These toast baskets are the prettiest and most perfect vessel to hold a soft poached egg. Topped with crispy bacon and roasted tomatoes, they become a piece of breakfast heaven.
Inspired by a favourite dish at a favourite Jozi breakfast spot, I have wanted to make these for years. I stopped in for this famous dish of theirs while up in Joburg recently and they remained as delicious as I remember. The version at Nice is made with a tomato and onion relish that is fab, but I’m obsessed with roasting tomatoes and adding balsamic. They roast into gooey perfection with the balsamic giving a hint of sweetness that makes the juice an umami bomb of flavour. I literally can.not.get.enough.
I like to use ripe baby rosa or cherry tomatoes on the vine, and I fill a small baking try allowing a little space to toss them around. I add a few sprigs of thyme, sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil to get them started and then roast them in an oven that has been preheated to 180C/ 350F for 20 minutes. I then remove, add the balsamic and return to roast for a further 10 minutes. At this stage they are blistered and releasing their juice. Its important not to add too much olive oil or balsamic at either stage. You don’t want your sauce to be too runny. I like to get it to the stage where the sauce is starting to caramelize and get a bit sticky. It also thickens up as the tomatoes cool down. A further sprinkle of sea salt flakes and a toss around in the pan is all you need before piling as much as you like onto your eggs.
I also discovered a great way to add flavour to a regular slice of toast while in Israel in January. My breakfast egg and soldiers was served with the most tasty buttered toast the one morning, and after enquiring, I learned that they had used anchovy butter. What a revelation! Such a simple addition of one ingredient takes buttered toast to a whole new level. I knew I wanted to add this to my bread baskets. In order to prevent the bottoms from going soggy, because I mean, who wants a soggy bottom, I only buttered the bread with the anchovy butter around the inside edges but I did it on both sides. This keeps the bottoms and lower edges dry and free to crisp up.
On the bread front, I used a high fibre brown pre-sliced bread that was fairly thick cut. I think it works best this way. You could also roll with white bread, but I much prefer the flavour and texture of brown or whole wheat. The bread was fresh so it was easy to maneuver the slices into the large muffin holes by holding the 4 corners and sort of pushing them in. These get baked for around 20 – 25 minutes at 180C / 350 F and until the edges are just starting to go brown and the bottoms are crispy.
The best way to tackle this dish if you are feeding a crowd is to make the roasted tomatoes and then keep them, along with the toast warm low oven until ready to serve. Especially if you are making your poached eggs individually, this can become a bit of a logistical challenge to get everything dished up warm. I’m not the worlds greatest poached egg maker I have to confess. I have made them often before and with varying success.
I’ve used them fresh and then less fresh and I still don’t really know what the actual sweet spot for them is. I use a medium pot, which is fairly deep, and I fill it ¾ of the way with water. I add salt but not vinegar because, like Jamie Oliver, I don’t like the flavour the vinegar adds to the water and from a scientific perspective it is unclear to me as to whether it has any impact on keeping your egg whites perfectly in tact. It doesn’t seem to make a difference to me either way. I also stumbled on a website that claims if you strain the egg whites prior to poaching them, you drain off that small layer of runny white which is what causes those wayward stringy bits to fly around. I have done this before with a lot of success, so I will include that here as an instruction to poach eggs. On other occasions, I have just poured them into the whirlpool and they have been fine. The most important part is to pour the egg (whether strained or not) into a tea-cup or small ramekin before you tip them into the water. The way they drop them in is important in how they swirl around and cook. You could of course bypass all this drama and poach your eggs en masse in one of those poaching pans or do them in the microwave for 30 seconds which is a breeze.
I have also seen a method of breaking the egg into a piece of cling film, enveloping it up and removing the excess air, and then tying a knot. This is then submerged into the water for the deisred amount of time. 6 minutes gets you a medium soft egg.
Fry your streaky bacon until very crispy and most of the fat has been rendered and roughly chop to sprinkle on the final egg baskets. I also add a few snips of fresh chives.
You can of course add any kind of breakfast things to your bread baskets. Like wilted spinach, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and of course hollondaise sause poured over straight up poached eggs.
In terms of recipe – make as much as you require of each of the elements and build your baskets accordingly.
2 anchovy fillets per 50gm butter – pummeled in a pestle and mortar until smooth will cover 4 – 6 slices of bread around the edges.
Roasted balsamic tomatoes:
I roast a large punnet at a time (about 3- 4 cups) cups. A drizzle of olive oil not more than 2 tablespoons and about 3 tablespoons of balsamic. Follow the instructions as per above.
You will need a large muffin tray with 6 muffin cups, and bake your bread baskest at 180C / 350F for 20 – 25 minutes until turning golden and crisping up.
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