Rocky Mountain Very Specials
Egging On Dad’s culinary contributions
You may know it as a “toad in the hole” or “egg in a nest” (or in a window or a basket or any other of the many “in-a” configurations mentioned online or popping up on restaurant menus). But to me, a slice of fried bread with an egg in a hole in the center has always been a Rocky Mountain Special. Always will be.
Never met anyone else who’s called it that. Until recently, only my childhood friends from sleepover days even knew what I was talking about. Then a few years ago, we spotted the dish on the menu in a San Luis Obispo restaurant, only theirs were made with brioche and free-range eggs.
Growing up, our version was more humble: sliced sandwich bread—sourdough or whole wheat—both sides slathered with margarine—which, at the time, moms in the ’burbs thought was healthier than butter. You’d cut a crudely shaped circle from the center with a butter knife. Fry one side, turn, crack an egg into the middle. Cook for a bit and flip. The trick was to take the Rocky out of the pan while the yolk was still dippy. It was important to fry the circle, too, as it was an essential yolk dipper.
Heaven forbid you burned the circle or cooked the yolk until it was firm. Or you broke the yolk when dropping the egg into the bread hole. The Rocky was just plain ruined. We were purists.
And we learned from the master. Story goes, when my dad returned from serving in the Army he brought home his uniform, boots and recipe for Rocky Mountain Specials. The recipe originated from an Army buddy who hailed from Colorado. Hence the name.
My dad was typical for the era and didn’t often cook. So when he ventured into the kitchen, it was for a weekend morning treat where he could show off his Rocky prowess.
When I got married, I ditched the margarine for butter and introduced my new husband to our family recipe. He took the breakfast dish a step further by using the rim of an upside-down small drinking glass to cut a perfect circle. Kids came along, and Rocky fandom passed to the next generation. Chances are their kids will delight in a variation of Great-Grandpa’s recipe, too.
With accessorized toast all the rage these days and fried eggs seemingly atop everything, I realized Rockies are the perfect foil for experimentation. Think of it as Midcentury Modern gets a makeover.
I use farmers’ market eggs and bread, whenever possible. To cut calories and saturated fat, I butter one side of the bread and use cooking spray on the other. (But you can butter both sides, if you wish.) I’ve also used olive oil, which works nicely when topping Rockies with lightly sautéed garlic and spinach and a dusting of Parmesan cheese or feta. In-season diced tomatoes are a nice addition and so are fresh herbs. We also enjoy the umami flair of sautéed mushrooms, even better when they’re repurposed from last night’s dinner so they don’t get wasted.
Spoon harissa atop the Rocky before serving for a Moroccan touch. Or riff on the Middle Eastern tomato-based shakshuka by spooning the sauce over your Rocky (instead of cooking the eggs in the sauce).
You can even top your Rocky with crisped prosciutto or pancetta and serve with or without thinly sliced avocado.
Call these Rocky Mountain Very Specials.
I think Dad would approve.