1. Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Place over a medium flame. When the water comes to a simmer, turn off the heat, cover the pan and let the eggs stand 8 minutes. Drain and immerse the eggs in ice water to cool them.
2. Meanwhile, make a béchamel (white sauce): heat milk and bay leaf in a small saucepan over a low flame. Keep warm. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low flame. Add shallots, and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the hot milk and mustard. Simmer slowly, stirring often, 5–7 minutes.
3. Peel and chop the eggs. Add eggs and ham or spinach to béchamel. Season with cayenne plus salt and pepper to taste. The mixture can now be simmered briefly and served right away or cooled off and reheated just before serving. To serve, remove bay leaf and spoon the mixture hot over semolina toast or toasted English muffins. Sprinkle each serving with green onions.
Freshness is all-important in eggs, but in the case of hard-cooked eggs, a little age actually comes in handy. A slightly older egg will peel better than a super-fresh one; that’s because as an egg ages, the pH of the albumen (egg white) increases. This makes the egg white cling less tenaciously to the thin membrane that lies just under the shell’s surface—and voila! The shell peels away more easily.
Quick-cooling eggs in ice water will also make them easier to peel.
Copyright by Terese Allen