What Even Is A Shirred Egg Anyway?

Eggs are an amazingly versatile food: they can be fried, scrambled, boiled, or poached. Eggs can even be cured or preserved for eating at a much later date, as is famously the case with China's "century egg." 

Eggs are also hugely important to the baking process. As Sauder's Eggs explains, the whites and yolks of eggs have unique protein and fat structures which contribute to a range of desirable qualities in baked goods: They help ingredients mix together better, provide flavor and richness, and keep cakes moist. Egg whites in particular act as a sort of leavener in baking, and egg yolks in pastry shorten the dough's gluten strands, providing a more delicate structure.

But people don't usually think about putting eggs in an oven on their own. For all the love that eggs get, baking them isn't much of a thing, which, according to The Takeout, is our loss. That's what "shirred egg" is: a baked egg, complete with a special, confusing name. The term comes from the type of casserole dish they were traditionally served in — a ramekin-like vessel called a shirrer (per Recipe Tin Eats). 

Baked eggs and ham

Shirred eggs have a French cousin. This dish is also baked in the oven, but with a water bath added, which helps keep the yolks runny. Those are called "ouefs en cocotte" and they're typically served with crusty bread for dipping (via The Takeout). Shirred eggs don't need a water bath: They can be prepared individually in ramekins, or several eggs can rub shoulders in a medium-sized dish with a flat bottom. The eggs are generally baked until the whites are set and the yolk is on its way there (but of course, you can choose how runny you like things). 

Eggs baked in the oven take especially well to savory additions like ham, cheese, and mushrooms. Heavier ingredients can be layered on the bottom of the dish with the egg on top, and the whole ensemble can then be topped with grated cheese before going in the oven (per Serious Eats). Once your egg is cooked the way you like it, a quick dusting of fresh herbs adds an extra layer of flavor. A bit of toast on the side to soak up the runny yolk is always a welcome addition.

Shirred eggs: Another great egg dish coming soon to a brunch menu near you. Here's hoping, anyway.