Mouillettes, feminine noun (une mouillette, la mouillette, but more often des mouillettes – you don’t usually just have one) = soldiers (the little fingers of bread that you dunk in a soft-boiled egg) (pronounced moo-yet, no particular stress).
Back to childhood, comforting, fun food. Perfect soft-boiled eggs and trying to dunk to just the right degree, so that the bread is coated in egg yolk without causing the latter to overflow the egg shell and dribble down the side. Remember?
Mouillettes are literally “little things that get wet”. Mouiller = to wet (mouillé = wet (adj.m.), mouillée (f.), mouillés, mouillées (pl.). Expressions include une poule mouillée = a coward (literally wet chicken). Une mouille = a pool in a river; or wet ground around a spring.
A soldier, a real one with camouflage and a machine gun, is un soldat.
When we were children, we called mouillettes “dip-dips”; don’t know where that came from. We still call them that.
I did boiled eggs for an American visitor some time ago, and he said it was years since he had had them. It seems we in Europe fear contamination from raw or undercooked eggs less than our transatlantic cousins. Yet there are few things nicer, quicker, simpler. When there is nothing else to eat, one can often find eggs in the fridge, and some bread to dunk with.
You can turn a boiled egg into an art form: choose a real, fresh, free range, farm egg – from a Maran hen for instance, deep brown, almost chocolate; a Maran hen who has been fed a good proportion of maize so that the yolk is deep orange. One can use nice fresh wholemeal bread, ever so lightly toasted so that the little finger holds up better under the strain of dripping yolk (nothing worse that it breaking and falling all over the place). Buttered cold, not hot (the toast), so that the butter is still there, between the yolk and the bread. And a pretty egg cup, to set the whole thing off nicely. An egg becomes a feast…
I like my boiled eggs very soft, with the white just hardening. I just cover them in cold water and bring them to the boil. Then I start timing. 2½ minutes. You may prefer longer. Very personal thing, boiled eggs. They must be eaten immediately they are ready of course. If you are doing several, bash the tops as soon as they are removed from the saucepan, to let steam escape and stop the cooking, then take all the tops off. Mouillettes should be prepared before you put the eggs on, or at least the toast should be toasted (if you are toasting). I toast just lightly, barely a minute. Let the toast cool, butter and cut fingers on a wooden chopping board. If you do it on a plate, they very often break. While the eggs are boiling, prepare a plate for your eggs, with egg cups, spoon and salt, another for the mouillettes. Get a large spoon ready to remove the eggs quickly from the boiling water, and a knife to top them with. I can’t be bothered with those machines to take the tops off eggs.
And there you are, return to the nursery, dip away, savour one of nature’s miracles.