The girls grew up eating mac and cheese, and a lot of it. At 16, they would turn their noses up at a table full of nutritious Indian food every other night in favour of the gloopy white stuff. Mum always worried that they’d go to bed hungry, so she would slink away and get started on a roux, and just like magic, there’d be mac and cheese. The startling frequency with which it was being requested made her put her foot down. It was far from healthy, all that béchamel-she hadn’t raised us on milk and flour, but rather on malai and Sindhi kadhi.
Bechamel was one of the first things I learned to make in the kitchen and I frankly remember thinking how bloody boring and bland it was. Like, it didn’t hold a candle to any of the other mother sauces like velouté and hollandaise that at least tasted of something other than thickened milk with cheese. With time obviously, I understood that béchamel is more a vehicle for flavours rather than a finished result, and today I can’t imagine a lasagne without béchamel or a croque sandwich without my trusty white sauce. To further make you understand just how glorious béchamel can be, think about Julia Child’s genius way of making garlicky mashed potatoes-it relies on the potato mash being combined with garlicky béchamel over low heat. Amazing, right? Need more proof? My friend Aysha and her mum’s fabulous blog Malabar Tea Room has a recipe for a Chicken and Rice Casserole that is wonderful this time of the year.
I’m trying to pitch béchamel for breakfast today. Might be a hard sell in this healthy-ish world, but I’m a cheat meal for breakfast kind of guy (do you know that it takes nearly 2 tablespoons of hot hot oil to get those perfect lacy fried egg edges?) For this recipe I’ve flavoured my white sauce with leek-my favourite alium, spinach and young garlic. Then there’s this perfect poached egg that goes on top with chilli flakes and toast on the side for dipping. It’s like breakfast chip and dip, only this way is better cause you get to Instagram piercing your poached eggs, duh.
Spinach and Leek Bechamel With Poached Eggs
Creamy oniony béchamel with hot toast and poached eggs is the stuff of breakfast legends-totally worth waking up for. I use Nigella’s super simple poaching method for my eggs. These produce perfectly poached eggs without all the fuss about vinegars and whirlpools.
Leeks 3 medium-sized, chopped
Young garlic 2, both green and white parts chopped (If you can’t find any, opt for 2 bulbs green garlic, green parts chopped
Eggs 4, fridge-cold
Toast for dipping
Red chilli flakes for sprinkling
For the béchamel
Onion 1/2 a whole onion
Bay leaf 1
Butter 2 tbsp
Flour 2 tbsp
Salt and pepper
Nutmeg freshly grated to finish (optional)
Wash the spinach and steam it for 2-3 minutes in a colander set over boiling water, or in a pan with a few till it wilts. Chop it into smaller pieces and set aside.
Heat the milk in a medium saucepan with the onion and bayleaf inside. Once it is close to a boil, take it off the heat and set it aside for a few minutes for the onion and bayleaf to infuse the milk.
In another pan, heat the butter and once hot, add in the leeks, give it a toss so the fat coats all the leeks and put a lid on it. Let the leeks cook till silky soft-for about 6-7 minutes. Once the leeks are falling apart, add in the flour and toss everything. Keep cooking this for a minute or two, mixing everything together.
Add in the infused milk bit by bit, whisking through to avoid any lumps. When the béchamel is smooth, reduce the heat and cook for 3-4 minutes till thick. Add in the spinach bits, season with salt and pepper and a sprinkling of nutmeg. Take it off the heat. Divide the béchamel into four small bowls and keep ready.
For poaching the eggs, I follow the Nigella way of using fridge-cold eggs. Fill a medium-sized pot of water and put it over medium-high heat to slowly come up to a simmer. You’ll be making two poached eggs at once. In the meantime, crack your eggs over a wire sieve with a bowl set underneath. Move it around just a bit to get any watery whites out and into the bowl. Tip the egg in the sieve white-first, gently into a cup. Squeeze over some lime juice. Do this for another egg. Now you are ready to poach two eggs.
When the poaching water has come up to a simmer, take the two cups one in each hand and slowly tip the contents of the egg from the edges into the pot of water. Turn the heat down to low. Poach the egg for 3-4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to fish out the poached eggs from the water.
Place each poached egg onto the bowls of béchamel and finish with a sprinkling of chilli flakes. Serve lots of toast on the side for dipping.