Boiled Eggs with Soldiers – Alison Mckee
Be it fish pie or bread and butter pudding ‘comfort’ or ‘nursery’ food is constantly being reinvented and always fashionable. Soft-boiled or runny ‘Egg and Soldiers’ is just one of those dishes that, for me, brings back memories of childhood and is now appearing on menus, and not just on the children’s menu, at local cafés along with all time favourite ‘mince on toast’.
There are several explanations as to how ‘Soldiers’ gained their name. One is obviously that they are cut even and straight – lined up like a row of soldiers standing to attention on your plate. There is a further suggestion that they represent the ‘all the king’s men’ that couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again. One café horrifying invites you to dunk your bread in Humpty’s head! It is generally accepted that ‘Egg and Soldiers’ is English in its origin.
The debate is, however, should the bread be toasted or not? In the Middle Ages ‘Sops’ or pieces of bread were used to soak up the liquid mixtures of many dishes, often they were first toasted to reduce their tendency to disintegrate. Connoisseurs of ‘Egg and Soldiers’ insist the bread, regardless of whether it be white, wholemeal etc., be toasted for this very reason.
Like all recipes ‘Egg and Soldiers’ have been adapted over time, ‘Soldiers’ have been toasted, un-toasted, buttered, unbuttered, smeared in Marmite/Vegemite or cheese or both. A British inventor has even designed a toast ‘Soldier’ device that when pressed against a slice of bread creates a series of precisely placed perforations. Once the bread has been toasted to perfection, the soldiers can be torn off ready for dunking.
The perfect measurement for a ‘Soldier’ is apparently 22mm wide. Twists on this classic and simple dish include toasted parmesan dusted ‘Soldiers’, melba toast with cracked black pepper, dukkah sprinkled over the egg, pre-purchased breadsticks wrapped in Parma ham, topping the runny egg with pesto, cumin infused oil or toasted sesame seeds and tossing out the ‘Soldier’ altogether in favour of a freshly steamed asparagus spear or a skewer of roasted salmon.