + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
-1 large leek, trimmed and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
-1-2 slices of ham (any kind you like – I like thinly-sliced smoked ham)
Melt the butter in a large iron skillet over medium heat. When it’s sizzling, toss in the leek rounds and fry them on one side for 5-6 minutes. Flip the leeks over and move them over to the side to make room for the ham.
Meanwhile, how do you like your eggs? Fried? Over easy? Poached? Pick one and get to it, because you’ll need something to put over the leeks. I fried mine sunny-side-up in a teaspoon of butter while the second side of the leeks cooked.
The ham will only need a minute or so per side, so keep an eye on it. When it’s done, put it on a plate. The egg should be done now, so put that on the plate, too. Take a moment to stir the leeks around in the pan a bit before adding them to the plate, to loosen them up. They should be nice and brown on both sides, and soft enough to break with a spatula.
If you want to make this fancy, you can make a vinaigrette out of a light oil (sesame or sunflower) with some white wine vinegar, salt, and a pinch of sugar. You can also make a béchamel sauce or hollandaise, but that’s more Sunday brunch than quick, pre-dog-walking Saturday fare. My favorite thing about this meal is the way the egg yolk mixes with the leeks, which is a combination of flavors that takes regular old ham ‘n’eggs up a few notches. Try it, you’ll see.