Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft - 7 ways to make Jacques Pépin’s “desert island food”

Jacques Pépin is known as a kitchen supernova and a working whirlwind of creative energy. Even at over 80 years old, he crisscrosses the country teaching, cooking, speaking, consulting and enjoying the celebrity generated by 13 successful television cooking series, nearly 30 cookbooks, and accolades ranging from a national Emmy Award (for his series co-hosted with Julia Child) to the French Legion of Honor.

Pépin frequently teaches recipes featuring his favorite ingredient: the egg. He has often referred to eggs as both his “desert island” ingredient and, in a 2019 opinion essay he wrote for the Washington Post in praise of eggs, said that he would want them as part of his last meal, writing that they “…are the perfect medium for the cook to blend proper technique with taste – but they are nevertheless a challenge to control in all their diversity.”

In the spirit of celebrating the egg, here are seven of Pépin’s techniques that will change the way you cook them forever. In this series he created from his home for American Masters fans, he reveals, among other tips, the power of a pin to prevent cracked hard-cooked eggs, and the way to achieve the perfect consistency.

Photos: Tom Hopkins

Cocotte Eggs

“A nice way to serve eggs is to cook them in a little container we call a “cocotte,” a little soufflé mold or ramekin. You butter your mold, put the eggs in it, and place them in a skillet surrounded with water and cook them covered until done to your liking. You can eat them with a little spoon right out of the cocotte, usually the yolks will still be runny, or you can unmold them—usually onto a round crouton or a toast—for a bit more of a presentation.”

2 teaspoons butter
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 extra large eggs, preferably organic
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 round crouton, toasted

Generously butter two small “cocottes” or ramekins, soufflé or Pyrex molds of about ¾ cup capacity. Add a dash of salt and pepper to each mold and place 1 tablespoon of chives in the bottom of one of the containers. Break one egg in each container.

Bring ½ inch of water to a boil in a saucepan or high-sided skillet. Place the cocottes in the water, cover and cook, boiling, until the whites are set but the yolks are still soft, about 3-5 minutes,.

Remove from heat. The egg can be served in the container, with a dash of cream and some herbs on top. Or you can un-mold the egg onto the round crouton, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of cream, and serve.

Country Omelet

Serves 2

“This is kind of a rough omelet, a bit in the style of a Spanish tortilla or an Italian frittata. I sauté potato and onion, and with that I add the eggs and cheese, I like Gruyère in this case, and some chives, and I add a layer of tomato on top and that goes under the broiler for a couple of minutes to be served slid out of the skillet or un-molded on the plate. A great lunch.”

1 potato (8 oz)
½ onion (3 oz)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
4 eggs
1/3 cup grated Gruyère
2 tablespoons chopped chives or parsley
1 medium tomato sliced into 6 slices

Peel and slice the potato and the onion. Heat the butter and oil in a 7-inch, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potato and onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook, covered, turning occasionally until lightly browned and cooked through, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs, season with salt and pepper, add the cheese and chives and mix well.

Pour the egg mixture into the pan with the potatoes and onion mixing well.  Cook, stirring, until most of the egg is just set, it will still be moist in parts. Cover the surface with slices of tomato, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with oil. Place under the broiler, not too close, about 8 inches from the flame, for about 2 minutes.

You can slide the omelet onto a plate or invert it. Cut and serve immediately.

Fried Eggs

“I showed my granddaughter, how to make a fried egg my way—that is cooking it at a low temperature so that the white stays very tender and the yolk is running lightly, and the top is glazed. It’s one way of doing it, and I hope you enjoy it, too.”

1 tablespoon butter
2 eggs
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon water
2 teaspoons chopped chives

Melt butter in small (5-inch) skillet. When foaming, add eggs, a dash of salt, and a teaspoon of water. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the tops glaze over.

Slide the eggs onto a plate and add a few grindings of pepper and garnish with the chopped chives. Serve immediately.

Classic Scrambled Eggs

Serves 2-3

“The way I scramble eggs is to put them into a heavier saucepan over moderate heat, and to use a whisk to constantly move the eggs, ensuring that they get the creamiest texture without large curds. This is usually finished with a little bit of cream. It’s a sophisticated way of enjoying eggs, one I often serve as a first course for an elegant dinner.”

3 tablespoons butter
2 mushrooms, coarsely chopped
½ cup diced tomato
salt and pepper
6 eggs
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 – 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a skillet; add the mushrooms and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomato and season with salt and pepper; cook an additional 30 seconds. Set aside.

