Braised leeks with anchovy, capers and soft cooked egg
Leeks are a winter staple. Commonly used in soups, stocks and purees, they are available year round and even keep well in the frozen ground, until they can be harvested. Farmers who want to maximize the tastier, more usable white portion of the vegetable bury the leek deep under the soil, and continue to mound soil around the stalk as it grows, ensuring the white portion will be longer than the green part, which has been exposed to the light.
If you reconsider the leek--think of it as a vegetable that can stand on its own or be transformed when paired with compatible flavors--I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. When I served this particular dish to a dinner guest, she asked, "What is this?" I chose to take her question as a compliment acknowledging my attempt to transform an ingredient (the leek) by altering its texture (through braising) and enhancing its flavor profile (with the distinctive punch of anchovies and capers).
The cooking method is the key is softening the leek to the point where there's no resistance or chew. And while it is not bland, the leek is the perfect foil for bold, pronounced complementary flavors: finely minced capers, anchovy and mustard with fresh grated horseradish and soft cooked egg.
Makes 4 servings
2 to 3 medium sized leeks, washed and cut into 3 to 4-inch long thin strips (See photo)
2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 medium shallot, finely minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and finely minced
1 anchovy filet, finely minced, or 1/4 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-inch piece fresh horseradish, peeled
Several leaves of flat leaf parsley, thinly sliced
Put a steaming basket over an inch of simmering water in a small saucepan with a lid. Evenly distribute the leeks around the basket and cover the pan. Steam the leeks for 15 minutes or until they have softened slightly and become more pliant. Remove the steamer from the pan and allow the leeks to cool at room temperature or in the refrigerator; do not plunge the leeks into ice water.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. Put the vinegar and lemon juice in a bowl with the shallot and a pinch of salt. Let sit several minutes before adding the lemon zest, mustard, capers, and anchovy. Whisk the ingredients together and slowly add the olive oil, whisking as you drizzle it in. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remembering that the capers and anchovy both add salt naturally. Toss the chilled leeks with the vinaigrette and set aside while you poach the eggs.
David Tanis gets credit for this simple method of cooking eggs in boiling water. The result is similar to what you'd get using a sous vide machine, but can be done easily at home.
Fill a pot with water, allowing several inches to cover the eggs. Bring the water to a boil, drop the eggs in carefully, lower the heat slightly and set a time for 9 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a small bowl with cold water and a few ice cubes. After 9 minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs from the water. Lightly crack each egg on the edge of the bowl of ice water before dropping it in. (Lightly cracking the eggshells allows the ice water to seep in and reduce the cooling time to between 2 and 4 minutes.) Remove the eggs from the ice bath, crack them all over and remove the shell, then cut each egg in half.
To serve, divide the leeks between 4 plates and arrange, placing a soft-cooked egg half on top of each pile of leeks. Grate a bit of fresh horseradish over each plate and sprinkle with some parsley. To make the salad more substantial, add a few leaves of tender lettuce or a slice of cured ham. Serve immediately.