We had some friends round for brunch the other day, and I went a little overboard. That’s to say that, although everyone seemed to agree the food was delicious, it is in some sense a little strange to start cooking brunch two days in advance. If, however, you’re looking for a truly awesome twist on the classic bacon and eggs, this just might be the post for you. The dish was made up of a slow poached egg, sous vide thick cut bacon, caramelised onion purée, a ham hock bonbon with the caramelised onions mixed in, pavé potatoes, glazed shallots, and a ham reduction sauce. The whole idea started from watching a BBC show called Great British Menu. If you live in the UK and haven’t watched it before, it’s amazing – check it out. On that show the Head Chef of Berner’s Tavern in London, Phil Carmichael, cooked a dish based on onions, bacon and eggs (the theme of the show was celebrating OBE winners) which looked delicious. At the same time I started hearing about sous vide bacon, most notably from the folks over at chefsteps who were extolling the benefits of cooking bacon low and slow until extremely succulent before giving it a quick sear. This makes absolute sense because bacon is simply pork belly, which benefits from that cooking method, so I figured I’d give it a go. Most of the time here on TimedEating I try and steer away from recipes that use fancy cooking equipment because it’s just not very helpful to recommend using some niche bit of kit that hardly anyone has. The sous vide bacon results were pretty awesome, but then bacon is pretty awesome by itself so I’m sure this dish would still be fantastic with a nice thick slab of seared bacon instead. It does need to be quite thick cut though (around 1-1.5cm), so I recommend buying it unsliced from the butcher and slicing it at home.
The caramelised onions and the braised ham stock run through this dish, tying the different elements together. I’ve written before about how slow cooking onions until they’re sweet and jammy is a great thing to do in bulk as they add a mellow note to so many dishes. Here they’re mixed with a little stock and pureed to provide a sweet quasi-sauce and, crucially, they’re mixed in with the ham hock bonbons to mellow out the savoury saltiness of the ham. I make these bonbons pretty often as the mixture freezes incredibly well, is a great pasta sauce or an awesome terrine, and makes the best fried rice in existence (particularly if slightly drunk when consumed!). Seriously, the combination of sesame oil, a few veggies, salty ham hock, sweet onions all with the rice to soak it up is incredible – especially if thickened Fujian style with a little ham stock.
The mix itself is pretty easy to make. Slowly cooked ham hocks are shredded, mixed with some of the cooking liquid (reduced if necessary) and the onions. The only real trick is how much of the ham hock fat/skin to use vs. how much of the stock. Both add moisture to the mix in different ways and both are important. Too much fat and it can get a bit headily rich, but too much stock can make it too loose to work with. You can also vary how smoky you want it to be by altering the mix of smoked and unsmoked hocks – I find only using smoked hocks a little too pungent for brunch, but of course it depends on your butcher.
To add an extra oniony punch I slow-braised shallots in a mixture of sherry vinegar, ham stock, and a small knob of butter. The end result is sweet onions enrobed in a rich, slightly sharp blanket. Too intense to eat many of them, but a couple on the plate provide brilliant bursts of onion flavour. When mixed in with the indulgent poached egg, the final result is a brunch fit for a French King (or at least a president: Francois Mitterand used to eat eggs poached in red wine as his favourite breakfast!). This is definitely not an everyday kind of affair, but if the idea of an orgiastic mix of alliums and porcine goodness floats your boat then, as well as being my kind of person, this dish might just be for you. Just get in there before the weather turns, while it’s still cold enough to indulge. This might be a complicated affair to pull together, but I think it’s one to remember.
Onions bacons and eggs for brunch:
- Pavé potatoes – see recipe
- Caramelised onions – see recipe
- 1 poached egg per person (See the tips and tricks below for how to cook these in advance!)
- 1cm thick slice of bacon per person (either cooked sous vide or simply pan seared) For how to do it sous vide – check this out!
For the ham hocks:
- 2 smoked ham hocks
- 1 unsmoked ham hock
- Roughly chopped carrots, onions, garlic and fennel
- 2 bay leaves
- thyme, black peppercorns and star anise (I wrap them in muslin for easy removal)
- egg, flour and panko breadcrumbs for breadcrumbing
For the glazed shallots:
- 12 small shallots (or pearl onions) (or 2-3 per person)
- A splash of sherry vinegar
- Small knob of butter
- 1/2 tablespoon of caster sugar
- Reserved ham stock
Ham hock bonbons:
- To prepare the ham hocks, place all ingredients in a large pot cover with water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for several hours until the meat is falling away from the bone – takes 3-5 hours. Strain the liquid and reserve. Shred the meat, add the caramelised onions and just enough of the skin and fat to keep it moist without being too rich. Moisten with some of the reserved stock, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and leave in the fridge.
- Once the ham hocks are cooled, roll into balls and breadcrumb by dipping into seasoned flour, then egg and finally seasoned panko breadcrumbs. For the full recipe and more details, try this post. Chill until needed and then fry in a pot of oil at 180 degrees until golden and crisp.
- Add the butter to a frying pan over medium heat. Once melted and lightly foaming, add the shallots and a pinch of salt. Cook until lightly browned but not cooked through. Add the sugar, sherry vinegar and ham stock to cover, turn the heat to high and cook until cooked through. The ham stock should reduce to a syrupy glaze but not so far as to become almost solid and gelatinous. Toss the shallots in the glaze and serve.
- Purée some of the onions with a little ham stock. Sear the bacon until golden and crisp on one side but still tender on the other. Reduce some ham stock till thick and syrupy and add a small knob of butter to make the sauce silky.
- Spread on the bottom of the plate. Add the crispy pavé potatoes and ham bonbons. Add the bacon, and dot the glazed shallots around the plate. Top with a poached egg and drizzle the ham sauce around the plate.
TimedEating tips and tricks for cooking brunch ahead:
- People think poached eggs have to be made last minute – but can you imagine how stressful that would be for a breakfast service at a restaurant? Instead you can cook them up to a week in advance. Simply cook them as normal but when they’re done plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking.
- Store them in the fridge and when you want to serve them simply reheat them for 30 seconds in a saucepan of hot water. They won’t overcook and all the stress of weird egg white tails and broken eggs can be avoided when you’re under time pressure. Perfect for weekend brunch or after hangover breakfasts.
Glazed shallots and ham hock bonbons:
- They can be made a few days in advance. To reheat simply place a little water in a hot frying pan and add the shallots until warmed through
- The ham hock bonbons can be made up to the point of frying a week in advance, simply store in the fridge covered with cling film. Similarly the component parts of the ham mixture and caramelised onions can be made long in advance. Once fried the bonbons will go soggy if covered but if allowed to cool uncovered will stay crispy long enough to head to a picnic!