Mother Hen Toast

In this open-faced breakfast sandwich, the baked egg is wonderfully warm and runny (the yolk, of course, not the white), while the Parmesan bechamel adds a great sharp and creamy bite. Paired with the crisped ham and toast, you end up with a wonderful play of rich vs sharp and creamy vs crunchy.


THE RECIPE


“Gallina della Madre”/Mother Hen Toast

(serves six)

Don’t forget to check out my Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions at the bottom of the recipe.

Ingredients

Parmesan Bechamel

  • 2 tbsp (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • a pinch grated nutmeg (freshly grated, if you can!)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toast

  • 6 thick slices Italian or French country bread
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 paper-thin slices ham
  • 6 eggs
  • 6 fresh basil leaves

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Arrange the bread on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle or brush with olive oil.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Toast in the oven until barely golden, about 10 minutes. Basically, you want it crisp on the outside, but still soft inside. You can get the same effect under the broiler, if you prefer.
  5. Arrange one slice of ham on each toast slice, forming it into a nest shape with no openings (you don’t want the egg to run out the sides).
  6. Carefully break an egg into each nest and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.
  7. Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the eggs are set but the yolks are still slightly runny, about 10 minutes.
  8. While the eggs cook, make the bechamel.

Bechamel

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes (this is called a roux and is what makes the sauce thicken); do not allow the mixture to take on any color. Once it starts to darken, it’s ready for the next step.
  3. Gradually whisk in the milk and continue to cook, whisking, until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil.
  4. Add the cheese and stir for another minute until completely melted.
  5. Stir in the nutmeg and season (to taste) with salt and pepper.

Assembly

  1. When the eggs are ready, remove the pan from the oven and top each egg toast with a generous drizzle of bechamel and a basil leaf.
  2. Then, either grab a fork and knife and rip into that egg or, if you’re a little more “savage” as I can be, pick it up and bite right into it, letting the warm yolk run down your hands and chin 😉

Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions

Milk: Use any milk you like, I simply prefer whole dairy. Keep in mind, though, alternative milks that have been sweetened have a more pronounced flavor than when unsweetened.

How Much Ham? The amount of ham you use depends how wide the slices are–I ripped our slices in half to get it to circle around the entire slice of toast. If you like, you can simply use two slices of ham instead!

Basil: In the recipe, I say to top each sandwich with a whole basil leaf and, what’s funny, is I actually don’t prefer doing things like that because it’s more for presentation than taste. On a normal basis, I’d be chopping those leaves up and sprinkling them evenly over the top, so feel free to do the same.

Variations: Don’t forget to experiment! If you have a favorite cheese, try that in your bechamel; you could end up with a more American-style Hen Toast using sharp cheddar or a spicy version with pepperjack, or maybe you prefer a nice Gruyere, which I’m sure would be wonderful. The same goes for the ham. It doesn’t have to be brown sugar or Serrano, which are quite different from one another. Always remember that you can change any recipe to suit your own preferences and enjoy the journey to great food!


THE STORY


Breakfast might just be my favorite meal of the day, without any wavering, whatsoever. There are just so many choices and what’s more fun than making a huge delicious breakfast? In college, I loved putting together a massive, home-cooked meal for my friends to enjoy: creamy scrambled eggs, crisp brown-sugar bacon, moist chocolate chip muffins, fluffy chocolate chip pancakes (with chocolate syrup and whipped cream!), simple toast with butter…

To me, breakfast is the perfect meal to put some real effort into. Since it’s the beginning of the day, you’re not interrupting anything and have the rest of the day to look forward to, plus you’re already brimming with energy that just increases as you give your metabolism the jump-start it needs. I don’t believe there’s a meal I could be more excited about! So, last week during our honeymoon, I took full advantage to get back into the breakfast game.

I wanted to make wonderful, unique meals at all times–things we weren’t used to eating with my tight and exhausting schedule. But we’d done so little grocery shopping as of late, there wasn’t much to choose from, ingredient-wise. I searched quickly and desperately for breakfast ideas that only included what we had on hand and one of the first recipes I found was Tyler Florence’s “‘Mother Hen’ Toast” or “Gallina de Madre.” We didn’t have the exact ingredients, but rather very good substitutes, so you might say I made more of a “‘Gallina della Madre’ Toast,” (not a big difference between the Spanish and Italian, haha!).

Tyler’s original recipe calls for Manchego cheese, horseradish, Serrano ham, and sage (among other ingredients I did have). For mine, I omitted the horseradish and substituted Parmesan cheese, brown sugar ham, and basil. Rather than display Tyler’s original recipe, I’m going to give you my version, but you can find his in the book, Tyler Florence Family Meal: Bringing People Together Never Tasted Better. Aside from the missing horseradish, I imagine they taste very similar! As in…delicious 🙂 Think open-faced, breakfast Croque Madame with a slight variation on flavor. Love it!

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