Last week’s Recession-Proof Recipe examined stock and gave a fast variation for Pho. Pho is some of my favorite simple peasant food, and this week, I’d like to take an economical eating cue from yet another group of peasants.
Like yesterday’s cassoulet, a humble country casserole that’s often elevated beyond its original station, the sometimes pretentiously presented French crêpe is essentially just a thin pancake with tasty tidbits rolled up inside it. It’s the peasant food of Brittany.
Several years ago I discovered I could afford a ticket to fly overseas and spend few days in Paris, but didn’t have much money for lodging or food (and I spoke very little French.) So I ended up with a week of Paris hostels, student entry to museums and a host of street crêpes.
For that week, my diet was primarily composed of the sweet crepe, or crêpe sucrée (it was supremely cheap and the whole transaction used up the only 15 words of French I could consistently remember)… The sweet crêpe was normally a charming banana-Nutella combo that I still remember fondly and order as a comfort food.
After traveling around with J a bit, I discovered his crepe preference invariably fell to the crepe complete, a classic buckwheat crepe filled with an egg (whites cooked, but with a runny yolk, please), melted gruyere and thin-sliced ham. Simple. Filling. Complete.
Whether in Montreal, in Mediterranean Spain, in Midtown Manhattan, Berlin or Paris… Across the universe, la crepe complete is his crepe of choice.
I almost always order something else. The vegetable crêpe. The goat cheese and fig crêpe. The ratatouille crêpe. But I often find that I’m jealous of J’s hearty, savory crêpe. He’s made a convert of me.
By using just the slightest bit of ham and cheese with the egg, this meal manages to be simultaneously inexpensive and satisfying. And the construction of the dish is somehow magically classier than some lowly pancake and egg with skimpy slices of ham and cheese. But of course there’s no need to stick to the classic. A savory crêpe is what you want it to be, so add zucchini and parmesan if that’s your thing. Skip the ham if you’re cooking vegetarian.
Though you may have encountered sweet crêpe batters before, I must insist on the buckwheat in this recipe. The earthy flavor really does something special alongside the cheese and ham. Those Breton peasants clearly know something about flavor on a budget.
The Crêpe Complete (Serves 2-4)
For the crêpes
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
For the filling
4 eggs, warmed to room temp
4 pieces ham, thin-sliced (or skip it, if you’re vegetarian)
4 pieces gruyere or Swiss cheese, thin-sliced (or about 1 cup shredded)
- Whisk together the water, milk, eggs, flours, salt and butter or whir in a blender until uniform. Cover and chill for 1 hour (or up to two days). Letting it settle helps with crêpe management in the pan.
- Place an oven-proof plate in the oven and turn the oven on to 200° F. Remove the crepe batter from the fridge and stir it up to unite everything.
- Heat a large (12-17”) crepe pan or skillet over moderately high heat. Melt a dollop of butter in the pan, swirling to cover the surface.
- When butter sizzles, add 1/4 cup of the crepe batter and, again, swirl to cover the pan surface. Cook several minutes until the bottom develops a golden texture. Then flip the crepe over with the aid of a spatula/pancake turner. (You might need to do one or two “test crêpe” before you get it to flip over correctly. Don’t feel bad about that.)
- Gently break one egg into center of the newly flipped crepe (try to keep the yolk intact).
- Cook the crepe and egg just until the white is set. Top with one slice of ham and one slice of cheese (or about 1/4 cup of shredded cheese). Gently fold in two of the sides (or four sides, as you prefer) of the crepe in to overlap the egg, cheese and ham.
- Use a hot pad to remove the warmed plate from the oven, then move the cooked crepe to the warm plate with a spatula.
- Repeat steps 3-7 with the remaining crepe batter, eggs, ham and cheese.
- For the full French experience, serve crepes hot with a crisp green salad and a cold mug of dry cider.