Ask Patowmack Farm chef Christopher Edwards about his favorite ingredients and he’ll tell you about the eggs that come straight from the restaurant’s surrounding land as well as a dry-cured ham called Surryano, which is a Virginia version of Spanish serrano or Italian prosciutto. Edwards showcases them both in his croque madame, an open-face sandwich made with a soft-cooked egg, pecorino cheese, sliced ham, and cream sauce, all piled high on a thick slice of buttery brioche.
The menus at the bucolic Lovettsville restaurant change frequently, but diners may spot the sandwich during Patowmack Farm’s brunch. It’s got a devout fan in one DC-based reader who wrote in to request the recipe. We think it’s pretty tasty, too: In January’s 100 Very Best Restaurants issue, we named it one of Washington’s top dishes.
Edwards says the most difficult step is poaching the eggs. “The water temperature has to be between 155 and 165 degrees. Any higher and you end up with hard-boiled eggs.” If you have trouble getting the poaching right using his method, fry the egg or poach it the traditional way by dropping a cracked egg into a swirling pot of hot water that’s seasoned with a little white vinegar.
Edwards says it’s worth it to seek out the Surryano ham—$28.95 for 12 ounces at virginiatraditions.com—but prosciutto or a cooked ham will also do the trick.
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Patowmack Farm’s Croque Madame
Makes 4 sandwiches.
6 cups water
1 quart heavy cream
½ cup frisée, cleaned and cut into ½-inch lengths
¼ cup mixed herb leaves (such as parsley, dill, and chives)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup pecorino cheese
4 thick slices brioche
16 thin slices Surryano ham
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small sauce pot, gently warm the water to 165 degrees (use a thermometer to be sure of the temperature). Making sure the water stays between 155 and 165 degrees, carefully place the uncracked eggs in the water. Cook the eggs for 22 minutes, or longer if you prefer your yolks harder.
While the eggs cook, pour the cream into a large sauce pot and gently bring it to a boil. Watch the pot carefully, so as not to let the cream boil over. Once the cream starts to boil gently, lower the heat to medium and reduce the cream by ½—down to 2 cups. Set the reduced cream aside, season to taste with salt, and keep warm.
In a small bowl, dress the frisée and herbs with the extra-virgin olive oil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
When the eggs are cooked, remove them from the hot water, and carefully crack them into a small bowl, avoiding any shell fragments. Grate the pecorino evenly over all 4 eggs. Toast the brioche to a golden brown, and set 1 slice of toast on each of 4 serving plates. Lay 2 slices of ham on each piece of toast. Then place 1 cheese-covered egg on top. Ladle the reduced cream generously over each sandwich and garnish each plate with the herb/frisée salad and 2 more slices of ham.
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