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Cover Story

Diary of a Breakfast Outlaw

Searching for the savory in a sticky bun world.

March 10, 1999|JOHN THORNE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jan. 11. Salami and eggs. Aficionados of the culinary autobiography will recognize this phrase from the title of Alan King's own effort in that form, "Is Salami and Eggs Better Than Sex?" Although I recently read that book cover to cover, it's a tribute to the compelling peculiarity of the narrative that while I do remember the answer to this question--no--I can't recollect a thing about the recipe. Perhaps that's just as well, because to make the dish with the kind of salami I like--hard as a brick, tough as pemmican and peppered all through with glistening nuggets of pork fat--requires extreme measures. The reason it won't do to just chunk it up and stir it into the eggs is that you'll end up chawing on a mouthful of salami long after the eggs that came in with it have gone down your gullet. My solution was to grate the salami, using the side of the grater with the largest holes (the same side you would use to shred mozzarella). This produces a pile of what looks like the residue found inside a pencil sharpener, but you'll find it still has ample texture to stand out in slow-cooked scrambled eggs . . . and, as Alan King will tell you, the flavor match of salami and eggs is next to divine.

Jan. 31. Bird's nest. This was my favorite breakfast when I was a little boy. I don't know why, but I haven't eaten it for years. However, I've felt in the mood for it recently and decided to make it today. To make a bird's nest, you take a slice or two of buttered toast, tear it apart with your fingers and put the pieces in a bowl. This is the nest. Onto this you scoop out one or two soft-boiled eggs. Bring over the salt and pepper, and there you are. The soft eggs and buttered toast get all mixed up together, and the fact that the toast is in little bite-size pieces makes it somehow even tastier. The sun was streaming in through the window onto the table, making everything warm and bright, and I remembered how purely happy I was eating this dish--what?--50 years ago. And here I was, pretty purely happy, eating it again.

Feb. 8. Asparagus on toast. The local supermarket was offering fresh asparagus for $1.49 a pound. Surprisingly, it was reasonably fresh (air connections to Tierra del Fuego being auspicious, I guess), so I bought a bunch to eat for breakfast, cooking it in a skillet with butter and a tiny amount of water, and serving it on toast. (With this breakfast, skip the orange juice.) What a pleasure to eat a plate of fresh, tender asparagus while looking out the window at an icy February morning.

Feb. 13. Toast and cheese. Steve Jenkins, in his estimable "Cheese Primer," describes Chaource, the one great cheese of the Champagne region of France, as tasting, when properly aged, like frosting without the sugar (or a salty Mascarpone) and says that you should "begin your day or end your meal with [it]. It makes an enjoyable breakfast cheese with pastry, croissants, toast or muffins." As usual, I left the cheese out overnight to reach room temperature--only to wake up in the morning to discover that it had poured out of its white bloomy crust, gluing together the plate on which it sat and the bowl that was covering it. I wrenched them apart and found the rind still standing but as empty as an amphitheater and the cheese spread out on the plate like a mud slide. It tasted like brie only more stalwart, and Jenkins was right--it made a fine match with orange juice. However, although the rind is edible, I suggest you leave it; its faint taste of ammonia is death to coffee.

March 1. Fried eggs with canned corned beef hash. In our regular cooking, corned beef hash is the luxurious end to a series of dishes that start with a New England boiled dinner. This is not an everyday project, and when we lived in Maine, if I had a craving for poached eggs and corned beef hash for breakfast, we would drive over to Cherryfield and eat in an old-fashioned Maine restaurant. The chef there, one of a dying breed, knew how to poach eggs perfectly and served these up on a chewily authentic corned beef hash that was not allowed off the griddle until it was wrapped in a dark crunchy crust.

Having failed to locate such a place in Massachusetts, I knew it was only a matter of time before I tested the waters myself. I was sure I would find a frozen corned beef hash entree in the Lonely Guy section of the frozen dinner case. No such luck. There was only one alternative left. My memories of canned beef stew being what they are, I'd mentally assigned canned corned beef hash to the same aisle as dog food, until Matt told me that her mother, who is a great cook, occasionally made canned corned beef hash and eggs and that it was very crusty and tasty.

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