Beat the eggs and add salt, pepper, and chives, set aside 2-3 tablespoons of the raw egg mixture. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan.  Add the egg mixture to the skillet and cook on medium heat, stirring constantly to create the smallest possible curds, a whisk works well for this. When the mixture is setting and you can see the bottom of the saucepan as you stir it, remove the pan from heat; add the reserved egg mixture and 1 or 2 tablespoons of cream, and mix well to stop the egg from continuing to cook.

Serve with mushroom-tomato garnish on top.

Eggs Jeannette

Serves 4

“Eggs Jeannette is an essential recipe for me, as it is something my mother used to make. Hard cooked eggs, yolks removed and mixed with garlic and parsley, then returned to the whites and sautéed stuffed side down. Finally they’re served with a mustard vinaigrette. A very easy-to-do, delicious, and unusual way to enjoy eggs.”

4 large eggs (hard cooked and peeled, see technique below)
1 large clove garlic
3 tablespoon chopped parsley
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon olive oil to sauté

Dressing:
About 2 tablespoons reserved egg yolk mixture, from above
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoons water
1/4 cup olive oil

Hard-cooked eggs: Use a pushpin or thumbtack to make a hole in the rounder end of each egg. Plunge the eggs into boiling water, reduce the heat, and cook at a very low boil for 10 minutes. (When an egg is lowered into boiling water, the sulfur in the white moves toward the center of the egg to escape the intense heat. The iron in the yolk then reacts with the sulfur and can turn the outside of the yolk green and sulfur-smelling. To prevent this, do not overcook the eggs.)  As soon as they are ready, pour out the hot water and shake the pan to crack the egg-shells, which makes the eggs easier to peel. Add cold water and ice to the pan and keep the eggs in the ice water until thoroughly chilled.

Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Remove yolks and mash with garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, and milk. Fill the eggs with the mixture, reserving about 2 tablespoons for the dressing.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in skillet. Add the eggs, stuffed side down and cook until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes.

For the Dressing:
Add the mustard, vinegar and water to the leftover mixture. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking to emulsify the dressing.

Pour the dressing onto a platter and arrange the eggs on top to serve.

Seafood Omelet

Serves 2

“I like omelets in any form, but the seafood omelet that I’m doing here is a bit more rich and sophisticated than most. I sauté some shrimp and scallops, (you could also use some fish), a bit of scallion, mushroom, all together, which takes only a couple of minutes. While that’s cooking you can mix your eggs and some herbs, add that to the pan until it’s basically barely holding together, fold it and serve it with the shellfish slightly undercooked and the omelet very moist inside. It’s a very elegant dish for a light supper.”

2 tablespoons butter
5 medium shrimp, peeled and cut into thirds
3 medium scallops, cut into thirds
2 scallions, minced
1/4 cup chopped mushrooms
salt and pepper to taste
5 eggs
3 tablespoon chopped chives
2 – 3 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon olive oil

Heat butter in 10-inch non-stick pan and add the shrimp, scallops, scallions, and mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a bowl, add the chives, cream and season with salt and pepper. Whip with a fork until smooth. Add egg mixture to the shellfish and cook, bringing the sides in to create large curds. Continue to cook, mixing until the egg is set but still moist in center. Roll the omelet into thirds. Add a dash of oil to the pan and brown for 30 seconds then invert onto a plate. Serve immediately.

Rice Cakes with Eggs

Serves 2

“I often have leftover rice—from going to a Chinese restaurant, or just leftover from something I cooked at home, sometimes plain, sometimes seasoned in one way or another—and when I do I like to put it in a skillet to make a kind of rice pancake, which is crusty on the bottom. On top I usually put a couple of eggs at the last minute, to make a great lunch dish.”

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ½ cups leftover cooked rice
¼ cup water
salt and pepper
2 extra large eggs, preferably organic
1 tablespoon chives, for garnish

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in 7 or 9-inch non-stick skillet. Add the rice and water and cook, pressing the rice down with a spoon. Add salt and pepper if needed. Lower the heat to medium and cook until a thick crust forms, about 7 minutes. Flip the rice over and cook an additional minute.

Using the back of a spoon, make two indentations in the rice and crack an eggs into each, grind pepper over the top and cover and cook, until eggs are done, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Slide onto a plate, sprinkle with chives, and serve immediately.